"Delightful Animated Adventure with a Trippy Science Fiction Twist"
What You Need To Know:
PENGUIN HIGHWAY is colorful and winsome, with a quirky sense of humor and appealing characters. However, some of the high-level science can be confusing, and the ending leaves some things unexplained. PENGUIN HIGHWAY has a positive outlook on family, friends and discovering truth. However, caution is advised for older children due to some jokes about the young protagonist’s obsession with female breasts. The floating ball of ocean water in PENGUIN HIGHWAY is a metaphor for the dangers of climate change, but the metaphor is light and not overbearing.
PENGUIN HIGHWAY is an animated science fiction coming-of-age tale from Japan about a 10-year-old boy who has a crush on his dentist’s female assistant and finds she has special powers having to do with a mysterious break in the space-time continuum.
Based on a 2010 novel by Tomihiko Morimi, the movie is narrated by 10-year-old Aoyama, who fancies himself a scientist like his father and wants to be an astronaut. Aoyama is precocious but a little bit full of himself. He dreams about how “amazing” he will be as an adult, adding, “I’m sure lots of girls will want to marry me.” He also has a crush on his dentist’s hygiene assistant, Onê-san or “Lady,” and draws pictures of her breasts in his scientific journal where he writes down all his experiments and hypotheses.
One day, Aoyama sees some penguins in the large empty field near his home and investigates. Lots of penguins start showing up in the town. People think the penguins are from a nearby island, but Aoyama discovers they have special abilities when one penguin bounces off a speeding truck and isn’t hurt.
One day, after being bullied by one of his classmates outside of school, Aoyama surprisingly discovers that it’s the dental hygienist, Onê-san, who’s making the penguins suddenly appear. They start conducting experiments to see how she’s able to do that.
At the same time, Aoyama and his buddy, Uchida, follow some of the penguins into the woods. In a meadow, they run into their really smart female classmate Hamamoto, who’s discovered a strange floating ball of ocean water in the meadow. Aoyama, Hamamoto and Uchida begin studying the strange phenomenon. However, Aoyama never tells Hamamoto about his experiments with Onê-san and never tells Onê-san about the experiments with Hamamoto.
It turns out that not only does Aoyama have a crush on the female hygienist, but the school bully has a secret crush on Hamamoto while Hamamoto has a secret crush on Aoyama. How the movie resolves this romantic quadrangle and how the penguins and the floating ball of ocean water relate to one another makes for a delightful cartoon adventure with a trippy science fiction twist. Jeopardy occurs when the floating ball swallows Hamamoto’s father and starts growing larger, threatening their little town.
PENGUIN HIGHWAY is a colorful, winsome piece of Japanese anime. Like many animated movies from Japan, it has a quirky sense of humor that’s infectious. Part of that is due to the quirky traits and personal appeal of the main characters. That said, the movie contains a fair amount of ambiguous, high-level physics having to do with bending or folding the space-time continuum. So, some of the science is confusing. Also, when the story finishes, the origins of the female dental hygienist and her ability to create the penguins don’t seem to be fully explained. Their role in the story is still entertaining to watch, however.
Like its young protagonist, PENGUIN HIGHWAY is obsessed with following the scientific method. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the character of God doesn’t enter into the equation, though one of the characters does make a positive reference to God in one line at one point. There’s very little lewd or immoral content in PENGUIN HIGHWAY, except for the movie’s references to the young protagonist’s fascination with female breasts. Countering that problem is the clear bond that exists between the protagonist and his mother and father and between his female friend’s bond with her own father. Thus, PENGUIN HIGHWAY extols family and friends as well as the benefits of science in furthering human knowledge and understanding the world around us. Of course, when it’s done properly, science works well because there is an order to the universe that God has created for human beings, and for cute little penguins. Science works because God exists. Finally, the floating ball of ocean water in PENGUIN HIGHWAY is a metaphor for the dangers of climate change, but the metaphor is light and not overbearing.