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‘Pebble And The Penguin’: Charming Ritual Made Into Sappy Romance

Jane Sumner Dallas Morning News

Greenpeace should protest the new Don Bluth film.

It’s not bad enough that penguins have to dodge killer whales and seals. “The Pebble and the Penguin” makes them sing and dance to Barry Manilow tunes.

Creators of the animated musical take a charming mating ritual of Antarctica’s Adeli penguins and turn it into a sappy action romance with celebrity voices.

At mating time, the male Adeli presents a pebble to a female penguin of his choice. If she accepts the stony present, they mate for life.

Screenwriters Rachel Koretsky and Steve Whitestone (“The Bears Who Saved Christmas”) saw a nature documentary about the pebble rite and stretched it like strudel into a chaotic buddy movie.

The cast of feathered characters includes the shy Adeli penguin Hubie (voiced by Martin Short); Rocko (Jim Belushi), a grumpy Rockhopper penguin that yearns to fly; and Marina (Annie Golden), a sweet female penguin beloved by Hubie and pursued by fierce Hawk (Tim Curry).

Reportedly, animators boned up on penguins, watching documentaries and visiting zoos, such as San Diego’s Sea World and Scotland’s Glasgow Zoo. And several kinds, including an Emperor penguin, are represented, mostly in cages aboard a dismal tub that prompts a lively seafaring tune.

Penguins seem prime candidates for animation: They’re natural comedians in tails. But Hubie behaves like a dodo, Marina has a wasp waist, and evil Hawk looks like a cross between the Big Bad Wolf and the ugly half of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

In promotional material, the animators say they discovered that the land of snow and ice shines with many hues. But most of the action takes place in dark, forbidding settings reminiscent of the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of “Fantasia” by Bluth’s two-time employer, Walt Disney.

The voice actors do their part. “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Short bumbles as bashful Hubie. Few can play irascible/needy like Belushi, and Golden, remembered as Cliff the mailman’s love interest on “Cheers,” sings sweetly. Curry, who made his film debut as Dr. Frank N Furter in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” roars with menace.

But you don’t leave whistling the original songs, such as “Now and Forever,” “Don’t Make Me Laugh” and “Sometimes I Wonder” by Manilow and lyricist Bruce Sussman, his longtime collaborator.

Except for “The Good Ship Misery,” one of only two scenes augmented by computed animation, the numbers sound a lot alike. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have to hear them on the Oscarcast next year.

For a G-rated film, there’s no shortage of gnashing teeth, scary chases and female-in-jeopardy scenes. At moments, it appears as if this romantic pablum might take off. You perk up at the start of a couple of dance numbers. But mostly, like its namesakes, “The Pebble and the Penguin” is a rocky, flightless bird.

xxxx “The Pebble And The Penguin” Location: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Showboat cinemas Running time: 74 minutes Rating: G

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