Monday, 14 September 2015


Roadshow Films

After the box office successes of Happy Feet (2006) and Red Dog (2011), it wouldn't take a genius to suggest making a film combining penguins and dogs. How fortunate then for the producers of Oddball that there existed a real-life tale of inter-species co-operation from which to draw inspiration.

In the Victorian coastal town of Warrnambool exists a colony of little (nee fairy) penguins whose existence -- not to mention profitable contribution to the local tourism industry -- was once threatened by foxes with an appetite for destruction. Wild life rangers could only do so much to protect the birds, who came into land of a night time to sleep and mate, until an outside-the-box solution was hit upon: a guard dog.

Not any guard dog, but a Maremma. Kind of like a shaggy labrador, a Maremma is an Italian dog bred specifically to protect livestock. But Oddball, one of two Maremmas owned by local chook farmer, Allan "Swampy" Marsh (Shane Jacobson), didn't seem to possess that protective gene; watching out for his master's chickens was not his forte. Causing mayhem in the town, however, was.

After one too many destructive rampages through the streets of Warrnambool, Swampy is issued an ultimatum: keep Oddball out of town and out of trouble or its curtains for the canine. But redemption comes in the unlikeliest forms, and when Swampy notes that Oddball's dormant protective gene is awoken by an injured penguin, he and his granddaughter, Olivia (Coco Gillies), hit on an idea, one that will kill two birds (not literally) with one stone.

For Swampy's daughter, Emily (Sarah Snook), is the local wildlife ranger and keeper of her late mother's flame; she was the one who created the penguin sanctuary which is in danger of being shut down by the local council if its population drops below ten. That possibility has Emily thinking of leaving town altogether and starting a new life in New York with Bradley Slater (Alan Tudyk), a tourism adviser. But neither Swampy nor Olivia wants that to happen.

How events unfold from there and are resolved are never really in doubt (even less so if you're aware of the actual Warrnambool penguins story), but director Stuart Macdonald, and screenwriter Peter Ivan, manage to provide enough humour and charm in Oddball to keep audiences engaged and smiling.

That said, there's perhaps too much emphasis on the human characters' problems and not nearly enough of the cute penguins and playful pooch to keep the little ones from getting restless. Parents will be relieved to know, however, that unlike that other pooch picture, Red Dog, no tissues, or uncomfortable conversations about mortality, will be required. All's well that ends well in this fairy (penguin) tale.

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