The downfall of Don Bluth during the 90s is rather sad and somewhat puzzling to me. When he left Walt Disney Animation Studios in 1979, he set out to challenge his former studio in the hopes to get them back to their past greatness. In the 80s, he put out amazing content that reached grand heights for animation though after "All Dogs Go To Heaven" in 1989, something just went wrong. Bluth stumbled badly and put out animated films that were not very good before hitting rock bottom in 1994 with "A Troll in Central Park". Afterward, he put out one last animated film at Sullivan Bluth Studios before moving to 20th Century Fox to start up another animation studio with that last film being "The Pebble and the Penguin". The good news is that it's a much better film than "A Troll in Central Park". The bad news is that it's such a sloppy animated film and sadly another dud in Don Bluth's filmography though I will say I did find enjoyment out of it. It's one of those animated films I found so bad it's good.
In Antarctica, there's a tradition amongst the Adelie penguins that the males chose a pebble for the female they love as a proposal token so they can be together forever. One of these penguins named Hubie (Martin Short) has his eyes set on the lovely Marina (Annie Golden). The two fall in love with each other and Hubie decides that she is the one for him. One day, he finds an emerald stone that fell from the sky and decides to take it to propose to Marina. However, the evil Drake (Tim Curry) who also wants to marry her, drops Hubie into the sea and is presumed dead by his fellow penguins after they see him encounter a sea lion. In reality, Hubie escaped the sea lion but was captured by fishermen and put on a boat called Misery to be sent to a zoo. There he encounters Rocko (Jim Belushi), a grumpy penguin wishing to fly. After the two escape the boat together, they set off for Antarctica so Hubie can get to Marina and propose to her before the night of the full moon and before Drake proposes to her.
Before watching this film, I decided to do some research on the production of the film and found a lot about what happened which explained the film's messy quality. Don Bluth's studio at the time was going bankrupt and was on the verge of closure and was losing money fast, plus MGM was forcing Bluth to make a ton of changes to the film including cutting out scenes, characters, and even songs while making new additions to the plot. The film's production got so messy that Bluth, co-director Gary Goldman, and producer John Pomeroy all disowned the film and had their credits removed from the film. While Bluth was displeased with the film, MGM seemed confident with the film with one executive calling it "one of Don's best films ever". Honestly, I don't know what he saw in this film because I have to side with Bluth on this. This film is such a gigantic mess and is very sloppily made, but I did find it hilarious at how sloppy some of it was. When it comes to the story, I think the actual concept and idea aren't that bad. A penguin trying to get back home to his lover isn't the most original idea, but I think it could've worked. However, the story in this film is so chaotically told that the whole film felt rather rushed. The pacing felt nonexistent in this film as scenes just quickly happen without rhyme or reason and there isn't enough time given for the characters to take in the scenarios or to react to situations. For example, there's a scene where Hubie and Rocko wash up on a sunny beach and Hubie says that they need to get back to Antarctica in only ten days. However, less than fifteen minutes later when they're on a rock island, Hubie says they now have only five days left. What happened in those five days? I honestly have no idea because the film never explains it. There's also not much that happens in the film either as the journey really feels empty and incomplete. I think it probably has to do with MGM cutting out a lot of the story. Also, the scenes in this film and the way they're presented just came off as hilarious. I was just laughing at how badly these scenes were showcased as they came off so sloppy. For example, after Hubie encounters the sea lion, he is seen floating on an iceberg away from his homeland and then it immediately cuts to him in a crate on the ship. The transition was so abrupt and out of nowhere I just laughed. It's incredibly poor pacing. As far as the animation goes, it's incredibly sloppy. The character animation and backgrounds are passable at best, but there were so many errors I caught in this animation that it baffled me. There is one instance where the background repeats itself, Hubie and Rocko's eyes turn green for no reason, pebbles that Hubie throws disappear on screen after he tosses them, no background appearing at all when Hubie is floating in the water, Hubie being shaded purple despite being in the sunlight with Rocko who is being properly lit, characters being frozen in place while others are moving perfectly, even a boat that's completely still in one shot and the very next shot it's moving full steam ahead. These errors are so major and large that I was shocked by how many of them they were. I could give some of these mistakes a pass if this animation was made for television, but this was made for theaters. This kind of quality is unacceptable. As far as the characters go, they're mostly underdeveloped. While I think Hubie and Rocko do have nice chemistry together with Short and Belushi playing off each other well, there's not much behind their characters except that Hubie is the well-meaning if rather clumsy penguin while Rocko is grumpy but still having a kind nature underneath. Marina is so boring and uninteresting that I learned nothing about her character and didn't get a single hint of chemistry between her and Hubie. Drake was a lot of fun to watch mainly due to his over the top design and Tim Curry giving a fun performance of him, but his character also has nothing menacing about him other than that he's big, has rather large abs and a cape, and lives in an evil fortress. He just mostly fawns after Marina but doesn't do anything menacing to her. Even the way he's defeated at the end is ridiculous and weak. I also found Barry Mainillow's songs once again unimpressive. I don't think they are as bad as his numbers from "Thumbelina", but they were rather unmemorable and left no impression on me whatsoever.
In all, "The Pebble and the Penguin" is a sloppy animated film. The story has no pacing and feels rushed, the animation is sloppy and has a lot of major mistakes, and the characters are underdeveloped and lacking in personality. While I don't think this is a good animated film at all and yet another dud in Bluth's filmography, I still did find enjoyment in how messy it is and I think it's a good animated film to study on how not to make an animated film. I think I'd put it alongside "Rock-A-Doodle" as a film that could've worked but just had so many messy choices that it just fell flat. This film isn't as smooth as a pebble, but rather as rough as a rock.