Middle Island was once a flourishing penguin population but sadly over the years the numbers have dropped from a few thousand down to around ten due to the fact that foxes have worked out how to get to the Island. This has now caused problems for Emily Marsh (Sarah Snook), Jack Jones (Richard Davies) and Zoe (Tegan Higginbotham) who have been told they will lose their jobs if the Island is no longer considered a sanctuary.
As the nearby town of Warrnambool works hard at becoming a tourist destination by having the local council including Mayor Lake (Deborah Mailman) working with an advisor named Bradley Slater (Alan Tudyk) to come up with new tourism ideas. But when Bradley’s idea means the future of Middle Island is doomed a local chicken farmer named Swampy Marsh (Shane Jacobson) and his granddaughter, Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies) decides it is up to them and a mischievous dog called Oddball to come up with a way to fix everything.
This has been the year when the Australian film industry has hit back with vengenance. Amongst the good drama films that have surfaced Aussie cult cinema has led the way around the world with films like Kill Me Three Times and Wyrmwood making the charts in America while Mad Max: Fury Road seemed to thrill action film lovers as well. Of course one of the biggest Australian films over the past few years has been Red Dog – a family film that surprised everybody. Not surprisingly many Aussie filmmakers thought they had just discovered the best way to make people watch your film and that was to create a family friendly film about dog. Several projects fitting that description have fallen by the wayside but now Oddball manages to make its way to the big screen.
Yes I’ve made the clichéd comparison between Oddball and Red Dog so now let’s take a look at whether or not the film is actually any good. The answer to that question is a solid yes because director Stuart McDonald (who over recent years has worked on all of Chris Lilley’s projects) and screenwriter Peter Ivan have been brave enough to make Oddball a little bit different to the thousands of dog movies over the years. When the opening to Oddball boasts that this is a fairy tale they aren’t joking. Yes this is a true story that saw the people of Warrnambool embrace a Maremma dog but together these talented filmmakers have told the story in a fairy tale style which incorporates a smart script with a little bit of pantomime acting, especially from comedian Frank Woodley who plays the mean dog catcher. In the past this style of filmmaking has led to some pretty woeful Australian films, I’m looking at you Welcome To Woop Woop, but here it makes a refreshing difference and makes Oddball the kind of film that could be enjoyed by the whole family.
Ironically when watching Oddball the old fart joke and over the top dog chase does have a bit of a feel of a Paul Jennings story and sure enough a quick check of Peter Ivan’s bio shows that he was one of the writer’s on Two Twisted, a show based on Jenning’s work. Somehow this script manages to incorporate that kind of humor with a dramatic storyline revolving around how greed can impeach on nature and also explores the fractured relationship between father and daughter when it comes to things between Swampy and Emily. Yes Ivan and McDonald together have somehow created a film that will actually have you laughing one moment and tearing up the next.
The key to this film working as well as it does though is through it’s casting. Shane Jacobson does a great job in the lead role of Swampy. He made the character of Kenny famous all those years ago and while his comedic talent is held back a little here he now has also made Swampy a much loved Australian character. He is well supported by Alan Tudyk who plays the pushy American but the scenes here are stolen by Sarah Snook who once again shows why she is an Australian actress on the rise and young Coco Jack Gillies who here shows the world that she is a child actress with a huge future ahead of her.
Oddball is a genuine treat. It is a film that has a strong conservational message but doesn’t get bogged down in preaching to its audience. A great script that manages to mix humor and drama together well without becoming to adult for children is a rarity these days, but here it works well and allows it’s talented cast to really show there skills. Different but smart, cute but dramatic Oddball will surprise more than a few people who take the time to watch the film.
Director: Stuart McDonald
Starring: Alan Tudyk, Shane Jacobson, Sarah Snook, Coco Jack Gillies
Running Time: 95 mins
Release Date: TBA