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In Japanese with English & Chinese Subtitles
CG Animation
Director: Rintaro
Cast: Ei Morisako, Yuji Tanaka, Rica Matsumoto, Satoshi Kanada, Yoshio Kojima, Hikari Ota, Hiroshi, Akiyoshi Kawashima, Dandy Sakano
RunTime: 1 hr 27 mins
Released By: Mediacorp, Mediacorp Raintree Pictures & Golden Village Pictures Rating: G
Official Website: http://yonapen.jp/index.html

Opening Day: 11 March 2010


"YONA YONA PENGUIN" is a story about the adventure of Coco, a small girl who walks around the town night by night, always in the penguin coat that her late father had given to her. Through the meetings with those diverse types of people and those magical events, it tells the ingenuousness of the children everywhere and the importance and strength, leaving the heart-warming impressions to those who watch this animation.

Movie Review:

Do you notice how seldom we use the word “cartoon” these days- except to describe what plays on Saturday mornings on the goggle box? Lately, we’d much prefer to call them “animations”, perhaps in part to avoid the connotation that they are meant for children and children alone. Thanks to the likes of Studio Ghibli and Pixar, films like “Up”, “Wall E” and “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” are no longer considered entertainment for those 10 and below, but wholesome fun for everyone of all ages.

“Yona Yona Penguin” arrives at such an inopportune time- inopportune because people expect more than a Saturday-morning cartoon when they step inside the cinema to watch an animation. Though its visuals and even its premise may suggest that it possesses the whimsical nature of the best Miyazaki-Studio Ghibli animations, “Yona Yona Penguin” is really strictly just a cartoon. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone above the age of 10 enjoying this fantasy tale of a little girl obsessed with penguins drawn into an underground kingdom.

The little girl here refers to the big-eyes, bubbly Coco (voiced by Ei Morisako) whose hobby of wandering the streets at night in a penguin costume hasn’t exactly won her any friends. Quite out of the blue, she is lured into a carnival-like tent called “Penguin Store” which is really an entrance to an alternate world. Here she meets the inhabitants of a goblin village, who think she is the prophesied flightless bird that will save them from the evil reign of the Emperor of Darkness, Bukka-Boo.

Intriguing as this may sound, there’s really very little story in “Yona Yona Penguin”. Japanese helmer Rintaro (of cult animes “Galaxy Express 999” and “Metropolis”), who also came up with the story, is apparently more interested in bringing his audience from one colourfully drawn setting to another- never mind that the movie has the narrative coherence of a six-year-old. So at the end, one knows little about the world of the goblins or the origins of Bukka-Boo to make sense of, or for the matter care, about what happens. 

Just as poorly drawn are its characters- Bukka-Boo’s right-hand man Lord Zammy who’s really a fallen angel; the goblin Chaley who led Coco to this enchanted land; and even Coco herself, whose character arc as a fatherless daughter seems more like an afterthought. Sure, they may be cute, but once that ‘aww-shucks’ charm wears off, they are just too thinly-drawn for anyone to identify with them on their journey of self-discovery.

And that is indeed unfortunate, for this “3D anime” film from Japanese anime studio Madhouse is beautifully animated, both in terms of its colourful landscapes as well as its irresistibly cute-looking characters. A deliberate attempt by Madhouse to introduce the look and feel of an anime into the 3D CGI world, “Yona Yona Penguin” boasts delightfully charming visuals that are ultimately let down by its undercooked storyline and characterisation.

Had “Yona Yona Penguin” come out ten years ago, it would have no doubt be enough to enchant audiences with its richly animated images. But in this era of Studio Ghibli and Pixar, where audiences expect animations to be more than just a collage of pretty and colourful pictures, this glossy Saturday-morning cartoon just doesn’t have enough to satisfy.

Movie Rating:

(Its beautiful visuals and cutesy characters may fascinate those under 10; but everyone else will likely be left in the cold)

Review by Gabriel Chong


. Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea (2008)

. Brave Story (2006)

. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

. Doraemon The Movie (2006)

. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

. Tales from Earthsea DVD (2006)

. Summer Days With Coo DVD (2008)

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