MAREMMA dogs, in Australia since 1982, are working dogs that farmers use to protect alpaca and sheep flocks against foxes and feral dogs. Handsome, friendly to their people and efficient against maleficent intruders, they usually live 24/7 in the same paddocks as the animals they guard.
Maremmas now guard the population of Little Penguins for whom Middle Island, just off the coast from Warrnambool, is the only rookery. It wasn’t always thus.
Director Stuart McDonald and writer Peter Ivans have confected this agreeable little movie telling how it came to be. The four-year-old girl sitting with her dad a few seats along the row watched it intently with scarcely a squeak of delight or concern.
Shane Jacobsen plays “Swampy” Marsh, one of the film’s assistant producers, delivering eggs to the local market, owner of Oddball the maremma. Swampy’s elder daughter Emily (Sarah Snook) works for the local council, protecting the remaining few birds on the island. If the bird count falls below 10, the island will lose its conservation status and its value as a tourism attraction. Two brothers want that to happen so they may convert the island to a base for whale watching.
It’s not quite clear whether Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies) is Swampy’s daughter from his late wife or Emily’s child. No matter. Olivia is the apple of Swampy’s eye, his companion in defying council’s dog-catcher (Frank Woodley) who has banned Oddball from town limits.
Bradley (Alan Tudyk), a Yank trying to create a permanent artificial tourism attraction for the town, is hot for Emily but hopes that the remaining birds will fall prey to predators, an attitude that the Mayor (Deborah Mailman) doesn’t share.
“Oddball” isn’t great cinema. Within the attention span of a four-year-old, it’s predictable, not totally free of clichés. But it also offers rewards for grown-ups.
At all cinemas