Australia’s favourite koala Blinky Bill is back in an all-new CGI adventure, Blinky Bill the Movie. The film sports an impressive cast of well-known Australian talent, and attempts to modernize the iconic character for a new generation of viewers. While it may look more like a Pixar animation than the old Blinky Bill cartoons, don’t be too alarmed as the film uses almost every Australian idiom, cliché and slang word, which means it’s an experience designed specially for Australian audiences.
Blinky Bill (Ryan Kwanten) is a mischievous little koala that has grand dreams of being an adventurer like his father, Bill Koala (Richard Roxburgh). But when Bill goes missing, it’s up to Blinky to venture beyond Green Patch and search for him before Mayor Cranklepot (Barry Otto) takes over the town, even if it’s against the wishes of his mother (Deborah Mailman). As his journey takes him right through the outback, he encounters a number of new friends, like Nutsy (Robin McLeavy), Wombo (Barry Humphries), Jacko the frill neck lizard (David Wenham) and a colourful pair of emu sisters (Toni Collete), as well as some enemies, like the deadly Cat (Rufus Sewell).
With such a strong Australian cast, the film is already set to draw attention for it’s collection of talent alone. Kwanten (True Blood) does well, and brings a youthful, playfulness to Blinky, as does McLeavy (The Loved Ones) as her anxious zoo koala. Sewell (Hercules) seems to do his best Jeremy Irons impersonation, which at times, makes it feel as if you are just watching a watered down version of Scar from The Lion King. Mailman (Offspring) has to be a little more serious as Blinky’s sensible mother, although provides most of the heart for the film. Collete, Otto and Humphries all get to play up the silliness of their roles, although Wenham (300) seems to be having the most fun as his wacky lizard. While such an amazing cast adds some needed credibility to this modern interpretation, there’s definitely a sense that this version is just a little bland without the voice work of original artists like Robyn Moore, who gave these characters more unique vocal traits.
Visually, the CGI looks good enough. It’s a step above video game animations, although at times, objects like heads seem to lose shape as they turn. It’s a long way from the television cartoon’s animation, and Dorothy Wall’s original illustrations, but while older audiences will probably be left a little jarred with the departure from the traditional look of Blinky Bill, younger ones won’t be. With a television show set to follow the feature, it’s obvious that this style was purposely created so that it could be easily reproduced on a television budget, and it’s apparent that these animations make for easy replication as toys.
The film tries hard to be a children’s comedy that appeals to audiences of all ages, but the more mature humour just isn’t strong or consistent enough to warrant it as a film that adults without kids could enjoy too. At one point, after having chased down Blinky and friends, the Cat notices Jacko’s inability to frill his neck and quips that he has ‘e-reptile dysfunction’. While probably one of the funnier lines of the film, it’s totally out-of-place between most of the fart jokes and slapstick humour, and the film rarely even hints at such an adult joke again. The film also has a reliance on using ‘wacky’ characters that spurt out nonsensical gibberish to make you laugh, and while most animations will normally have at least one of these, this film has no less than three, which makes a viewing prone to feel like you’re watching the same schtick over and over.
Noticeably, the traditional environmental messages of Blinky Bill are missing, and are instead filled with stock standard messages of friendship and not giving up. For a split second, the film appears as if it’s going to make a strong statement on the social issue of immigration and refugees through Mayor Cranklepot’s plan to disallow anyone from entering Green Patch, even those that are rescued, which would seem especially significant in the current Australian political climate, but it’s unfortunately never brought up again in a meaningful way. And while it could be argued the film still makes some form of statement merely through the idea of an Australian haven that welcomes everyone into it’s community alone, the obvious message will be lost on most.
The real issue is that while perhaps another milestone in Australian animation, it pales in comparison to anything it’s competitors, like Pixar and Dreamworks, are producing. Even if you excuse this film for not having the same enormous budgets that these powerhouses have to ensure their animation is continuously groundbreaking, Blinky Bill the Movie still doesn’t have the same quality in story. The film continuously seems to believe that the audience will forgive, or be completely ignorant to, bad story telling. Blinky’s rescue mission takes him all over the outback ”tracking” his father, but there’s never a sense that the journey’s progress is earned, as they move from one set piece to another on a completely coincidental basis. At one point after having lost his way, Blinky literally stumbles by coincidence on a sign of his father, and the fact that this very unlikely occurrence in the vast outback goes by without even a second to note it’s improbability, it goes to demonstrate how little effort is put into telling a solid narrative.
In addition to this, characters continually seem to do things just for relevance later in the plot, such as Nutsy who, after having been released from her torn open cage, decides to drag it’s remains through the desert for a small portion of the film, seemingly just so it can be used as a toboggan to slide down a mountain later on. The character of Flap the platypus is completely absent from this version so that Robert the lyrebird can join the group, which is apparently only so that he can make funny noises and mimic Blinky’s voice as the plot demands. The film also makes little effort to explain how the relationship between animals and humans work in this world, and while the animals may use human like objects and the like, it becomes confusing when Blinky starts interacting with the human environment and acts like many of these objects are foreign.
While it’s easy to say that this is just a kid’s film, and it’s quite obvious that most of these grievances are forgivable when you consider that it’s squarely aimed at five-year-olds, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to make a lesser film. This is especially true when the aforementioned American studio’s are producing content of such a high quality story wise, that are not only able to appeal to wide audiences but also regularly explore important themes and social issues (just look at Inside Out as an example). It seems a waste then to produce a film that relies almost solely on nostalgia for it’s star and his name recognition, than earning it’s place in the hall of great Australian films through great story telling.