Review: Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania (2017)

Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania (2017)

Directed by: Henry Yu | 81 minutes | animation, family, comedy, sports | Original voice cast: Jeremy Shada, Melissa Sturm, Diedrich Bader, Saraya-Jade Bevis, Mark Calaway, Declan Carter, John Cena, Michael Coulthard, Jon Heder, Paul Levesque, Zoe Lulu, Vince McMahon, James Patrick Stuart

Halfway through the ‘noughties’ – the years between 2000 and 2010 – penguins were immensely popular in film land. With ‘March of the Penguins’ (2005), ‘Madagascar’ (2005) and ‘Happy Feet’ (2006), three films appeared in quick succession with animated or non-animated penguins in the lead roles. Then try to stand out again… Columbia Pictures made it happen. With ‘Surf’s Up’ (2007) the studio came up with an animation film in ‘mockumentary’ style, about the idiosyncratic world of surf dudes and babes. Famous surfers such as Kelly Slater and Rob Machado recorded the voices of their drawn counterparts. However, Shia LaBeouf, Zooey Deschanel and Jeff Bridges played the lead roles (who else could voice the cool aging surf dude?). The mere idea that penguins pretty much invented surfing, and the original documentary-style approach, ensured that ‘Surf’s Up’ was not dismissed as yet another animated film starring penguins, but gained the appreciation of the press and public and even won an Oscar nomination for best animated film.

Ten years later, ‘Surf’s Up’ has had a sequel, titled ‘Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania’ (2017). This sequel did not get a theatrical release, but was released directly on DVD. That is often a writing on the wall. The stars of the first film were almost all – except for Jon Heder and Diedrich Bader – dropped out. No LaBeouf, no Deschanel, no Bridges and no James Woods. You’re handing me a game of star power! LaBeouf was replaced by Jeremy Shada (who?) and Deschanel by Melissa Sturm (…?). The star power in this second part must come from a battalion of stars from the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), the world of show wrestlers. John Cena, The Undertaker, Triple H, Paige and Mr. McMahon trot out to voice The Hang 5, a group of legendary surfers who love show as much as the WWE superstars. It should be the main attraction for ‘Surf’s Up 2’, but to be honest, the vast majority of the young target audience of this film – at least on this side of the ocean – has no idea who these gentlemen and lady are.

Anyway; part two picks up where its predecessor left off. Cody (Jeremy Shada) and Lani (Melissa Sturm) now teach surf lessons to kids. When Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) suddenly crosses their path again, Cody’s memories resurface. Especially when Joe talks about how great his life has become after he won the big surf competition, Cody fantasizes about what it would have been like if he had won – if he hadn’t wanted to save Joe’s life so much, he would have. Just before Joe is about to leave for a tour of Madagascar, the world-famous surf crew The Hang 5 visits his island. The company owes its popularity to their larger than life personalities and their spectacular stunts. They have come to announce that they are looking for a new team member because Mr. McMahon is soon to retire, and Cody, Lani, Chicken Joe and Cody’s arch-rival Tank (Diedrich Bader) are the candidates. To show what they can do, they embark on an adventure with The Hang 5 to a mysterious island that is rumored to have the largest waves in the world. Once on the island, it turns out that each character must first overcome their own fears and that teamwork pays more than individual performance in the end.

It should come as no surprise that the WWE had a big hand in making ‘Surf’s Up 2’. But it goes much further than that: without input from the show wrestling federation, the film might not even have been made. According to director Henry Yu, who replaced Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, the WWE liked the film so much that they were eager to be a part of the sequel. “The movie is about sports, just like WWE. So we thought it would fit together.” As with animated sequels, it’s an almost impossible task to match – let alone surpass – the creative success of the original. ‘Surf’s Up 2′ already starts at a disadvantage because of the original cast only two voices remain, and not even the most defining voice. The replacements don’t come close to Bridges and co. The story is by no means original. The biggest shortcoming, however, is the mismatch between the surfing world and the show wrestlers. Of course there are similarities – surfers are not averse to a little show and spectacle – but basically the pure, relaxed surfers are very different people than the whipped stage animals of the WWE. As much as the creators have done their best to integrate the two worlds, you can’t help but feel that the WWE stars were brought in purely for financial reasons.

The fate of an (animation) sequel: where the makers have put in just a little more of everything (more spectacle, more action), the effectiveness is significantly less in all respects. The story is less appealing, the shine is gone, the jokes are less and the new characters don’t come out well. The animations are decent, but we’re spoiled these days. If you’re a fan of WWE, the wrestlers’ references and catchphrases incorporated into the story might be nice. If you are not a fan, then there is at most something to chuckle.

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