Animated. Voices of: Martin Short, James Belushi, Tim Curry, Annie Golden. Written by Rachel Koretsky & Steve Whitestone. Rated G.

Why is it that most non-Disney animated films are largely dark and gloomy? Why can't other film studios find the right balance between lighthearted fun and scheming villainy? "The Pebble and the Penguin" bases characters on critters that are practically living cartoons to begin with, and manages to make them flat and uninteresting.

The story is about the trials and tribulations a lovesick penguin named Hubie (Martin Short) goes through in order to make his way back to Antarctica after he is taken thousands of miles away by trappers. Befriended by a sarcastic penguin named Rocko (James Belushi) who would dearly love to fly, Hubie crosses predator-infested waters while keeping a tight grip on the beautiful pebble he needs in order to secure his choice of mates, Marina (Annie Golden). Further complicating matters is the fact that Drake (Tim Curry), an improbably muscular and incredibly vain penguin, wants Marina for himself and is willing to go the great lengths to stop Hubie from reaching her.

The story is thin, the animation is ho-hum, and don't get me started about the dreadful songs (by Barry Manilow, no less). The only thing good I can say about "The Pebble and the Penguin" is that the screenwriters were knowledgeable enough about their subject matter to know that penguins live in rookeries and that leopard seals are their main enemy. If only the same attention had been paid to creating a charming story and fun characters.

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