Oddball and the Penguins
dir Stuart McDonald
scr Peter Ivan
prd Sheila Hanahan, Stephen Kearney, Richard Keddie
with Shane Jacobson, Sarah Snook, Alan Tudyk, Coco Jack Gillies, Deborah Mailman, Terry Camilleri, Richard Davies, Tegan Higginbotham, Frank Woodley, Jason Geary, Stephen Kearney, Dave Lawson
release Aus 17.Sep.15, UK 12.Feb.16
15/Australia 1h35
Oddball and the Penguins
Someone to watch over me: Snook, Gillies, Oddball, Jacobson and the penguins

jacobson snook tudyk
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Oddball and the Penguins This family-friendly Australian adventure is charming, packed with lively characters and adorable animals that more than make up for the rather clunky plot. In addition, the film carries a gentle kick as it touches on a serious conservation issue without laying on the message too thickly.

In the southwestern Australian town of Warrnambool, Emily (Snook) is struggling to keep foxes from devastating her island colony of fairy penguins. Meanwhile, her farmer father Swampy (Jacobson) has a Maremma sheepdog named Oddball who's not only uninterested in protecting the chickens, but is considered a community nuisance. As Emily's new boyfriend Bradley (Tudyk) tries to bond with her precocious 9-year-old daughter Olivia (Gillies), he's also working to boost tourism in the area. But his plan clashes with an idea Swampy has when he sees that Oddball has an unusual interest in protecting penguins.

With its gigantic fluffy dog, tiny wobbling penguins and sparky little girl, this film is shamelessly cute. But because the filmmakers back it up with an intriguing premise, the audience never minds. The only thing about the film that grates is the trite movie plot that runs alongside the much more interesting dog-and-penguin story. The dialog even acknowledges at one point that there has to be a villain, and there are several on hand here, plus some halfhearted action moments and unnecessarily complicated plot twists.

Where this is heading is all fairly obvious from the start, so attempts to distract the audience with subplots and side characters feel pointless. But director McDonald keeps the energy buoyant, and the actors all have engaging screen presence. As he did in the cult hit Kenny, Jacobson makes his hapless oaf remarkably likeable. Snook brings some intriguing weight to her role as a single mother with a difficult job. Tudyk does what he can with the standard interloper role. And Gillies kind of owns the film as the single-minded Olivia.

Everything combines in such an entertaining way that the audience is willing to forgive the screenwriters for the cliched plotting, which seems deliberately added in for children in the audience. But it's actually the central idea that catches the imagination, an inventive approach to what seems like an unsolvable problem. And the real story of the Maremmas in Warrnambool is much more complex and just as fascinating, offering ideas for other conservation areas around the world.

cert u themes, some suspense 31.Jan.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall