Every underdog has his day.
On Middle Island, located just off the coastal region of Warrnambool, Victoria, a precious penguin colony is slowly facing extinction due to fox predation. Emily Marsh (Sarah Snook), along with Jack Jones (Richard Davies) and Zoe (Tegan Higginbotham) are in charge of the penguins’ conservation, but the trio are struggling to find a real solution to their problem.
Mounting pressures by the local council threaten the project and a conflict of interest emerges as Emily begins seeing the new projects manager, American Bradley Slater (Alan Tudyk), while attempting to keep her father, the eccentric chicken farmer Swampy (Shane Jacobson) and his Maremma sheepdog, Oddball, (played by Kia), out of trouble.
When Swampy notices that Oddball has a strange affinity for protecting penguins, he, along with Emily’s daughter Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies) hatch a plan to train the beloved dog and place him on Middle Island with hopes that he’ll scare away the foxes and in turn, save the penguin preserve and the conservation project.
There seems to be a slight resurgence in live-action Australian family films, after the blazing success of Red Dog (2011) and earlier this year Paper Planes (2014), both charmers in their own rights. I for one am delighted at this growing live-action trend as lately, there has been a greater emphasis on CG animated films, which wouldn’t be so bad, if the flicks themselves weren’t — just check out fellow September compatriot Blinky Bill the Movie (2015) — in any case, it’s satisfying to see Australia and its rugged coastlines up on the big screen once again.
After a slightly wonky, forced start — introducing its characters and situation — Oddball straightens out and becomes exactly what it sets out to be; warm, cute, amusing and most importantly, entertaining.
Adults will enjoy Warrnambool’s coastal scenery, lushly shot by Damien Wyvill, Backyard Ashes (2013), and kids will no doubt jump and giggle with excitement over the titular dog and the penguins or ‘chickens in tuxedos’ he protects, as many young ones did at the screening I attended.
Directed by Aussie Stuart McDonald, television’s Angry Boys (2011), it’s pretty clear that Oddball has been made with a lot of heart, nabbing for its cast the likes of Texan Alan Tudyk, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015), Shane Jacobson of Kenny (2006) fame, the ever-diverse Sarah Snook, Predestination (2014) and, in small roles, Deborah Mailman, Bran Nue Dae (2009) and Frank Woodley of the popular Australian comedy duo Lano & Woodley. The presence of this ensemble speaks loudly in regards to the genuine interest in the material and its subject matter, which really shows on screen — everyone appears to be having a great time whilst making the feature.
The only real hiccup with Oddball — besides its aforementioned start — is in its climax. Without giving too much away, there’s a twist involving a minor character’s motivation that makes absolutely no sense — it’s never properly seeded and more importantly, the explanation is so stupid and poorly rendered by an over-the-top performance, that it really jars the overall tone that’s been laid-out beforehand. Honestly, it virtually feels like an improvised sequence.
Nonetheless, if you’ve got a soft spot for animal stories and can forgive the picture’s first and third acts, you’ll find much to enjoy in Oddball.
Based on a local true story, a recent one in fact, Oddball stands as an opportunity for young audiences to learn more about conservation efforts or perhaps it may even inspire families to visit Victoria’s South-Western coast. The quiet town of Warrnambool will surely benefit from Oddball — which to me … is a deserving outcome.
Just make sure to take out all your cuddle inclinations on a pet after.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Steve Ramsie
Oddball is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia