Tuesday, August 09, 2016

RIFF ’16: Blinky Bill, the Movie

In Dorothy Wall’s children’s books, Blinky Bill became something akin to the Bambi of Australia. Polish-Australian animator and Holocaust survivor Yoram Gross could directly relate to the young koala who lost his father, which in turn helped him re-popularize the character in a string of films and a television series. However, a new reboot jettisons his tragic backstory, preferring to keep things happy and saccharine. Kids who dig koalas will still find him endearing but long-time fans and sophisticated animation audiences will judge Deane Taylor’s Blinky Bill, the Movie (trailer here) rather light weight when it screens at the 2016 Rhode Island International Film Festival.

The good news is Blinky’s dad (somewhat ironically referred to as Mr. Bill) is alive and well and maddeningly irresponsible. The bad news is the self-styled explorer up and got himself lost during his latest walkabout. Unfortunately, that leaves Wilberforce Cranklepot, the authoritarian Goanna a free hand to ride rough shot over formerly idyllic Greenpatch. Naturally, Blinky sets off half-cocked to rescue his father, but he only succeeds in liberating Nutsy, a zoo koala who does not want to be saved. Still, she might just develop a taste for the wild life during her misadventures with Blinky.

This Blinky is all very harmless. Koalas are always cute and Blinky still demonstrates plenty of virtue. Screenwriter Fin Edquist also shoehorns in some mild criticism of zoo captivity, but the feature does not have a fraction of the bite viewers feel from the Aardman short, Creature Comforts.

The CG animation is professionally polished, but unremarkable. The real problem is the watering down and white-washing of Blinky Bill’s story. It is like a Bambi reboot, in which his mother becomes an absent-minded corporate workaholic. As in the case of Netflix’s The Little Prince, Taylor and Edquist clearly feel no need to keep faith with the spirit of their source material. That is bizarrely problematic, considering the iconic stature of both Yoram Gross and Blinky Bill in Australia.

On the other hand, there is no reason uncritical little ones won’t enjoy the new incarnation of Blinky Bill. There are no didactic excursions into class warfare, just nice and safe animal hijinks. Not a priority for animation connoisseurs, Blinky Bill, the Movie is what it is when it screens Thursday morning (8/11) during this year’s RIFF.