The ’90s are back – and this time it’s personal. Our high streets have been haunted by the ghosts of outfits past this summer and pubs thrumming to familiar Brit Pop tunes. Jeans pebble dashed with iron on patches, chunky heels clumsily clunking on kerb and platform and chokers encircling young necks evoking memories bittersweet as Hooper’s Hooch.
Into this heady mix comes another throwback – Blinky Bill – the singular marsupial star of 1992’s Blinky Bill: The Mischievous Koala (and companion cartoon show). But Bill, like all that throwaway fashion, has his roots deep in the past. Starting as an Australian book series, by author Dorothy Wall, in the ’30s and making subsequent appearances through the generations, red dungarees as identifiable as Paddington’s trademark duffle is here.
But, as hoards of hobbling girls can now attest, revisiting the trends of days gone by can be a mistake. Undoubtedly Bill is beloved in Oz but overseas he’s an unknown quantity and Blinky Bill: The Movie does little to endear its retro hero. Like a sinister synthetic toy grappled from beneath a fairground tank of Disney and Pixar lures, Bill is a disappointing and poorly constructed stand in. Our discerning children are unlikely to be fooled.
The Blinky Bill of today lives deep in the rainforest town of Green Patch with his adventurer dad, loving mum and a gaggle of animal chums. Now his carefree life is under threat. His dad’s big heart and wanderlust nature led him away on a mission from which he has yet to return. Loyal Blinky Bill (voiced by True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten) determines to find him and bring him home. However his pragmatic mum strictly vetoes the rescue quest.
Though equally concerned for her husband’s welfare, Bill’s mum (Deborah Mailman) dare not risk the safety of her boy. Additionally, Green Patch is under threat from the ambitions of a ruthless reptile with plans to seize rule of the town in Mr. Bill’s absence (and build a distinctly Trumpian wall). She will not allow big Bill’s legacy to fall into the grasping toes of that pesky goanna. And fortunately her obedient son agrees to stay. Until he finds a clue…
And friends, new friends! Leaving his loyal Green Patch chums to lie him an alibi, brave Blinky Bill soon encounters a pair of companions for his outback adventure. Albeit reluctant ones. Wacky circumstances force zoo-raised koala Nutsy (Robin McLeavy) and eccentric frill necked lizard Jacko (David Wenham) to join forces with our intrepid hero. Once time and a common foe has united them the unlikely allies become inextricably bound.
The insipid animation plays a very large part in this feature’s downfall and the slim budget cannot entirely shoulder the blame. There is a stunning lack of imagination (or indeed logic) in the way individual characters are rendered. So that Bill the ‘wild’ koala and Nutsy the zoo koala – with their purported polar opposite lifestyles – look exactly the same. With fur of identical length and condition, immaculate paws and claws and matching sets of eerily blank eyes.
Sidestepping opportunities to stimulate or excite, to debate zoo life vs. wild life further or even to revisit The Mischievous Koala’s environmental activist core, Blinky Bill: The Movie instead settles for cheap thrills via a generic stalked by a baddie story arc. The screenplay was penned by Maya the Bee’s Fin Edquist and replicates its inoffensive and forgettable tone. Even Rufus Sewell’s malevolent cat Sir Claude feels neutered.
Thank goodness then for the joyous silliness of Toni Collette and Barry Humphries. Appearing as a pair of squabbling emus and an eccentric desert wombat respectively, they are the only members of the vocal cast who appear to understand (and have fun with) the unique demands of this medium. Their scenes also offer grown ups a chance to play spot the Aussie movie reference. Though HeyUGuys remain unsure whether the Wolf Creek nod was real or wishful thinking…
Shoddy CGI is more easily forgiven when underpinned by humour and innovative or challenging writing. Sadly this movie offers no respite from its own mediocrity. Perhaps its four directors fell prey to the curse of filmmaking by committee or underestimated the expectations of young audiences. Perhaps Blinky Bill has had his day. Whatever the excuse, the irrefutable truth is that this dull cartoon deserves a swerve.