Wednesday, March 06, 2024

NYICFF ’24: Puffin Rock and the New Friends

Puffins look like they share the same tailor as penguins and they have a similar charm, but they are not as overexposed in pop culture. So far, the Netflix series Puffin Rock, co-created by Irish animator Tomm Moore, has been the best place to find puffins. After two seasons, the inhabitants of Puffin Rock get a feature of their own in Jeremy Purcell’s Puffin Rock and the New Friends, which screens as part of the 2024 New York InternationalChildren’s Film Festival.

Oona is still a bright and curious young puffin, who often gets into adventures with her friends, but always dutifully cares for her younger brother Baba. Even after two full seasons, he still looks like he is freshly hatched. Mossy the pygmy shrew and May the rabbit remain her besties, but she is about to make some new pals.

Initially, Isabella is rather standoffish when her colony relocates to Puffin Rock. The narrator blames climate change, but viewers will suspect it was the rising crime and punitive tax rates of blue-state puffin colonies that drove them out. Regardless, Isabella is reluctant to putdown roots again. That includes making friends.

In contrast, Oona and her buddies form a fast friendship Marvin, a youthful otter who also found his way to Puffin Rock. Quick thinking Oona realizes Mavin is such a prodigious digger, he can help the expanded puffin colony dig warrens to protect their new-comers from an approaching storm. Unfortunately, Isabella will completely torpedo the plan and endanger the entire colony. First, she misinterprets Marvin’s intentions when he burrows up near her mother’s egg, so she removes it from the nest. That is a big puffin no-no. When the colony freaks out over the missing egg, she is too embarrassed to come clean, so she blames Marvin.

See how much trouble unchecked immigration can cause. Of course,
New Friends is trying to make the exact opposite point, but at times, the narrative almost contradicts its sentiments. It hardly matters though, because Oona is such a likably plucky character. She is just a darned good puffin kid, which makes spending time with her a pleasure.

As was also true for the series, Chris O’Dowd’s narration is wildly charming. Although omniscient and off-screen, his voice becomes another character. He has a touch of blarney and a touch of sarcasm, but his tone is always gentle and warm.

Puffin Rock franchise comes from Cartoon Saloon, the animation house that produced Moore’s Song of the Sea, as well as The Breadwinner, so you can expect quality work. Visually, it is not as lush as Moore’s films, but it is colorful, appealing, and consistent with the look of the series.

Of course, it hardly requires rocket science entertain viewers with puffins flying through the air and diving through the water. That is exactly what
New Friends serves up. Kids will love it and parents will appreciate O’Dowd’s narration. Highly recommended for family viewing, Puffin Rock and the New Friends screens Saturday (3/9) and 3/17, as part of this year’s NYICFF.