The Pebble and the Penguin is a 1995 animated musical family comedy film, based on the true life mating rituals of the Adelie Penguins in Antarctica, produced and directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman.
The film was released to theaters on April 12, 1995 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the United States and internationally by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment. This was Don Bluth Entertainment's final film, before the director founded Fox Animation Studios.
|Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
Hubie (Martin Short) a shy, gullible but kindhearted penguin, is in love with the beautiful and kind Marina (Annie Golden), but lacks self-confidence leading him to be bullied by the much more impressive, but vain and cruel Drake (Tim Curry), who also wants Marina, but clearly for lust.
One night, Hubie and Marina manage to confirm how they feel for each other, but Hubie can't quite find a perfect pebble to propose to Marina with. He wishes on a star to make his dream come true and he receives an emerald from the sky. Ecstatic, Hubie rushes to find Marina but is stopped by Drake, who demands Hubie to give him the pebble. Hubie refuses, so Drake throws him into the water. Hubie narrowly escapes a leopard seal and climbs on to a piece of ice where he is swept away from Antarctica.
Hubie is picked up by humans and caged on their ship, which is transporting penguins to a zoo and meets a tough, grumpy, streetwise and somewhat arrogant but good-hearted rockhopper penguin named Rocko (James Belushi). After seeing in a vision Marina having a dilemma, Hubie decides to escape. Together, he and Rocko flee, and while lying low on a beach. Rocko reluctantly tells Hubie about his desire to fly. He convinces him to help him return to Antarctica by making up a lie about a flying penguin named Waldo. They have a short fight after Rocko tries to fly off "an authentic, ancient aviarial "airstrip" and another after Rocko saved Hubie from a killer whale.
Back in Antarctica, Drake begins to threaten Marina for her hand in mating. If Marina refuses, she will be forced to leave, as it goes against tradition. Hubie and Rocko attempt to depart, but Rocko discovers Hubie lied to him and attempts to attack Hubie, but soon starts laughing, praising Hubie's determination to get back to Marina. Back in Antarctica, Marina becomes worried about Hubie.
Hubie and Rocko run into the hungry and persistent leopard seal but are able to escape it. With that Rocko and Hubie become true friends (though it takes prodding from Hubie for Rocko to admit it). Their joy is short lived as killer whales attack them causing Hubie's emerald to get lost and Rocko to go missing, leaving Hubie to think he perished.
Hubie continues on to face Drake and defeats him in a fight. Then Rocko comes back, revealing he had survived the whale encounter (and found the pebble Hubie lost in the scuffle). As Hubie makes a proposal to Marina and gains her acceptance, Drake returns to finish the two off. With Rocko's help, Hubie and Marina dodge Drake's giant boulder while Drake himself is crushed by his own tower.
During the rescue, Rocko's dream for flight comes true. Rocko hands Hubie his pebble. He presents it to Marina, who loves it, but loves Hubie more. Some time later, Rocko teaches Marina and Hubie's children to fly.
- Martin Short as Hubie, a shy, good-hearted adelie penguin. He forms a bond with Marina after showing her who he really is and she sees the real him. After he is thrown over the cliff by Drake, he must find his way home and win Marina over before Drake does.
- Jim Belushi as Rocko, a streetwise Northern rockhopper penguin who befriends Hubie and helps him win Marina on the way back to Antarctica.
- Tim Curry as Drake, a hunky, dark-hearted penguin. He stops at nothing to win and tries to steal Marina from Hubie and continually bullies Hubie. He meets his end when, after trying to crush Hubie with a milestone, he accidentally causes the stadium to fall apart and collapse on top of him.
- Annie Golden as Marina, a penguin who Hubie and Drake fall in love with and cares about Hubie.
- Alissa King as Petra
- Louise Vallance as Priscilla and Chinstrap 2
- Will Ryan as Royal and Tika
- Neil Ross as Scrawny
- Stan Jones as McCallister
- S. Scott Bullock as Chubby and Gentoo
- Philip L. Clarke as King
- Shani Wallis as the Narrator
- B. J. Ward as Megellenic 1
- Hamilton Camp as Megellenic 2
- Angeline Ball as Gwynne and Chinstrap 3
- Kendall Cunningham as Timmy
- Pat Musick as Chinstrap 1
- Michael Nunes as Beany
- Maggie Roswell as additional voices
- Frank Welker as The Leopard Seal
The Animated Movie Guide said "considering the artistic and financial success of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman decided to cater to the dating crowd, in addition to preschoolers".
"The Pebble and the Penguin" was produced by Don Bluth Ireland Limited. At one point, production began in November 1991. The working title of the film was "A Penguin Story." In 1994, Bluth spoke enthusiastically of such pending projects as "The Pebble and the Penguin" and "A Troll in Central Park".
It was originally supposed to be released in the summer of 1994 (while Thumbelina was scheduled for November 1993 and "A Troll in Central Park" was scheduled for March 1994), but due to some production difficulties (and probably to avoid competition with The Lion King, Baby's Day Out, Speed and Forrest Gump), the film's release date was changed to April 1995.
Animation and Research
Though Bluth Productions was based in Dublin, artists from Ireland, England and Hungary worked on the project, at least seven directing animators working on the film; among them John Pomeroy. The penguins in the film are clothed.
The humans wearing penguin costumes were filmed, and then used as photostat references for the animators. The iconic quote from Hubie, "Goodness glaciers!" as well as his overall appearance, is a sly reference to "Gentleman Glacier", an old Canadian newspaper cartoon used to illustrate snow accumulation each year.
Only two scenes in the film were "augmented by computer animation" (one of which being "The Good Ship Misery" song sequence). The opening credit and overture sequence has the animated penguin characters playing and dancing on the sheet music for the songs in the film.
According to The Free Lance-Star, the animators researched for the film by "watching documentaries and visiting zoos, such as San Diego's Sea World and Scotland's Glasgow Zoo". The site added that in promotional material, the animators explained they "discovered that the land of snow and ice shines with many different hues".
Due to changes insisted by MGM, the animation fell behind and additional coloring had to be done at a Hungarian animation studio. Don Bluth and Gary Goldman were so dissatisfied with the final film that they left during production (to help set up Fox Animation Studios) and demanded to be uncredited as the directors.
The book "Animated Films" said, "changes at MGM during production...resulted in the project being affected in terms of production value". In a 2001 edition of his magazine Toon Talk, Bluth admitted, "Penguin had story problems. We knew it. The crew knew it".
Even though he attempted to fix these issues, when his Irish studio got taken over by the Hong Kong company Media Assets, "the story and film were now compromised", so neither he or Goldman stayed. They had their names removed from the film's credits and accepted an offer by Bill Mechanic (who was 20th Century Fox's then-president) to set up a new animation studio in the US (which would become Fox Animation Studios).
Bluth said to his animation crew, "I can't chew with someone else's mouth". Despite this executive interference, "The Animated Movie Guide" noted MGM/UA producer Walter Mirisch's comments on the film: "I think it's one of Don's best films ever...There's no issue of our claiming the credit for this. It's his film".
"The Pebble and the Penguin" opened at #13 at the box office, grossing $1,123,041 in its opening weekend with an average of $854. Domestically, it grossed $3,983,912.
Seventy-five readers of San Antonio Express-News each won four tickets to see "The Pebble and the Penguin". The special showing was held at 11 a.m. on April 8th at the Embassy Theaters and was cross-promoted with Anheuser-Busch's Sea World Parks.
Rotten Tomatoes reported only 11% of critics gave positive reviews for "The Pebble and the Penguin" based on eight reviews with an average score of 3/10.
The film was given a Two Thumbs Down by Siskel & Ebert with Gene Siskel noted that the film's animation looks "cheap and unfinished" and that "none of the songs are memorable" while Roger Ebert added his dislike of the "dumb songs", "silly story", and the film's color-coding of its heroes and villains.
Ebert took this a step further by arguing, "What do kids learn from this? Nothing overt. Just a quiet, unstated impression: White is good and brave, and brown is scheming and negative. Reinforce that through lots of cartoons (examples: Aladdin and The Rescuers Down Under) and no wonder even black children choose white dolls in some psychological experiments".
Deseret News said "the songs are forgettable, the story one-note and the characterizations quite weak".
Reviewer Steve Rhodes said "we get a stream of pointless dialog and some unfunny jokes worthy of a third rate vaudeville routine".
The Austin Chronicle said the film "lacks dramatic structure and narrative drive: Songs and animated action pieces are narratively connected but the film doesn't feel as though it is an organic whole. All the elements are here, they just don't come together".
TimeOut said: "The characterisations are weak and unendearing. Worse, the big 'action' sequences turn up with the pacing and predictability of clock chimes. And, in what is perhaps the last great medium for musicals, the perfunctoriness of Barry Manilow's songs and arrangements seem guaranteed to put off yet another generation".
Caryn James of The New York Times wrote that 4 would be "the optimum age for viewers of this gentle, animated musical", adding that "the action seems flat and low-rent compared to those earlier movies", and that it "doesn't have the vivid characters, first-rate animation or sense of adventure that turns movies like The Lion King into endlessly watchable favorites".
Washington Post Staff Writer Hal Hinson wrote "the banality of the story, the pallid look, the flatness of the characters add up to a product that is, at best, second rate".
SFGate said the "gnashing whale scenes are intense enough to push the G-rating envelope". The Spokesman-Review wrote "it is only an average effort in virtually every respect".
The Record said: "The orchestration is too fancy, too loud and often drowns out the lyrics. This is a kid's movie, but musically it sounds like a full-costume Broadway show with full-supporting chorus line".
It also added: "It's a little disturbing to see a children's movie that perpetuates the erroneous image of killer whales as violent creatures. It is, however, a perfect indication of the limited imagination which went into writing The Pebble and the Penguin".
The Free Lance-Star said the film got a "charming mating ritual" and turned it into "sappy action romance with celebrity voices".
The book "Contemporary North American Film Directors" suggested that the film suffered from "the same unimaginative and cliched Disney of the 1970s that Bluth had been so critical of".
The Animated Movie Guide said, "the hero was a stuttering wimp, the songs didn't advance the plot, the dialogue was incessant and superfluous, and the pacing was plodding and dull".
However, some critics did praise various aspects of the film (particularly in regard to Bluth's animation), but they were almost exclusively mixed.
Common Sense Media said "the background animation of capricious weather conditions is lovely, as are the top-notch original songs by Barry Manilow and score by Mark Watters".
Deseret News said, "Bluth's strength continues to be colorful, classical-style animation, and there are some gorgeous moments here — especially some underwater sequences".
The Austin Chronicle said: "The Pebble and the Penguin features some beautifully animated sequences [...] The characters are great and the voice talents of Martin Short...and James Belushi...are terrific".
Variety said the film has a "heartwarming story, some lively songs and professional animation", adding that it is "a sweet, enjoyable romantic tale more likely to succeed as an afternoon diversion on homevideo than on the bigscreen".
Caryn James of The New York Times wrote: "The tunes Mr. Manilow has written for the movie are, like his familiar pop standards, bouncy and catchy", and commented that "the animation is fine".
Washington Post Staff Writer Hal Hinson wrote that "A flourishing opening number—titled 'Here and Now'—proves that Short can belt out a song with the best of them", adding that the "Bluth studio style of animation is passable, and, in the case of a Brecht-Weill flavored production number, occasionally inspired.".
SFGate described the "show-tune- style songs" as "pleasant but forgettable", adding that "the singing by Short, Belushi, Curry and Broadway belter Golden is the best thing about the film".
It also noted that "One of the obvious obstacles was how to color a film whose natural shadings tend toward black, white and degrees of gray. The result is a lot of odd but fascinating colorations -- the sky might turn up yellow at times, or the sea a deep maroon".
The Spokesman-Review wrote "in an era when G-rated movies are as rare as Hollywood humility, any attempt at family entertainment should be lauded", adding "let us salute Don Bluth and his team of animators".
In a rare case, The Daily Gazette gave the film 4 stars.
The Animated Movie Guide said the film was an "utter waste of talent and resources", due to interference from external forces.
Monica Sullivan of Movie Magazine International noted that the film was "heartily enjoyed by the two little girls who saw it with me at a kiddie matinee".