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Australia 2015
Directed by
Stuart McDonald
95 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Middle Island near the town of Warrnambool is a sanctuary for fairy penguins run by Emily Marsh (Sarah Snook) in memory of her deceased mother. But recent fox attacks are threatening the tiny penguin colony and if their numbers fall below ten, the sanctuary will be closed down. Things look hopeless until Emily’s eccentric father, chicken farmer Swampy Marsh (Shane Jacobson) and his granddaughter Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies) stumble upon an unorthodox solution to the problem in the shaggy shape of a rambunctious and trouble making sheepdog named Oddball.

Hot on the tail of Robert Connolly’s Paper Planes comes another live-action family-friendly Australian film the success of which seems to have taken everyone by surprise (in fact Screen Australia recently responded to this success by announcing a new family-friendly film fund).

Oddball is a funny, easy, likeable film that takes a true story about a dog that saved a colony of penguins from attacks by foxes and heightens the reality just enough to allow a melodramatic, almost cartoonish, style of performance from Jacobson and other characters like the Mayor (Deborah Mailman) the members of the town council and a very funny, villainous turn by a shaven-headed Frank Woodley as the evil dog catcher. It also allows for some well staged slapstick mayhem from the dog.  Balancing out these comedic elements are fairly straight performances from the ubiquitous and highly talented Snook along with relative newcomer, Gillies (fresh from a stint in Mad Max: Fury Road). 

The film is at its best when well-meaning Swampy and the charmingly precocious Olivia are plotting together, often against the Emily’s wishes, and generally with disastrous results that couldn’t possibly bring us to a happy ending – but somehow do. Where it gets the wobbles a bit is in being clear who the villain is – is it Woodley’s evil dog-catcher,  is it Emily’s ambitious American boyfriend (the amiable Alan Tudyk), or is it someone else? The answer ends up feeling a bit contrived and not as satisfying as it might have been.

What’s interesting with both this film and Paper Planes and even 2011’s Red Dog is the level of success they have been achieving at the box office. After such a long period when children’s and family films have been largely restricted to the realms of fantasy, fairytale, super-heroes and game or toy-based stories told in various forms of animation and CGI, it’s refreshing to see the resurgence of live action tales that hark back to the days of the Henri Safran’s classic  Storm Boy (1976)  or Carroll Ballard’s brilliant and moving Fly Away Home (1996). Whilst Oddball isn’t quite in the same league as these two movies, it is still an enjoyable and, at times, inspirational film.




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