The Pebble and the Penguin
The Pebble and the Penguin is a 1995 animated film produced and directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. It is based on a real life way of how Adelie penguins mate.
Hubie, a shy, gullible but kindhearted Adelie penguin, is in love with the beautiful and kind Marina, but lacks self-confidence, leading him to be bullied by the much more impressive, but vain and cruel Drake, 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 the 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 give him the pebble. Hubie refuses, so Drake throws him into the water. Hubie narrowly escapes from a leopard seal and climbs onto a piece of ice which carries him away from Antarctica.
Hubie is picked up by humans and caged on their ship called "Misery", transports penguins to a zoo and meets a tough, grumpy, streetwise and somewhat arrogant but good-hearted rockhopper penguin named Rocko. After having a vision of Marina in trouble, Hubie decides to escape with Rocko and flees, before 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 saves 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, they 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 pebble to get lost in the scuffle and Rocko to go missing, leaving Hubie to believe that he died.
Hubie continues on to face Drake and defeats him in a fight. Rocko, who survives the whale attack, gives the pebble to Hubie. As Hubie makes a proposal to Marina and gains her acceptance, Drake returns to finish them off. With Rocko's help, Hubie and Marina dodges a giant boulder that crushes Drake to death in his collapsing 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.
- Executive meddling on the part of MGM towards the end of production forced animation to fall behind, and Don Bluth and Gary Goldman ended up hating the final product, and asked to be uncredited as directors.
- Very poor humor (due to lethargic timing and uninspired punchlines) with an overreliance on showcasing Hubie's cliched awkwardness as comedic.
- The characters, while nowhere near as unlikable, dimwitted or pointless as those in Thumbelina or A Troll in Central Park, are rather poor and underdeveloped;
- Hubie, while sympathetic and likable, is clingy and overbearing not to mention a butt-monkey, though like Rocko he does eventually undergo a character arc throughout the film.
- Marina, while still likable, is a bland love interest who barely (due to the mechanics of the plot) has any chemistry with or reason to fall for Hubie despite although she falls in love with Hubie for who he is.
- Drake, the main antagonist, is mostly a flat 'tough guy' archetype (with numerous suspicious similarities to Gaston from the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast).
- Drake's henchmen are pretty much unnecessary and pointless as they don't really do anything to assist him in his plans. Plus, they even disappear after Drake's song and are never seen again.
- The trio of birds employed as 'comic relief' in the film's first act are irritating and unfunny. The sole possible exception to this is Rocko, albeit marginally (as he is noticeably the only character in the film to actually undergo an arc and experience earnest development/progression).
- An awkwardly structured and clunky plot, which cuts the development and chemistry surrounding Hubie and Marina's actual romantic relationship into a brief period during the first act (which leaves the film's supposed main emotional hook empty and seemingly unearned) in favor of musical numbers, the 'buddy comedy' interplay between Hubie and Rocko and a number of plothole-inducing scenes involving Drake.
- The musical numbers, while nicely composed (if forgettable at times), feature incredibly on-the-nose and painful lyrics. Not helping were the fact that the songs in this film were written by Barry Manilow, who previously wrote the songs for another mediocre Don Bluth movie produced the previous year.
- On top of that, the musical numbers are knock-offs of those from Disney films.
- Little to no real moral lessons to give to kids in the audience.
- Drake and Marina's relationship looks extremely similar to the relationship between Belle and Gaston from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
- Drake's fate (crushed to death by a huge boulder from his tower) is too harsh for a G-rated film, even without blood.
- Near the end of the film Rocko can magically fly, with no explanation as to why or how he can achieve this (particularly as penguins' physical adaptations oppose flight in real life); the animation of Rocko's revelation (which depicts him as 'flying' by merely levitating/floating without flapping his wings/arms) arguably accentuates the contrivance and outlandishness of the concept.
- The film never explains anything about the titular pebble despite establishing it as an enigmatic meteor during its introductory scene.
- Due to Bluth and Goldman's premature departure from production and subsequent outsourcing to lower-quality studios, the quality of the film's animation is conspicuously sloppier and more uneven than Bluth's previous work, particularly Rocko 'flying' merely by seemingly floating upwards, a number of shots during the "Misery" song where several penguins do not move at all while the other ones are singing, almost as if they are wax statues and a scene towards the film's climax where a character's head is absent for a few frames.
- The penguin’s bodies are too humanized, most notably the overly prominent teeth on Hubie and Drake (particularly the latter) and the physical builds of the film's female penguins, which are stylized/humanized to the point of generating an uncanny appearance.
- The song Don't Make Me Laugh is actually a pretty enjoyable villain song, Looks like I Got Me a Friend is an upbeat and mildly charming number, and Now and Forever has a pleasant atmosphere (due to Barry Manilow's composition).
- The animation bears many of Bluth's effective trademarks (such as atmospheric use of color/lighting and (technically) expressive character animation), even if it does look sloppy and unfinished. But keep in note, that some later versions such as the Family Fun Edition and Blu-Ray versions do fix some of these issues.
- Well-done voice acting. Martin Short (Hubie) and Jim Belushi (Rocko) have good chemistry, which almost manages to absolve the relative thinness of their characters on paper.
- Some good character development. For example, Hubie turns from being shy and weak to being assertive, and Rocko turns from being an ambitious jerk to a loyal friend.
- On that topic, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman would eventually learn from their mistakes and therefore their next film, Anastasia, which was released two years later, thankfully avoided all these problems as listed above.
- The penguin character designs, in spite of taking the anthropomorphism to the moon, are pretty well-drawn.
- A few funny moments, such as when Rocko chokes Hubie, resulting in the latter going "Quaaaaa!".
- Despite his flaws, Hubie is a decent, sympathetic, and likable protagonist.
- On that topic, Marina actually loves Hubie for his sweet, kind, caring, character and ignores his flaws, while she fell in love with Hubie for who he is. She even tells Hubie that she liked the pebble he found for her, but loves him even more, which is very sweet and shows that values Hubie over material riches.
- Rocko can be a pretty funny and likable side character.
- In response to BQ#7, the film does have some good morals, such as:
- Standing up to bullies
- Admitting you lied
- Saying no when people force themselves on you
- Keeping faith in others
- Valuing your loved ones over luxuries
- It’s a certainly an improvement over Don Bluth’s previous film.
This movie was a box office failure when it came out, earning $3.9 million out of its $28 million budget. This movie also got a very poor reception from both critics, audiences and even Don Bluth himself, earning an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, most fans of Don Bluth say it's a step up from A Troll in Central Park, but still not a good movie on its own. The movie even has a sizable number of defenders who will defend the movie every chance they get. Thanks to them, the movie's popularity has risen since it's release.
- During its original theatrical release in 1995, MGM distributed the film in the United States, while Warner Bros. distributed the film internationally under the Family Entertainment banner. During its original theatrical release in 1995, two different theatrical cartoon shorts were shown preceding it; the Pink Panther cartoon "Driving Mr. Pink" was shown preceding the film in the United States, while elsewhere the Looney Tunes cartoon "Carrotblanca" was shown preceding the film. As of 2002, the international distribution rights of this film has been transferred over to 20th Century Fox, as with both Thumbelina and A Troll in Central Park.
- This was the last film to be produced by Sullivan Bluth Studios before the company went bankrupt in 1995 and became Fox Animation Studios, which is now known as 20th Century Animation.