Oddball and the Penguins (G)
Foxes are killing baby penguins on their colony on Middle Island, which is off the coast of the south-western Australian town of Warrnambool. There used to be thousands of penguins there. Now they’re in danger of extinction, the predatory foxes making their way across the shallow channel from the mainland to wreak havoc.
If park ranger Emily Marsh (Sarah Snook) can’t keep up a quota of at least 10 penguins on the compound, the local tourist board is threatening to pull the plug on it and replace it with a whale-watching centre.
Emily took over the job of running the colony after her mother died. Her father, the cuddly Swampy (Shane Jacobson), still misses his wife dearly. He tries to keep jolly as a free-range chicken farmer. He dotes on Emily’s daughter Olivia (Coco Gillies), as he does on his fluffy white sheepdog, Oddball.
One day Swampy brings home an injured penguin from Middle Island. He notices that Oddball takes a shine to it. An idea forms in his mind: Can “Oddy” deal with the foxes and thereby save the penguin colony? It’s hard to tell. He’s very accident-prone, and his history in protecting Swampy’s chicks from the foxes is also pretty pathetic.
Swampy sees penguins as “chickens in tuxedos”. It’s clear some preliminary penguin-training is needed for the clumsy pooch, especially when Oddball is “grounded” by a local judge after practically wrecking the town of Warrnambool in a hilarious early scene.
Enter Olivia, a somewhat precocious pre-teen who’s also very keen on preserving the colony. She puts Oddy through his paces under the approving eye of Swampy.
Swampy is less keen on Emily’s American boyfriend, Bradley (Alan Tudyk), a thus-far unsuccessful tourism consultant. He succumbs to the suggestion of turning Middle Island into the whale-watching centre. When Swampy, Emily and Olivia find out about this they give him a piece of their collective mind.
Can Bradley be won round to some ecological compassion or will he go for “the main chance” with the money-hungry tourist-hunters? Will he marry Emily and move to New York with “Livvy”, thus taking her away from Swampy and Oddball? That’s the main conundrum in this pleasant “fairytale based on fact”, as it’s described in the opening credits.
It’s ideal family viewing and combines the ‘back to nature’ theme with some interesting drama in the latter stages as a saboteur tries to scupper Oddy’s efforts to sort the foxes out.
There’s also an eccentric dogcatcher (Frank Woodley) doing his utmost to impound him.
It’s all played out with humour and good taste, making it a user-friendly, inoffensive film, the kind of thing you could imagine yourself watching on a Sunday afternoon on RTÉ.
It kept me entertained but I have to say I was surprised when I heard it cleaned up at the box office in Australia last year, netting a staggering $10 million in all. Its secret is simplicity.
Very Good ***