It's surprising that such a classic, long-running and beloved character as Blinky Bill – he was created by Australian author Dorothy Wall back in the 1930s – has only been adapted twice for the cinema, along with a couple of TV series. The first was Blinky Bill: The Mischievous Koala in 1992, which was animation over a live bush background, but this new film is fully-animated CGI and is a wee little ripper.
It gets off to a cracking start with Blinky (Ryan Kwanten) and his pals having a game of cricket, with a pair of kookaburras – Richie [Benaud] and Tony [Greig], voiced by Billy Birmingham, better known as The 12th Man for his comedy cricket albums in the 1980s and 90s – providing the commentary. Then the story proper kicks in. Blinky's explorer dad (Richard Roxburgh) leaves their home in Green Patch to head into the outback in search of mythical Sea of White Dragons. But when hid dad is still missing after a year, Blinky decides to see if he can find him. Along the way, he teams up with Nutsy (Robin McLeavy), a "zoo" koala he "rescues" from a cage on the back of a truck, and the pair find themselves being hunted down by a vicious British koala-hating feral cat, Sir Claude (Rufus Sewell). But Blinky and Nutsy do find some allies: Jacko (David Wenham), a nervous frill-necked lizard, Wombo the wombat (Barry Humphries) and his two helpful emu pals Beryl and Cheryl (Toni Collette).
Blinky Bill is a a fast, frenetic and very funny adventure for kids of all ages. There's plenty of humour (particularly the slapstick variety) for the ankle-biters, but loads of laughs and bonzer Aussie lingo for the grown-ups as well – especially those familiar with Australian popular culture. A nice touch is the fact that Collette plays emus Beryl and Cheryl a lot like the snobby shop assistants Prue and Trude, characters played by Jane Turner and Gina Riley in their classic sitcom Kath & Kim. There are loads of other Australianisms too, but most of them will go over the heads of anyone not born Down Under (so ask one of your Aussie mates to explain them to you). The film is full of beautiful Australian scenery, and loads of native Aussie animals – along with koalas (not koala bears; they are marsupials, not mammals) there are kookaburras, kangaroos, goannas, crocodiles, possums, echidnas and platypuses. The voice cast is excellent, full of the cream of Aussie film talent with the likes of Humphries, Wenham, Roxburgh, Mailman and Otto clearly having a blast with the material. But Kwanten reigns supreme as the eponymous hero of the story, playing the larrikin Blinky with just the right amount of charm, swagger, gumption and sense of adventure.
This version of Blinky Bill does deviate a bit from previous incarnations – Nutsy has usually been Blinky's adoptive sister, not an orphan he meets on the road, and this is the first time on screen we have met Blinky's father – but this is a timeless tale that is sure to bring this fair dinkum, true-blue character to a whole new audience.