Making the Grades
What's black and white and charming all over? Pingu, of course. The little clay animation penguin is the star of a series of short films that began running on television in 1986. Originally made by Trickfilmstudio in Switzerland, the franchises moved to HIT Entertainment in 2001.
But you don't have to speak Swiss (or any other known tongue for that matter) in order to understand the storylines in this series. All the characters converse in a pretend penguin language, which communicates all it needs to simply by using inflection. (Carlo Bonomi did the voices. More recent work features the talents of Marcello Magni and David Sant.) Anything that might get lost in translation is made up for in expressions and gestures.
And that is where Pingu really shines. Observing this young bird interacting with his sister Pinga and his Mom and Dad, it is obvious that writer Silvio Mazzola and director/animator Otmar Gutmann were familiar with children. Their work really captures the antics of youngsters, as well as the unconditional love of unflappable parents.
In the eight episodes include on the Pingu: On Thin Ice DVD, we watch the penguin sulk when his sister insist on bringing her stuffed bunny into the tent for their backyard campout, pout over having to eat fish soup for dinner -again, learn to cooperate with his seal friend to enter a snow sculpting contest, feel a sense of accomplishment from developing a talent, care for his little sister who has the hiccups, use his own ingenuity to find his way home after getting lost, and pick himself up and try again when learning a new skill.
As is to be expected, his mischievous side comes out too. Pouring his unwanted dinner into his backpack causes more problems than it solves, juggling instead of setting the table results in some broken dinnerware, and having to use a pink snowboard is a bit humiliating--but he gets over it. My favorite sceen is when Pingu scoops his vegetables onto the plate of the unsuspecting Pinga, in order to avoid eating them (I must confess, I tried that as a child).
The script occasionally includes the mildest of content issues, such as minor bullying over the stuffed toy, potty humor like a snow sculpture shaped like a toilet and implied flatulence, as well as a brother and sister bathing together. Yet, having raised a few penguins of my own, it is hard to imagine a portrayal of kids not encompassing some of those things. Thankfully, they are incidental moments and not pivotal plot points. And somehow they contribute to a sense of realism in these clay characters, which makes their delightful portrait of childhood one with universal appeal -- no mater what kind of creature you are.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Pingu -On Thin Ice.
What kind of relationship does Pingu have with his sister Pinga? Why does his behavior towards her change in different situations? Is this sometimes true in your relationships with people you are close to, like family members?
You can learn more about the Pingu television series at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pingu#History