21 June 2009 | TheUnknown837-1
a cheap, poorly-drawn cartoon expanded into a seventy-minute feature -- but if you have young children, it might be a worthy rental
By the mid 1990s, the career of animator-director Don Bluth had seemed to drop to its all-time low. Before, Bluth had made a series of popular animated films, many which remain beloved today such as "The Land Before Time" (1988), "The Secret of NIMH" (1982), and "An American Tail" (1986). But beginning with "Thumbelina" in 1994, his films seemed to decrease more and more in quality and popularity and one of the many unfortunate entries is 1995's box office bomb "The Pebble and the Penguin", a film that didn't attract audience members beyond parents and children under the age of seven. Frankly, the latter are the only audience members I can comprehend taking enjoyment out of this rather bland animated feature.
The story is absurd. The film stars a poorly-drawn, stammering, and chubby penguin named Hubie (voiced by Martin Short) who falls in love with a female penguin with a surprisingly healthy flower on her head (voice by Annie Golden). SORT OF like in real life, penguins present their bride-to-bes with a pebble as a substitute for a ring. But when Hubie is swept away by the current, he teams up with a lone rockhopper (James Belushi) with a dream of flying and they race against time to return to Antarctica before it's too late. The reasons why they could be too late is one of many underdeveloped elements of this weak story that would still be weak even if they were there.
It becomes very clear very early on why this animated children's musical does not and will not work for anybody older than say six or seven years of age. It just does not have any of the qualities that are required for a good animated feature. Number one, the film looks bad on account of a very poor drawing style. The animation in this film is very cartoony (even as far as animated films go); it's dark, gloomy, there is no vibrancy in the colors, and on top of that, the design of the film and the elements in it are universally droll and laughable. Take for instance, the penguins who star in the film. With only a few background exceptions, every single penguin looks absolutely nothing at all like a bird. Hubie, for example, looks absurdly ridiculous with wide cheeks, a stubby beak, big eyes, and that preposterous hat that he wears wherever he goes. Combined with his hand-like "flippers" he looks like Chris Farley in a penguin suit. Result: he's an ugly, poorly-drawn cartoon character. But the most absurd-looking and absurdly-designed character is the evil penguin, Drake, who frankly looks nothing at all like a penguin. He's a muscle-man wearing a penguin mask. He's got a chest broader than that of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and teeth larger than the teeth of the leopard seals and killer whales that serve as the film's predators. Basically, he's a two-dimensional, recycled villain. He lives in a cave shaped like a skull, he wears a cape, laughs a lot, and gets mad when people laugh with him. Result: who cares? And what's also bad, and maybe worse, is that this is an animated musical and there's not a single noteworthy or memorable song to found anywhere within its running time. The opening hymn was harmless—not memorable, but harmless. But after that, the songs became duller and duller and there was one in particular that had me grimacing all the way through. It's the moment that viewers press the fast-forward button for whenever it comes up.
I felt "The Pebble and the Penguin" was lame all around save for the very few moments when Hubie and the rockhopper penguin Rocko are placed in peril at the jaws of leopard seals and killer whales, who were thankfully, given no dialogue and treated as animals instead of cartoon characters. But in a way, for this reason, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this movie to children. This is the reason. The film displays killer whales are the natural predator of the penguins. My concern is that children familiar with "Free Willy" (1993) may be offended or downhearted by seeing their favorite denizen of the sea portrayed as a bloodthirsty carnivore. The leopard seal was a better antagonist and was more funny seeing as how his jaws opened wider than a rattlesnake's and how he appeared to smile while growling. But the point really is, these moments with the predators—and there are only a few—are the only interesting moments. And they're not enormously interesting, mind you.
Bottom line, I cannot recommend this to anybody below the age of seven. My advice: if you have children around that page, rent it for them. They might enjoy it.