Friday, August 20, 2010

Don Bluth Month: The Forsaken - Thoughts on "The Pebble and the Penguin"

Say hello to my slightly larger friend:

And boy howdy did I need it.

So this is it. Out of all the movies Don Bluth ever made, this is the one he disowned. He is not listed as a director. The film was originally credited to Alan Smithy, the name directors used (before Joe Esterhaus ruined the fun for everyone with his awful "An Alan Smithy Film") when their own film is so terrible that they are too embarrassed to put their own name on it. If I'm lucky, this will have been the nadir of this here Don Bluth Month project. I really hope it is.

Because good God, this movie is terrible. I could see why Bluth turned away from it almost immediately: there are times when the animation is just downright sh**ty. I know bad animation bothers Don Bluth more than story problems, because even something like "Rock-A-Doodle" has excellent effects and character animation.

In "Penguin" the animation, particularly of the characters, is either inconsistent or downright ugly. Oftentimes, it's both. Seems they farmed the animation duties off to some other, cheaper studio. The characters freely change size and perspective while standing still. They shimmer in and out of existence. They even occasionally appear as immobile still frames that may "twitch" once and again; the effect is less like the kind of fluid, lifelike animation Bluth was trying to keep alive and more like something mind-scarring from a Japanese horror film.

There is even a scene, late in the film, where they forget to draw a major characters head. 'Nuff said.

Add to this the fact that the penguin character designs are downright ghastly. Why do they all have such prominent teeth? Why is Marina given a pair of human-like hips way the hell up near where her wishbone should be? It's "Happy Feet" all over again, with all the creepy almost-anthropomorphic penguins running about. Why the hell is it so easy to mess up the cuteness of a penguin?!

And the story is... man, you know what, f*** it! I don't even remember it!

That says a lot. As I mentioned before, story problems do not appear to bother Don Bluth too much. I might have hated "All Dogs Go To Heaven", but at least it's memorable because it has some insane fever-dream logic at work (the scene where the infamous King Gator suddenly reappears as a singing big gay unstoppable force of nature for example). It's not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but at the very least it is fun to make fun of, and to wonder what kind of deranged mind came up with it.

"Penguin" is just irredeemably boring and tedious, with ugly, unlikeable characters, a story that goes nowhere, and songs that feel like an obligation in the fact that they just keep showing up and stalling the plot. There's one in particular that almost made me want to gouge my ears out with a skewer, in which Hubie and Rocko sing about how friendship is nice or something. It goes on forever. In the duration, we learn that the two characters are
exactly like what we thought they were before (though we do learn that Hubie is more annoying than we thought we did, so yay for whatever character development we can get). Also, during the song they advance a physical distance of about twenty feet on their adventure from New Zealand to Antarctica.

I guess the more important question is this:
how in the hell do you go from "The Secret of N.I.M.H." to this?!?

Up next, "A Troll in Central Park". Please,
please at least let the animation be better in this one?


Art of the Day!

Got something on canvas now...

6.31.10 Further Painting Progress


Zach said...

Sounds like the kind of movie I'd like watch just to see how bad they screwed it up. I like the papercraft look of the dinosaur piece. Don't know if that's what you're going for, but that's what I like about it. :-D

Trish said...

^ "Sounds like the kind of movie I'd like watch just to see how bad they screwed it up."

No. Just no. Take another look at how big that growler of Harpoon is. It's not even enjoyable on that level.

See also:

Anonymous said...

One of those cheesy, cringe-worthy movies. Was Tim Curry enjoyable at least?

Trish said...

Nope. I'm not even sure what he was doing in this, and I mean hat not in the What The Hell Casting sense but in the "why does this movie need a villain when the -er- hero has enough on his plate" sense.

Darwin Long said...

I wish to defend The Pebble and the Penguin in light of the rather harsh assessment this blog has provided.
It seems most critics watch Bluth’s Production #211 "Penguin" once, gloss the surface, then rip it to shreds with unoriginal comments. This is a multi-layered story, not just a simple kid’s cartoon. If you take time to ingest it sequence by sequence, frame-by-frame (in Blu-Ray HD) to glean the full scope and story, you’ll discover what really went into this production. For example, most still think Hubie is the hero. But could it actually be Rocko? Or, digging deeper, do you discover that the underlying hero may really be an unexpected minor character: Timmy?
The concept of "ugly”, “unrealistic” characters is bothersome, detracting from a complete, useful, and thorough review of this production; "ugly" being too specific to a particular beholder. If animation is created to artistically convey a visual story of fantasy or fiction that is not possible through live-action film, then who cares if the penguins have teeth and clothing? (real penguins DO have spikes on their tongue and across the roof of their mouth resembling teeth, FWIW). There’s no point in creating an animated film with characters drawn PRECISELY true-to-life in their natural habitat… one can just watch a nature documentary film about them instead. Bluth’s crew did spend time observing living penguins and studying films to match their movement in the animation. The characters in “Penguin” are endearing with human-like features, particularly between genders, are drawn and colored according to the species in real life, and are animated (waddling, swimming, etc.) quite naturally from observations made from wild penguins. As an ornithologist managing a collection of penguins at an aquarium and studying them afield in the wild, I should know. To criticize the characters of “Penguin” as not looking or acting “realistic" is accusing Bluth of creating fiction... EXACTLY what most of the world of animation IS! So should we also complain that mice talk and build little furnished houses underground (NIMH), that roosters sing like Elvis and drive cars (Rock-A-Doodle), that princes ride bumblebees and princesses dance at discotheques with beetles (Thumbelina), or that dragons exist and hold blonde girls captive in a bubble as a ditzy warrior named Dirk tries to bust her out (Dragon’s Lair?) Of course not! The characters and situations in each of those Bluth films are equally (if not more) bizarre and fictitious as in “Penguin”.
There is far more effects-animation in “Penguin” than most of the later traditionally-animated Disney films of the 80’s and 90’s, largely because Disney cut spending on that (a reason Bluth left Disney in 1979). Animation mistakes identified in “Penguin” were results of POST PRODUCTION goofs after Media Assets, Ltd. and MGM forced Bluth to make changes to an otherwise fine finished product. Several minutes of the film were lopped off, the film re-edited, recolored, cels incorrectly fielded, etc. at a Hungarian animation facility out of Bluth’s control. THAT’S why Bluth was so displeased with “Penguin” that he didn’t want to take credit for it. But Bluth and Goldman DIDN’T “divorce” the film. Instead, they oversaw a complete overhaul of it in 2000 to correct the errors, and had “Penguin” re-released as the Family Fun Edition and on Blu-Ray.
Bluth created the characters in “Penguin” himself; he didn’t create the animation blunders and butcher job imposed on the film by Media Assets and MGM. Given the technical and animation complexity level (cel layers at times 5-6 deep with effects animation), brilliant character design, and a biologically-accurate story, coupled with excellent voice talents and a well-orchestrated musical soundtrack, all within the confines of an unexpectedly-shortened completion timetable and slimmed budget, I commend Bluth for creating “Penguin” and sticking with it until Media Assets and MGM marred it.