Hubie, a shy, gullible, but kindhearted penguin, is in love with the female penguin Marina, but he lacks self-confidence leading him to be bullied by the much more impressive, but the vain and cruel Drake, who also wants Marina, but clearly for lust. One night, Hubie and Marina manage to confirm how they feel for each other, but Hubie cannot quite find a perfect pebble to propose to Marina with. He wishes on a star to make his dream come true and he receives a beautiful emerald cube (whom he mistook it for a pebble) from the sky. Ecstatic, Hubie rushes to find Marina but is thwarted by Drake, who demands Hubie to give him the emerald. When Hubie refuses, Drake throws him into the water. Hubie narrowly escapes from a leopard seal and climbs onto a piece of ice where he is swept away from Antarctica.
Hubie is picked up by humans and caged on their ship called "Misery", transports penguins to a zoo and meets a tough, grumpy, streetwise and somewhat arrogant but good-hearted rockhopper penguin named Rocko (James Belushi). After seeing in a vision Marina having a dilemma, Hubie decides to escape with Rocko and flees, before laying low on a beach. Rocko reluctantly tells Hubie about his desire to fly and live in tropical climate. He convinces him to help him return to Antarctica by making up a lie about a flying penguin named Waldo. They have a short fight after Rocko tries to fly off "an authentic, ancient aviarial airstrip" and another after Rocko saved Hubie from a killer whale. Back in Antarctica, Drake begins to threaten Marina for her hand in mating. If Marina refuses, she will be forced to leave, as it goes against tradition. Hubie and Rocko attempt to depart, but Rocko discovers Hubie lied to him and attempts to attack Hubie, but soon starts laughing, praising Hubie's determination to get back to Marina. Back in Antarctica, Marina becomes worried about Hubie. Hubie and Rocko run into the hungry and persistent leopard seal but are able to escape it. With that they become true friends (though it takes prodding from Hubie for Rocko to admit it). Their joy is short-lived as three killer whales attack them causing Hubie's pebble to get lost in the scuffle and Rocko to go missing, leaving Hubie to think he perished.
Disheartened, Hubie continues on alone to face Drake and defeats him in a fight. Rocko, who survives the killer whale attack, finds Hubie and Marina at Drake's tower. As Hubie makes a proposal to Marina and gains her acceptance, Drake returns to finish the three off. Hubie, Rocko, and Marina dodge the giant boulder which lethally crushes Drake in his collapsing tower. During the escape, Rocko's dream for flight comes true as he flies himself, Hubie, and Marina to safety. Rocko hands Hubie his emerald. He presents it to Marina, who loves it, but loves Hubie more. Rocko remains in Antarctica with Hubie and Marina, and sometime later, he teaches their children how to fly.
Cast and charactersMartin Short as Hubie, a shy, good-hearted adelie penguin. He forms a bond with Marina after showing her who he really is and she sees the real him. After he is thrown over the cliff by Drake, he must find his way home and win Marina over before Drake does.Jim Belushi as Rocko, a streetwise Northern rockhopper penguin who befriends Hubie and helps him win Marina on the way back to Antarctica.Tim Curry as Drake, a hunky, dark-hearted penguin. He stops at nothing to win and tries to steal Marina from Hubie and continually bullies Hubie. He meets his end when after trying to crush Hubie, Rocko, and Marina with a giant stone, he accidentally causes the stadium to fall apart and collapse on top of him.Annie Golden as Marina, a penguin who Hubie and Drake fall in love with and cares about Hubie.Alissa King as PetraLouise Vallance as Priscilla and Chinstrap 2Will Ryan as Royal and TikaNeil Ross as ScrawnyStan Jones as McCallisterS. Scott Bullock as Chubby and GentooPhilip L. Clarke as KingShani Wallis as the NarratorB. J. Ward as Megellenic 1Hamilton Camp as Megellenic 2Angeline Ball as Gwynne and Chinstrap 3Kendall Cunningham as TimmyPat Musick as Chinstrap 1Michael Nunes as BeanyFrank Welker as Leopard Seal, Ant, and Killer Whales
The Animated Movie Guide said "considering the artistic and financial success of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman decided to cater to the dating crowd, in addition to preschoolers". The Pebble and the Penguin was produced by Don Bluth Ireland Limited. At one point, production began in November 1991. The working title of the film was A Penguin Story. In 1994, "Bluth spoke enthusiastically of such pending projects as The Pebble and the Penguin and A Troll in Central Park". The film was originally slated for release in summer 1994 (while Thumbelina was scheduled for November 1993 and A Troll in Central Park was scheduled for March 1994), but due to some production difficulties (and probably to avoid competition with The Lion King, Baby's Day Out, Speed, and Forrest Gump), the film's release date was changed to April 1995.
Animation and research
Though Bluth Productions was based in Dublin, artists from Ireland, England and Hungary worked on the project, at least seven directing animators working on the film; among them John Pomeroy. The penguins in the film are clothed. Humans wearing penguin costumes were filmed and then used as photostat references for the animators. The iconic quote from Hubie, "Goodness glaciers!" as well as his overall appearance, is a sly reference to Gentleman Glacier, an old Canadian newspaper cartoon used to illustrate snow accumulation each year. Only two scenes in the film were "augmented by computer animation", one of which being "The Good Ship Misery" song sequence. The opening credit and overture sequence has the animated penguin characters playing and dancing on the sheet music for the songs in the film. According to The Free Lance–Star, the animators researched for the film by "watching documentaries and visiting zoos, such as San Diego's Sea World and Scotland's Glasgow Zoo". The site added that in promotional material, the animators explained they "discovered that the land of snow and ice shines with many different hues".
Due to changes insisted by MGM, animation fell behind and additional coloring had to be done at a Hungarian animation studio. Don Bluth and Gary Goldman were so dissatisfied with the final film that they left during production (to help set up Fox Animation Studios) and demanded to be uncredited as the directors. The book Animated Films said, "changes at MGM during production...resulted in the project being affected in terms of production value". In a 2001 edition of his magazine Toon Talk, Bluth admitted "Penguin had story problems. We knew it. The crew knew it". Though he attempted to fix these issues when his Irish studio got taken over by the Hong Kong company Media Assets, "the story and film were now compromised", so neither he or Goldman stayed. They had their names removed from the film's credits and accepted an offer by Bill Mechanic - 20th Century Fox's then-president - to set up a new animation studio in the US (which would become Fox Animation Studios). Bluth said to his animation crew "I can't chew with someone else's mouth". Despite this executive interference, The Animated Movie Guide noted MGM/UA producer Walter Mirisch's comments on the film: "I think it's one of Don's best films ever...There's no issue of our claiming the credit for this. It's his film".
The songs were written by Barry Manilow, who previously wrote the songs for Thumbelina, along with longtime collaborator and lyricist Bruce Sussman. The film's score was composed by Mark Watters. Manilow, who had "started off wanting to be a composer," got an opportunity to do this when he was approached to "compose songs and the underscore" for the film and Thumbelina. Barbadian singer Geoffrey Holder sang the deleted song "The Beachmaster" for the film. An accompanying soundtrack was released on April 11, 1995. The instruments in the songs and score were performed by The Irish Film Orchestra. This soundtrack is currently out of print.
This is a list of musical numbers for the film:
The film's tagline was "The adventure of a lifetime begins with one small pebble". Seventy-five readers of San Antonio Express-News each won four tickets to the film. The special showing was held at 11 a.m. on April 8 at the Embassy Theaters. The Pebble and the Penguin was cross-promoted with Anheuser-Busch's Sea World Parks.
The Pebble and the Penguin was accompanied in its theater run by a new Pink Panther short entitled Driving Mr. Pink. in the United States, which was adapted from an episode of the successful Pink Panther TV series (though The Pebble and the Penguin was accompanied in its theater run by a new Looney Tunes short entitled Carrotblanca internationally). It is a late one-off short in the Pink Panther short series - they were abundant and popular until 1980.
SFGate described the short as "loud, obnoxious, [and] idiotic". The short introduced the character of Voodoo Man from the 1995 TV show. In the cartoon, "an animated woman runs out of a department store with only her underwear on". It also "features car chases, yelling, and Pink Panther getting knocked around", and "there is a veiled reference to an offensive gesture during the Pink Panther cartoon".
The Pebble and the Penguin grossed $3,983,912. It was overshadowed by A Goofy Movie which was released five days earlier.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 11% based on 9 reviews, with an average rating of 3.3/10. The film was given a Two Thumbs Down on Siskel & Ebert, with Gene Siskel noted that the film's animation looks "cheap and unfinished" and that "none of the songs are memorable" while Roger Ebert added his dislike of the "dumb songs", "silly story", and the film's color-coding of its heroes and villains. Ebert took this a step further by arguing "What do kids learn from this? Nothing overt. Just a quiet, unstated impression: White is good and brave, and brown is scheming and negative. Reinforce that through lots of cartoons (examples: Aladdin and The Rescuers Down Under) and no wonder even black children choose white dolls in some psychological experiments". Deseret News said, "the songs are forgettable, the story one-note and the characterizations quite weak". The Austin Chronicle said the film "lacks dramatic structure and narrative drive: Songs and animated action pieces are narratively connected but the film doesn't feel as though it is an organic whole. All the elements are here, they just don't come together". Time Out said "The characterisations are weak and unendearing. Worse, the big 'action' sequences turn up with the pacing and predictability of clock chimes. And, in what is perhaps the last great medium for musicals, the perfunctoriness of Barry Manilow's songs and arrangements seem guaranteed to put off yet another generation". The New York Times wrote that 4 would be "the optimum age for viewers of this gentle, animated musical", adding that "the action seems flat and low-rent compared to those earlier movies", and that it "doesn't have the vivid characters, first-rate animation or sense of adventure that turns movies like The Lion King into endlessly watchable favorites".
Washington Post Staff Writer Hal Hinson wrote, "the banality of the story, the pallid look, the flatness of the characters add up to a product that is, at best, second rate". SFGate said the "gnashing whale scenes are intense enough to push the G-rating envelope". The Spokesman-Review wrote, "it is only an average effort in virtually every respect". The Record said "The orchestration is too fancy, too loud and often drowns out the lyrics. This is a kid's movie, but musically it sounds like a full-costume Broadway show with full-supporting chorus line". It added "It's a little disturbing to see a children's movie that perpetuates the erroneous image of killer whales as violent creatures. It is, however, a perfect indication of the limited imagination which went into writing The Pebble and the Penguin". The Free Lance–Star said the film got a "charming mating ritual" and turned it into "sappy action romance with celebrity voices". The book Contemporary North American Film Directors suggested that the film suffered from "the same unimaginative and cliched Disney of the 1970s that Bluth had been so critical of". The Animated Movie Guide said, "the hero was a stuttering wimp, the songs didn't advance the plot, the dialogue was incessant and superfluous, and the pacing was plodding and dull".
Some critics did praise various aspects of the film, however, particularly in regard to Bluth's animation. These reviews, however, were almost exclusively mixed. Common Sense Media said, "the background animation of capricious weather conditions is lovely, as are the top-notch original songs by Barry Manilow and Mark Watters". Deseret News said: "Bluth's strength continues to be colorful, classical-style animation, and there are some gorgeous moments here — especially some underwater sequences". The Austin Chronicle said: "The Pebble and the Penguin features some beautifully animated sequences [...] The characters are great and the voice talents of Martin Short...and James Belushi...are terrific". Variety said the film has a "heartwarming story, some lively songs and professional animation", adding that it is "a sweet, enjoyable romantic tale more likely to succeed as an afternoon diversion on home video than on the big screen". The New York Times wrote "The tunes Mr. Manilow has written for the movie are, like his familiar pop standards, bouncy and catchy", and commented that "the animation is fine". Washington Post Staff Writer Hal Hinson wrote that "A flourishing opening number—titled 'Here and Now'—proves that Short can belt out a song with the best of them", adding that the "Bluth studio style of animation is passable, and, in the case of a Brecht-Weill flavored production number, occasionally inspired."
SFGate described the "show-tune- style songs" as "pleasant but forgettable", adding that "the singing by Short, Belushi, Curry and Broadway belter Golden is the best thing about the film". It also noted that "One of the obvious obstacles was how to color a film whose natural shadings tend toward black, white and degrees of gray. The result is a lot of odd but fascinating colorations -- the sky might turn up yellow at times, or the sea a deep maroon". The Spokesman-Review' wrote "in an era when G-rated movies are as rare as Hollywood humility, any attempt at family entertainment should be lauded", adding "let us salute Don Bluth and his team of animators". In a rare case, The Daily Gazette gave the film 4 stars. The Animated Movie Guide said the film was an "utter waste of talent and resources", due to interference from external forces. Monica Sullivan of Movie Magazine International noted that the film was "heartily enjoyed by the two little girls who saw it with me at a kiddie matinee".
The 2007 DVD release of The Pebble and Penguin was nominated for a Satellite Award for "Best Youth DVD" from the International Press Academy but was beaten by Disney and Pixar's Ratatouille.
The Pebble and the Penguin was released on VHS and LaserDisc on August 15, 1995, by MGM/UA Home Video. Warner Home Video released the film on VHS internationally in countries such as the UK and Australia.
Throughout 1997, songs from the film were released alongside others from the MGM vaults in four MGM Sing-Along cassettes released by MGM. The loosely themed tapes had titles such as "Searching for Your Dreams", "Having Fun", and "Being Happy". The Pebble and the Penguin was first released on DVD in 1999.
In 2001, the film was released alongside the 1978 animated film The Water Babies as a Side-to-Side VHS.
A "Family Fun Edition" of the film was released only in the United States and Canada on March 27, 2007, by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Gary Goldman supervised the restoration for the "Family Fun Edition", which features color corrections, refielded scenes to hide missing effects and correct other errors from the theatrical release and the un-restored 1999 print of the DVD release. The Family Fun Edition was nominated for the Satellite Award for Best Youth DVD.
The 2007 DVD release of The Pebble and the Penguin was according to The Hindu News a part of a wave of penguin-related media consisting of March of the Penguins, Happy Feet, Farce of the Penguins, and Surf's Up. This trend was also picked up on by The Paramas Post and The Age. In 2010, the film was re-released along with Rock-a-Doodle as a double sided DVD, but it carries the un-restored 1999 print.
The film was released on Blu-ray for the first time on October 11, 2011.
Since December 2001, the film's international rights ownership, along worldwide distribution of with Thumbelina (1994) and A Troll in Central Park (1994) are currently held by Fox (although since 2006 and until June 2020, Fox is handling home video distribution of the MGM library including The Pebble and the Penguin).