Director: Stuart McDonald.
Cast: Shane Jacobson, Sarah Snook, Coco Jack Gillies, Alan Tudyk, Deborah Mailman.
YOU’D have to be heartless to hate Oddball.
For all its schmaltz and occasionally clunkiness, the film achieves everything it sets out to do, which is to tell a unique story for all ages.
There are laughs, some nice moments, beautiful cinematography, and plenty of heart in this “fairy tale that really happened”.
The real-life program where Maremmas were used to protect penguins from killer foxes on Warrnambool’s Middle Island makes for an intriguing plot and it’s easy to see why this story grabbed the attention of producer Stephen Kearney almost a decade ago.
Around that central idea we have the family unit of chook farmer Swampy Marsh (Jacobson), his daughter Emily (Snook) and his grand-daughter (Gillies), who are using their dog Oddball to keep the penguins alive, not only out of the goodness of their heart, but also to keep alive the dream of Marsh’s late wife.
Hovering nearby are some eccentric whale enthusiasts and American tourism guru Bradley Slater (Tudyk), who are keen to build a whale-focused tourism centre on Middle Island should the penguin colony drop below a certain number.
Tudyk’s character threatens to be the token Yank dropped in to help sell the film in the US, but thankfully he makes Slater a compelling part of the story. Snook is also great, while Frank Woodley is criminally underused as a weird dog catcher.
Jacobson’s Marsh is as much of an oddball as the titular Maremma, eating raw eggs and having deep conversations with his chickens (possibly the film’s most accurate moment), and while it won’t win Jacobson any awards, he looks the part and handles the comedic and dramatic extremes well enough.
From a local perspective, Warrnambool looks amazing. It is one of the stars of the film, along with the scenic coastline near the Twelve Apostles, and there will never ever be a better promotional campaign for this city than the one snuck into Oddball.
Some locals will groan about the way the script plays hard and fast with the facts and locations – the most hilarious bit for locals will be the moment Marsh wanders from Middle Island to the Twelve Apostles looking for his dog – but that’s the magic of movies. Meanwhile the story flows nicely and the cheesier moments are kept to a minimum.
There is a Scooby Doo-esque ending where the film almost jumps the shark, but this is aimed at the young and the young at heart who probably won’t mind a bit.