Off the coast of a small Australian town called Warrnambool lies Middle Island, a rocky outcrop that a colony of fairy penguins like to call home. The island once teemed with the little penguins, but after foxes discovered they could reach the island from the shore at low tide, the population begun slipping dramatically. That was until a chicken farmer and his dog, Oddball, stepped in to save the day.
As unusual as this story sounds, it is actually true – and the inspiration for Stuart McDonald’s new children’s film Oddball. In this version, chicken farmer Allan “Swampy” Marsh (Shane Jacobson) is in trouble with the Warrnambool council after his michevious dog, Odball, has wreaked unintentional havoc across town once again. Meanwhile, his wildlife conservationist daughter Emily (Sarah Snook) and her nine-year-old child Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies), are fighting to keep the Middle Island penguin reserve open as the penguin population drops below 20. Desperate to help his daughter and granddaughter out, Swampy decides to put Oddball to good use, and begins training the dog to protect the little penguins. But the process is far from easy, particularly when the town Dog Catcher (Frank Woodley) is just waiting for Oddball to slip up.
This quirky little Aussie film is very sweet, but sadly a little forgettable. While I think it’s a really great movie for kids to see and learn from, there isn’t a lot going on for the parents or adults, neither in the screenplay nor the actors’ performances (exaggerated for the entertainment of the youngins, of course). It’s not necessarily a bad thing – a kids movie is targeted to kids after all – but I do believe that in order to make a children’s movie a success, it has to engage both the little ones and the big ones. There are some “nice” moments throughout the film – and Oddball in particular is a joy to watch – but it doesn’t go very far beyond that.
Oddball is just what you expect it to be really – cheesy, cute, cliche, funny to those under six and just a little tedious for those who aren’t. I personally think this one will fly under the radar, however it does have an important lesson for children in terms of conservation and protecting the wonderful world we live in.