MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, June 8th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
If there’s one genre that always seems like a safe call for parents, it’s those live-action family films featuring loveable animals.
But only a couple of weeks ago a new movie called Show Dogs proved that you can never be too careful.
REICHARD: Immediately after the PG film hit theaters, outraged parents took to social media. They rightly complained about a plot that sends a highly dangerous message — especially given the widespread problems that have led to the #MeToo movement.
To put it delicately, the dog in this story must get past its uneasiness with having its private parts inspected. This was supposedly done by mentally going to a “zen place.” Not exactly the wisest message for children — to say the least.
EICHER: Of course, the problem is even children can get bored watching clean old standbys like Babe and Free Willy for the 12-hundredth time.
So what to do?
Megan Basham is here with an idea for you.
MEGAN BASHAM, ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR: This week, I have a traditional family dog flick that it’s a good bet your kids haven’t seen yet—the 2016 Australian film “Oddball and the Penguins.”
Based on actual events, squirrelly sheepdog Oddball is more interested in causing trouble than guarding chickens, even though it’s what he’s bred for. His mom is the right-hand hound of chicken farmer Swampy Marsh. Without her, Swampy wouldn’t be able to keep foxes from killing his precious merchandise. Unfortunately, not only is Oddball not up to defending fowl, he isn’t particularly popular with Swampy’s neighbors.
AUDIO: Judge Burns couldn’t Oddball go to an obedience school…Oddball isn’t dangerous. He’s just curious, that’s all.
But that’s before foxes start wiping out the fairy penguin population on the nearby Middle Island preserve. Swampy hits on the idea that if Oddball’s breed can protect chickens, why not penguins?
AUDIO: No, Karen, this can work. I mean, we save the penguins, everything goes back to the way it was…Penguins are just chickens in tuxedos.
And there, parents, you get two for the price of one—not just loveable dogs, but loveable miniature penguins to boot. Because when Oddball forms a friendship with one of those little penguins Swampy’s granddaughter names “Pocket,” well, the cuteness engine starts firing on all cylinders.
AUDIO:It turns out that what he lacks in looking after chickens, he makes up for in taking after penguins. Before we put that dog on the island, we gotta come up with some tests to make sure he’s up for it…If you want the biscuit you gotta risk it.
At times adults will see the clunky fictional drama superimposed on the true story. A vindictive dog catcher and a race to stop a villain from destroying the last penguin egg just before the town council votes on whether to close the sanctuary ring especially trite. But kids aren’t likely to be put off by this, and the rest of the story boasts enough authenticity to make up for it.
Swampy, who is reportedly every bit as anti-bureaucratic and eccentric in real life as he is in the movie, is particularly worth the price of an Amazon rental.
AUDIO: Nothing like a good cold kick to the ventricles to start the day, eh ladies?
There’s not much in the unrated Oddball beyond a man acting silly after getting hit by a tranquilizer dart and some jokes about the unpleasant smells Oddball creates to cause concern.
One element that could though is Swampy’s daughter’s budding relationship with an American played by Alan Tudyk. As the movie opens he’s at her house and apologizes for their first morning together being a mess. It’s possible she’s simply referring to him coming over to help out while she handles a work emergency. And there’s nothing at all in the scene to indicate he spent the night. But it could also be read that he was already there when she left. So take note.
On the very positive side, Oddball offers some splendid real-world education on the amazing instincts God gives his creatures and the ingenious ways we’re able to use them. The real Maremma initiative Oddball started was a stunning success. Not one Middle Island penguin was lost to fox attack after he and his fellow Maremmas started guarding them. And the Middle Island penguin colony that was down to just four birds has since grown to more than 150.
Sadly, the real Oddball died last year. But only after he lived a happy 14 years protecting birds, launching an unprecedented conservation project, and making a name for himself on the big screen. Not a bad legacy for one very cute pooch.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.