A documentary crew follows the misadventures of Cody Maverick, a 17-year-old northern rockhopper penguin who lives in Shiverpool, Antarctica with his mother Edna and his older brother Glen. Cody has wanted to be a professional surfer ever since a visit from legendary surfer Ezekiel "Big Z" Topanga several years ago. When a talent scout shorebird named Mikey arrives to find entrants for the "Big Z Memorial" surfing contest, Cody jumps at the chance despite the lack of support from his family. En route to the contest, Cody befriends another entrant, Chicken Joe.
The entrants arrive at Pen Gu Island, the site of the contest, where Cody meets and immediately falls in love with Lani, a female gentoo penguin who is a lifeguard. He also meets Tank "The Shredder" Evans, an arrogant penguin who has won the Big Z Memorial nine times since it was first held after Z's alleged death during a previous match ten years ago. Cody sees him vandalizing Big Z's memorial and immediately challenges Tank to a surfing duel. Tank easily wins the duel while Cody nearly drowns. Lani rescues him and takes him to her uncle, the "Geek", to help Cody recover from his injuries. Cody wakes up and panics when he can't find the souvenir necklace he got as a kid from Big Z. Geek criticizes the necklace, but decides to return it when he later finds it in his hut.
While returning the necklace, Geek finds Cody sitting on a koa log and offers to help him make a perfect surfboard. They attempt to take the log back to Geek's house, only to lose control of it and end up on a beach far away from the contest. When Cody gets to the beach, he discovers a shack full of old trophies and surfboards, which are actually Z's belongings. After observing Geek sadly looking in the shack, he realizes that Geek is actually Z and asks him to teach him how to surf. Reluctantly, Z agrees, but says that Cody has to make his own board first. The attempt doesn't go well, however, as an impatient Cody doesn't listen to Z's advice and makes a unstable board that shatters as soon as he tries to enter the water. Angry, he storms off, running into Lani, who eventually persuades him to return. That night, a happier, more patient Cody works on a new board, finishing it by morning, and falls asleep.
Z compliments Cody on his board, but when Cody is eager to start training, he instead has him do seemingly menial tasks unrelated to surfing. Losing his patience with Z, he places him on the board and pushes him into the water while he is asleep as a prank. Z asks him if he had fun, and when Cody says "yes", Z takes him to the water and begins teaching him how to surf the waves, both being joined by Lani. Afterwards, Cody asks Z if he'll come watch the contest, but Z refuses, saying he faked his death because he realized he couldn't compete with his then-new rival Tank, and that he was disillusioned. Not impressed that Z just gave up, Cody morosely throws the necklace Z gave him to the sea and leaves, meets up with Joe, and gets back to the contest just as it begins.
Tank easily makes it to the finals, as do Cody and Joe. In the semifinals, Tank battles with Cody, with Tank trying to throw him off his board, but Tank falls off his own board and loses. During the finals, however, Tank bursts in and tries to hit Joe off his board. Cody intervenes at the last minute, sending him and Tank out of bounds and into a surfing obstacle known as the Boneyard, which has killed surfers who have ventured there. Tank punches Cody off his board before crashing, and is rescued by Lani. Z, who had been secretly watching Cody's performance, rescues Cody from a gigantic wave and helps him get back to the beach safely.
Z and Cody find out that Joe won by default since Tank and Cody were disqualified. However, Cody accepts the loss, having decided he'd rather just have fun instead. Z reveals himself to the spectators and invites all of them to surf at his beach. Cody finishes his interview with a reflection of the past events and then joins the rest of his friends in the water.Shia LaBeouf as Cody Maverick, a 17-year old rockhopper penguin who dreams of being a surfer.
Jeff Bridges as Geek "Big Z" Topanga, Cody's idol and a famous surfer penguin.
Zooey Deschanel as Lani Aliikai, a Gentoo penguin and Cody's love interest.
Jon Heder as Chicken Joe, a dimwitted rooster.
Mario Cantone as Mikey Abromowitz, a talented scout shorebird.
James Woods as Reggie Belafonte, a sea otter.
Diedrich Bader as Tank "The Shredder" Evans, Cody's rival.
Dana Belben as Edna Maverick, Cody's mother.
Brian Posehn as Glen Maverick, Cody's older brother.
Kelly Slater as Himself
Rob Machado as Himself
Ash Brannon as Himself
Chris Buck as Himself
Sal Masekela as Himself
Reed Buck as Arnold
Reese Elowe as Kate
Jack P. Ranjo as Smudge
Maddie Taylor as Ivan, a Sea Urchin
Surf's Up: Music from the Motion Picture was released on June 5, 2007. The following 14 songs are on the Sony's official film soundtrack.
According to the film's end credits, the version of "Wipe Out" heard in the film is actually performed by the punk band The Queers. The official soundtrack includes this version under the pseudonym "Big Nose", presumably for marketing purposes. Two songs by Green Day, "Welcome to Paradise" and "Holiday" in an instrumental version, are used for background music in the film. However, neither song appears on the official soundtrack album. In the primary teaser trailer, the song "Get on Top" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers can be heard in the background. "Welcome to Paradise" was also used in the second trailer promoting Surf's Up, as well as "Three Little Birds" by Sean Paul featuring Ziggy Marley. The DVD and Blu-ray behind-the-scenes featurette entitled "Making Waves" features the song "The Water", performed by Venice. This also does not appear on the "Surf's Up" soundtrack, but can be found on Venice's "Garage Demos Part 2: Fast Stuff" CD.
Surf's Up: Original Ocean Picture Score was composed for the film by Mychael Danna and it was released on a limited edition (of a thousand units) 23 track CD.
To promote the film's release, surfboard wax bearing the film's logo and a rendering of Cody was given out at the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con On June 8, 2007, McDonald's issued eight Surf's Up toys in their Happy Meals for one month. In the Australian market, a few small plush characters of Cody, Lani, Chicken Joe, and Geek replace some of the toys in the US lineup. There was also a tie-in with the candy Air Heads which introduces a "New Wave" flavor (pineapple) and four collectible lenticular motion surf board shaped pieces. Build A Bear stores sold plush toys of the film's protagonist, Cody Maverick. Patrons could "build" their own Cody as well as dress him up in an array of surf-themed clothing and other accessories in Build A Bear workshops. They could also purchase Cody and accessories at the official site. Several plushes from Nanco intended for claw machines can also be found and purchased in varying sizes (from 6 inches to 11 inches to 17 inches). Characters available: Cody, Lani, Tank, Geek, Big Z, Chicken Joe, and Reggie Belefonte. A rare set of larger (Geek measures 15 inches) and higher quality plushes had been made available at the premiere's after party. Won either through available games, or given away with gift sets for attendees. Cody, Lani, Arnold and Geek were created and so far no plans for the dolls to be sold commercially have appeared. A series of children's 100 piece puzzles are available as well depicting various characters and setups. Five inch waterproof plush tub toys released by Jakks Pacific in minimal quantities to most major retailers. Five characters were produced, including Cody, Tank, Big Z, Arnold, & Chicken Joe. Each character has an attached washcloth/surfboard, but sport questionable likenesses (and in the case of Chicken Joe, entirely off model, bearing more of a resemblance to Mikey). Along with the release of the film, a companion Surf's Up video game was released for all the current video gaming systems on the market. All versions of the game are the same with mild graphical differences, with only the Nintendo DS version changing the overall format.
Surf's Up was released on high-definition Blu-ray Disc, PSP UMD Video and DVD in the United States on October 9, 2007. The DVD and Blu-ray included two animated short films: The ChubbChubbs! and The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas, which premiered with this release.
Surf's Up has a 78% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 144 reviews; the average rating is 6.7/10. The site's consensus reads: "Surf's Up is a laid-back, visually stunning animated movie that brings a fresh twist to some familiar conventions. Its witty mockumentary format is fun and inventive, and the CGI is breathtakingly realistic." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film a score of 64 out of 100 based on 26 reviews.
Some reviews noted that in spite of it coming so soon after many films featuring penguins (March of the Penguins, Madagascar, and Happy Feet), Surf's Up was able to stand out on its own. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times reviewed: "The originality of the documentary format coupled with the splendid CGI effects qualifies Surf's Up as not just another penguin movie." The Dallas Morning News critic Nancy Churnin agreed: "Sorry, cynics, Surf's Up is a charmer. And if the birds look somewhat familiar, they have something fresh to say about friendship and what winning is all about." While James Berardinelli of ReelViews said: "If you have to see one penguin movie, this is it", Kyle Smith of the New York Post had a different opinion: "Maybe the next penguin flick will do more justice to the subject." Roger Moore of Orlando Sentinel gave the film a positive score, noting that it was "beautifully animated, terrifically acted and edited in a way that hilariously mimics those Endless Summer surf documentaries." Conversely, Bill Muller, The Arizona Republic's critic, disliked almost everything: "From the nondescript voices to routine animation to an over-written story, this movie spends much of its time gasping for air."
The film opened at number four and grossed $5,804,772 at the box office on its opening day in North America. It grossed $17,640,249 in its opening weekend. The film grossed $58,867,694 in North America, and $90,176,819 in the other territories, making the total worldwide gross $149,044,513.
Surf's Up was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 80th Academy Awards, but lost to Ratatouille. The film was also nominated for 10 Annie Awards at the 35th Annie Awards, and won two awards: Animated Effects, and Animation Production Artist:Best Animated Feature
Animated Effects: Deborah Carlson (won)
Animation Production Artist: John Clark (won)
Character Animation in a Feature Production: Dave Hardin
Character Animation in a Feature Production: Alan Hawkins
Character Design in an Animated Feature Production: Sylvain Deboissy
Directing in an Animated Feature Production: Ash Brannon & Chris Buck
Production Design in an Animated Feature Production: Marcelo Vignali
Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production: Denise Koyama
Writing in an Animated Feature Production: Don Rhymer and Ash Brannon & Chris Buck
A direct-to-video sequel, titled Surf's Up 2: WaveMania, was released on January 17, 2017. The film stars WWE superstars John Cena, Triple H, The Undertaker, Vince McMahon, and Paige.