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Review: Penguin Highway

Went to Village East Cinema to catch a screening of Penguin Highway, one of the most unique animated coming-of-age stories I’ve ever encountered. The protagonist is an elementary school student that fancies himself a bonafide boy genius, and he’s not shy about letting his peers know it; as far as he’s concerned, he’s smarter than most of the grownups he’s met, and he constantly conducts research to increase his knowledge. While his love of the scientific method (which he apparently inherited from his refreshingly supportive father) is certainly admirable, his arrogant attitude is anything but; “I’ll become such an amazing adult that a lot of girls will probably want to marry me,” he boasts in the opening narration, “but I already have someone in mind, so they’ll just have to deal with it.” He even uses his acknowledgment of a classmate’s superior chess skills as an opportunity to brag about his own humility. When he begins investigating the sudden appearance of penguins in his sleepy suburban hometown, however, he uncovers a series of increasingly bizarre supernatural phenomena that force him to admit that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than can be dreamt of in the philosophy of a nine-year-old who’s recently discovered boobs.

As our hero’s incredible adventure reaches its bittersweet conclusion… well, he’s still kind of a cocky brat, to be honest, but he’s learned to counterbalance his overinflated sense of self-importance with a greater degree of self-awareness, becoming more courteous, empathetic, and (genuinely) humble. And it’s perfectly fine that he doesn’t quite overcome all of his character flaws within the narrow confines of the narrative; after all, maturation is a gradual process that never truly ends. As the great poets Simon & Garfunkel once said: the years keep rolling by, and every day we’re older than we once were… and younger than we will be.

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