Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie review: Oddball

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A scene from the film Oddball about the project top save Little Penguins on Middle Island off the Melbourne Coast, Victoria, using Maremma sheepdogs to scare off predating foxes.
A scene from the film Oddball about the project top save Little Penguins on Middle Island off the Melbourne Coast, Victoria, using Maremma sheepdogs to scare off predating foxes.

If you're looking for a sweet family film to entertain the younger kids these holidays, Oddball will do the trick.

Unlike most animations featuring animals, Oddball is a gloriously old-fashioned live action film, set on the stunning West Coast of Australia. Oddball calls itself a "fairy tale that really happened", and tells the true story of a chicken farmer and his unruly dog, Oddball, who saved a penguin colony on an island off Warrnambool.

Oddball is a maremma sheepdog, an Italian dog breed that's big, fluffy and Labrador-like. In Tuscany they protect sheep from wolves, but in Australia they're used by chicken farmers to keep foxes out of their hen houses. Allan "Swampy" Marsh discovers some dogs are better at this than others; Oddball is more interested in snuggling up with his owner than prowling for foxes. That is until Swampy takes in an injured fairy penguin from the local colony on Middle Island and finds Oddball has an instinct to protect penguins.

This comes at the right time: Swampy's daughter Emily (Sarah Snook) is a wildlife ranger fighting for the future of the penguin colony.

Once home to thousands of birds, now only 20 call the colony home, after foxes found a swim to the island made for an easy dinner.

Swampy and his granddaughter trial Oddball on the island, but time isn't on their side.

If the penguin colony gets to fewer than 10 penguins it loses its protected status, and will make way for a whale-watching business the council is keen to put in place.

It doesn't get cuter than a dog and penguins bonding together, and the scenery is also a winner, with sweeping vistas of Western Australia's stunning coastline.

Less impressive are the scenes set on the island, which have obviously been shot in a studio.

Director Stuart McDonald comes from a television background and takes an upbeat approach to his feature film directorial debut.

Rather than the usual Aussie deadpan humour he's opted for a exaggerated slapstick approach, which makes the cast look like they're overacting or trying too hard, but which will likely appeal to younger audiences.

Not everyone is afflicted; playing the town's mayor, Deborah Mailman does a much subtler job while remaining a touch eccentric, and Offspring's Richard Davies makes the humour work nicely for his goofy character.

It may not quite capture the fairy tale magic, but this is a cool little story with its heart in the right place.

Just remember, it's best seen through the eyes of younger kids.

Cast: Shane Jacobson, Sarah Snook
Director: Stuart McDonald
Running Time: 95 mins
Rating: G
Verdict: Fun, old school family entertainment.

- TimeOut

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