Fairy penguin family fun
Director: Stuart McDonald (feature debut) Starring: Shane Jacobson, Sarah Snook, Coco Jack Gillies, Alan Tudyk, Richard Davies, Deborah Mailman. Verdict: It’s the paws that refreshes
THEY say every dog has its day.
Well, the delightful new Australian family film Oddball flips that timehonoured notion on its head.
The day in question here demands that a dog – and only a dog – can step up and save it.
Very loosely based on a true story, Oddball is set entirely on the beautiful south-west coast of Victoria, where a rapidly shrinking colony of fairy penguins is nearing total oblivion.
Marauding foxes in the Warrnambool region have reduced the birds dramatically in number, from the thousands down to the teens.
Local authorities have issued an ultimatum: should the penguin population dip to single figures, the already-threadbare protection these frail little flappers get from conservation workers will be removed.
A cheeky chook farmer named Swampy Marsh (played by Shane Jacobson) cannot and will not let the penguins vanish.
Sure, he has a vested interest in their survival. Should they go, Swampy will have to say goodbye to his nearest and dearest: his environmental-leader daughter Emily (Sarah Snook) and his inquisitive granddaughter Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies).
And so, cometh the hour, cometh the canine. With the conspiratorial help of Olivia, Swampy hatches a scheme that sees one of his prize Maremma dogs become a round-theclock bodyguard for the penguins.
Named Oddball, this peculiar pooch has never been much good at doing the job he was originally trained for (guarding Swampy’s chickens from interlopers).
However, for some mystical reason, the otherwise mercurial Oddball is completely on the ball when it comes to protecting defenceless penguins from dangerous predators.
As a well-intentioned and cleverly crafted Australian production aimed primarily at young children – a target audience it hits with great efficiency and sincerity – Oddball is the clear top pick for kids going to the movies this school holidays.
The success of the film as a completely accessible little crowdpleaser owes much to the efforts of Jacobson in the anchoring role of Swampy.
This actor has long mastered the tough task of keeping an audience on-side and involved at all times. However, here Jacobson refines this underrated skill further, playing broad-yet-direct so that the true stars of the show (the ones with the beaks and the bark) can get on with their respective jobs.
Overall, Oddball is a balanced piece of filmmaking that does the right thing by a uniquely Australian tale of heroism and high jinks. No one component oversteps the mark, nor lags too far behind.