Fairy pen­guin fam­ily fun

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - WEEK IN MOVIES -

ODD­BALL (G)

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.

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