October 10th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Will drought and falling dollar spike food prices?

CANBERRA OBSERVED Nationals extract good deal in Turnbull takeover

EDITORIAL Obama's climate gambit: do as I say, not as I do!

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Senate committee says no to marriage plebiscite

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull divides party in Cabinet reshuffle

RURAL AFFAIRS FTAs eat away at our food and agriculture surpluses

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Byzantine Catholics driven underground

FINANCE Hidden by a metaphor: the secret life of money

EDUCATION Proliferation of screens making kids no smarter

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cabinet door must be open to public service

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Child-support program under the microscope

PUBLIC POLICY Prohibition of drugs has the evidence on its side

CINEMA Kids will love pixelated Aussie classic: Blinky Bill: The Movie

BOOK REVIEW Hope for the Land of the Southern Cross

BOOK REVIEW Evaluating arguments against free will


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Kids will love pixelated Aussie classic: Blinky Bill: The Movie

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, October 10, 2015

Blinky Bill, the rascally koala cub, has been a part of Australian culture since the 1930s.

The stories, written and illustrated by New Zealand-born Dorothy Wall, have never been out of print. Blinky was the star of a live action and puppets show in the 1980s, and then a hand-drawn animated movie and television series in the 1990s. Now he returns to the big screen in a computer-animated feature, Blinky Bill: The Movie.

Blinky’s dad, Bill Koala (Richard Roxburgh) is a larrikin adventurer and founder of Greenpatch, an idyllic little bush town which is home to all sorts of animals, most rescued from the Outback. Bill headed off an adventure to the Sea of White Dragons but has not returned. In his absence, Canklepot Goanna (Barry Otto), a cold-blooded miserable cove, has taken to running the town, shutting down its innate cheerfulness and threatening to cut it off from the outside world.

Blinky (Ryan Kwanten) wants to be an adventurer himself, so he sets out to find his dad – against his mother’s (Deborah Mailman) wishes. Almost as soon as he leaves Greenpatch, he antagonises a psychopathic cat, the English-styled Sir Claude (Rufus Sewell), who goes on a vendetta.

Along the way he “rescues” the zoo-raised girl koala, Nutsy (Robyn McLeavy), who is used to life in captivity and is not keen on being rescued; and joins with the decidedly “wacko” frill-necked lizard, Jacko (David Wenham).

They are helped by Wombo (Barry Humphries), a wombat who lives with his imaginary friends in a tin hut in the Outback; and the Emu sisters Beryl and Cheryl (both voiced by Toni Colette), a gossipy pair of bird-brained sheilas who don’t shut up.

The Blinky Bill yarns have always had a running theme of conservation, particularly of native plants and animals. This isn’t the ideological environmentalism that pits human beings against nature, but a much more straightforward and commonsensical one that values the natural world, and thinks it would be a shame for it to be wiped out. It is the sort that sees the beauty of the bush, and thinks that we have a responsibility to maintain it – without jeopardising our own society and wellbeing.

This has led to some criticisms of the TV series; but, as the timber companies who protested the animated series pointed out, its target was illegal logging; not the sustainable and responsible logging practised by Australian loggers.

The movie is gentle and simple, full of bold colours and broad storytelling. This is no Pixar masterwork, but an entertaining film for kids. And the kids, at least at the session I was at, loved it, laughing raucously at the slapstick. The fun for grown-ups is, mostly, in picking up what outrageous Australianism is being used at what time – although there are one or two grown-up jokes that should sail over the little ones’ heads. One highlight is the opening with Richie Benaud style Kookaburras commentating on a game of cricket played by crickets.

While there are allusions to conservation, and even to extreme isolationist border policies, the main themes are family and mateship. As Bill Koala puts it: “An adventurer never gives up on his mates.”

A more overt conservation film is the family-friendly Oddball, starring Shane Jacobson (Kenny) and inspired by the true story of how maremmas, fluffy white Italian sheepdogs, are being used to protect fairy penguins from foxes off the coast of Warrnambool in Victoria. The stars are the fairy penguins themselves – they’re real.

It is a strange thing to watch a computer-animated Blinky Bill. I remember watching the hand-drawn series produced by Yoram Gross when I was young, and that is how I remember Blinky and his mates. But time and technology have changed.

When visiting a house with children recently, I saw what Postman Pat and Fireman Sam had become. My recollection was of simple and delicate little stop-motion animations, lovingly made and full of imagination. They were a delight. Now those same series are computer animated – as is, of all things, Bananas in Pyjamas.

Part of me accepts that this is how technology goes, particularly in an industry with as razor-thin profit margins as film and TV; but another part of me thinks something human and humane has been lost.

I confess I’m being nostalgic, reminiscing about a childhood without computers and without computer animation. The TV was a smallish box, not a giant flat screen. What was watched was what was on, and there was no access to the firehouse of online content. Book-reading or outdoor adventures were the norm. I wonder if that has changed.

Was it gentler then? I doubt it. It’s probably just the remembering, as children don’t get everything that is going on. Things seem simpler in childhood.

This review is dedicated to Yoram Gross, the Polish-born pioneer of Australian animation, who died on September 21.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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