The CGI character Pororo the Little Penguin is a smash hit in South Korea, where his animated series has been running since 2003 (though that length is a bit padded by the multi-year gaps between seasons and movies). While Pororo has been successfully exported to multiple foreign countries, Lionsgate is giving the little penguin and his friends a crack at the United States market with the DVD movie The Little Penguin: Pororo’s Racing Adventure. The DVD (currently a Walmart exclusive) is lightweight fun, though it does suffer a little bit from oddball pacing, some questionable translations, and some unsuccessful casting choices.
Pororo lives with his friends in Porong Village, a remote wintry hamlet where Pororo dreams of becoming a Super Sled champion. A practice session in a new rocket sled accidentally brings down a cargo plane piloted by an odd couple of turtles named Toto (Rob Schneider) and Mango (Jon Heder). A few misunderstandings later and Pororo and his friends are engaging in a bogus Super Sled training regimen under Toto’s tutelage, and soon become convinced that they can enter the Super Sled Championships being held in the city of Northpia. However, their optimism doesn’t seem like it will be much of a match against the skills of the other racers, including the reigning champion White Tiger (Drake Bell) and the scheming, nasty brown bears led by Fufu (Anthony Anderson).
Pororo’s Racing Adventure is mostly harmless fun, though I suspect the movie’s odd pacing may put off some American kids. The movie feels a bit too much like several smaller episodes stitched together to make a movie, and there are a few spots where time seems to slow down arbitrarily to allow Pororo to make up for lost time. The combination of both means that the expected triumph of Pororo feels less earned than forced. However, the animation is solid and if the racing sequences are the most enjoyable sequences of the movie, even if they don’t have quite the high-octane kick of a Cars movie or of the races in Planes.
Lionsgate attempted to exploit celebrity stunt casting for the English dub, but unfortunately it seems that they mostly ended up with celebrities well off the A-list. Drake Bell’s White Tiger is the best of the bunch, with the right energy and upright tone for the straight-arrow role. Anthony Anderson’s performance is also a major reason why Fufu manages to be a credible antagonist without being too overtly scary. Dallas Lovato is fine in a minor part as the leader of the bears’ ninja sabotage team, which also provides some slapstick Looney Tunes humor. However, the rest of the casting choices are mostly duds. Rob Schneider is less annoying than his usual cinema roles, though Toto is still a bit too broadly stupid to be a really enjoyable character. Jon Heder is completely wasted as Mango, displaying no energy in an under-developed part. Similarly, Jay Mohr doesn’t get much to do as a duck sportscaster, but Jerry Trainor as his partner is actively annoying and relentlessly unfunny. Oddly, the DVD doesn’t even credit the actors who play Pororo and his friends in the English dub, though they do a fine job with what they have.
I’m also wondering if the movie was dubbed Speed Racer style, where someone who didn’t understand the native language fabricated a script that seemed to fit what was happening on-screen rather than working from a translation. There are often tremendous differences between the English dialogue and the translated subtitles for the Korean soundtrack, as well as numerous points where the American actors fill silences with nonsensical asides. Jay Mohr and Jerry Trainor’s exchanges as the sportscasters don’t even seem to have the benefit of a script, feeling more like they were just dropped in a booth and asked to improvise off whatever was happening on screen (and neither succeeds in being very funny).
The DVD presents the video in a solid anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks in English and Korean. The lead bonus feature has many of the actors talking about recording their parts for the movie (and I wish Jerry Trainor’s enthusiasm translated into humor more successfully in this movie). One strange extra are four “Minuscule” short films, which are dialogue-free live-action/animation hybrids from France that have no connection at all to Pororo. They’re fine, if slightly but endearingly odd, but I wonder what they’re doing here instead of something more relevant like an episode of the Pororo TV show.
The Little Penguin: Pororo’s Racing Adventure is not a bad film, but unfortunately, it’s also not one that’s particularly good, either. It’s not something I’d go out of my way to see, but it’s mostly harmless and parents who buy it at the insistence of their children will find little to complain about. However, I don’t think the movie explains the character’s enduring popularity in Korea, and I definitely don’t think the additions for the English dub do it any favors.