A little girl obsessed with penguins is lured to an underground kingdom.

A little girl obsessed with penguins is lured to an underground kingdom in the kid-friendly anime “Yona Yona Penguin,” a French-Japanese co-production from Nipponese helmer Rintaro (“Metropolis”). Richly animated using a combo of 2D and 3D techniques, the pic’s saturated palette and super-cutesy characters ought to mesmerize tots, but its fey, sentimental storyline doesn’t cast a bewitching enough spell to cross over to adult auds — unlike, say, the work of Hayao Miyazaki. Still, “Penguin” ought to waddle its way to moderate success on ancillary.

Adventurous but friendless urchin Coco (voiced in the original by Ei Morisako) wanders the streets of her town every night in a penguin suit her dead dad once gave her. One evening, she’s lured into a portal to a subterranean world. There, residents of a goblin village insist she must be the prophesied flightless bird who will save them from Bucca-Boo (Yuji Tanaka), the Emperor of Darkness, who’s bent on destroying their town. Moralizing about the value of friendship and believing in oneself duly ensues. The shrill dialogue track will need redubbing to make this more palatable to Western auds. Otherwise, tech package is thoroughly pro.

Yona Yona Penguin

Animated – Japan-France


A Madhouse (Japan)/Denis Friedman Prods. (France) production. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Jungo Maruta, Denis Friedman. Directed by Rintaro. Screenplay, Tomoko Komparu, Dominique Lavigne, based on a story by Rintaro, Sumiko Hayashi. (Color); editors, Kashiko Kimura, Cedric Babouche; music, Toshiyuki Honda; art director, Mihoko Magohri; CG art director, Babouche; character design, Katsuya Terada, Laurent Cluzel; animation supervisors, Tsuneo Maeda, Dripha Benseghir; CG supervisor, Toru Shinozaki. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 11, 2009. Original title: Yonayona Penguin. Japanese dialogue. Running time: 87 MIN.


Ei Morisako, Lena Tanaka, Hikaru Ohta, Yuji Tanaka, Ichiro Nagai, Hideyuki Tanaka, Shunji Fujimura, Akira Emoto.
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