A Penguin's Memories is an animated film from 1987. It is an English dub and re-edit of the 1985 Japanese anime film Penguin's Memory: Shiawase Monogatari. It is directed by Shunji Kimura and Garrett Fredrickson and is produced by Akira Sugatani and Saul Zaentz. It stars Chris Sarandon as Mike, a penguin who served in the Delta War, who returns home after the war but has received post-traumatic stress disorder from what he went through during the conflict. It is produced by The Saul Zaentz Company, CM Land and Hakuhodo and is distributed by United Artists. Suntory Beer also produced the film, as their mascots were the inspiration for the original film, however, they were uncredited in the English version since Suntory Beer never saw a release in the United States.
A Penguin's Memories was released on September 18, 1987 to a mixed response and only grossed $15.6 million against it's budget of $9.9 million, though it has since gained a cult following and has been re-evaluated as one of the strangest yet most powerful animated films ever made. It is the first film to be directed by Garrett Fredrickson.
We start in the Delta War (an analogy for wars such as Vietnam) in which Mike (Chris Sarandon) and his fellow soldiers, Al (Chuck McCann) and Tom (Frank Welker), seek refuge in a cave and talk about their lives after Tom is badly injured. Mike is a soft-spoken individual who enjoys poetry. The next day they come out to see US helicopters cutting down people fleeing the warzone. And things take a horrifying turn for the worst as the sensitive soul witnesses both of his friends be killed, Mike being only one surviving.
After Mike returns home from the Delta War, his friends and family welcome him as a war hero, however he does not feel like a hero at all. Even after being traumatised from seeing his two best friends be killed in the warzone, his friends and family still want to know about his experiences and ask insensitive questions about killing people and being alone. Mike soon leaves town and drifts through many different towns and places, before winding up in Lake City, Florida.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to a young woman who lives in Lake City named Jill, who is having a very lovely time singing and dancing with her group of little children students as usual, while singing, she and Mike have a chance encounter. Whilst Jill is taking care of the children, Mike gets a job at the local library; the librarian is very impressed with Mike’s knowledge and passion for books, especially the poetry of Randall James. Meanwhile an operation at the local hospital done by Jack (Lou Diamond Philips), a surgeon is happening. It turns out to be a success and the boss Dr. Moe (Tom Bosley), who is Jill's father, is impressed and considers him for a possible fiancé for Jill.
That night, Jill goes to the pub owned by her aunt, Madam O'Hara (June Foray). After discussing how Jill's father wants her to stop teaching the children to sing to focus on her potential relationship with Jack, O'Hara suggests that Jill should audition to become a professional singer, for a Central City based record producer came for a drink and discussed how he needed new artists, so she told him a bit about her sparking his interest and that she can contact him right away. Jill happily accepts this offer.
Mike meanwhile is settling into his librarian job and a few days later, he meets Jill again as she returns some books she borrowed, much to their surprise. Jill asks him if he knows of a poetry collection she forgot the title for, so Mike helps her look for it. Mike finds the book she was referring to when she said "Below the Mirabeau bridge flows the Seine," and recognizes it as Apollinaire's work. After he gives her the book, Jill tells him there's never been such a knowledgeable and considerate person like him before and the two introduce themselves.
After she leaves, Jill offers to show Mike around town and the two take quite the stroll through town, going from one landmark in town to another. Meanwhile, Jack is trying to call Jill about the idea her father said the other day, but she doesn’t answer. Even though truth be told, Jack already has someone he loves, a fellow surgeon named Susan (Lea Thompson), he decides to go investigate. Jill meanwhile discusses her singing passion to Mike while they watch the children play soccer and while getting something to eat, she asks Mike if he likes the town and he says he does, and also inadventedly reveals he served in the Delta War when he says that anything tastes good to him if it's not a field ration. Mike also explains he planned on going to either Sunset Beach or Mount Jeffey, but those two places seemed like the end of his journey, so he couldn't bring himself to go to either.
The next day, Jill is hurriedly leaving her house after she says she's late when her father brings up the topic of Jack, asking if she still remembers their discussion about him. Jill, however, seems disinterested and leaves the place, leaving her father somewhat unsurprised. Mike and Jill continue their trip around town, unaware of Jack keeping his eye on the two of them. They end their day next to the lake as Mike plays his harmonica tune he got from Tom, and as some children observe in secret, the two embrace and kiss.
The next morning, Jill meets Bob Adams (Marshall Efron), the producer from PVC Records in Central City that Madam O'Hara was talking to her about. O'Hara explains that he heard her singing a while ago and he felt that she should audition right away, even Bob Adams appears rather enthusiastic about her auditioning. Jill accepts his offer and tells her father goodbye before entering Bob Adams' vintage looking truck. Before leaving, Bob Adams assures her father that he won't have anything to worry about and that he'll even give him her autograph for free.
Mike, meanwhile is out walking on a rainy day when he comes across an injured bird whom he nurses back to health and names Chico. Jack on the other hand is busy thinking about something as Susan tries to guess what it is. When she assumes it's Mike, whom she calls the "silly boy at the library", Jack tells her to knock it off and assumes she might've just been showing him around.
Over in Central City, Jill is singing a song called "Please Don't Take My Dream" to the producers including Bob and when she finishes, he ecstatically tells her how everyone was completely rapt by her singing, which is further proven when the producers start offering her contracts and tunes for her. As Jill proceeds to return home by train, Bob Adams tells her once everything has been prepared, he'll head straight to Lake City and that she's absolutely fabulous. After her train leaves, Bob Adams appears a little more concerned about the success that will be made from her and dances about it to the confusion of some passersby. Jill later phones Mike to tell him that she aced the audition and offers to celebrate at Madam O'Hara's place that night, which Mike agrees to see her then.
That night, Mike arrives to the pub and meets Madam O'Hara, and after sitting down with her, she explains that Jill will be out to sing soon and that Mike's look reminds her of the one someone else gave her, and that she must've had the same look Jill has when she looks at him.
Before Mike can say another word, Jill starts singing a song called "Sweet Memories", which emotionally moves him. A round of applause is held when she finishes. She goes over to meet Mike and Madam O'Hara lets her have her seat. Mike says he doesn't know what to say for his opinion outside of the fact she was wonderful. As a celebratory gift, Mike gives her a rose and Madam O'Hara has a waiter fill their drink glasses with some champaigne as both a gift for passing her audition and the lovely romance between her and Mike. Unfortunately, the perfect night is spoiled thanks to Jack who was already in attendence. He tries to get Jill to come with him, but is punched in the face by Mike. Jack lies to Mike saying that he is Jill’s fiancé and questions Mike’s ability to truly make Jill happy. Mike, defeated and heartbroken, runs away leaving Jill furious with Jack.
Mike distances himself from Jill after the incident in fear, he won’t open the door to her or answer any of her calls. To make matters worse, he is suffering post traumatic stress disorder from seeing his friends die in the Delta War and has flashbacks in his sleep. Mike attempts to set Chico free, but they have grown such a strong bond that when Mike sets him free, he just flies back. Later that day, while walking through the Autumn air, Mike runs into Jack again and he tells him to sit with him. Jack reveals that he too was in the Delta War, not as a soldier however but rather as a psychiatrist, still remembering the cries of the soldiers wanting their mothers before they died. Jack also admits that he was lying about Jill being his fiancé and that it was a test to see if Mike really did love Jill. Jack gives Mike his blessing and teaches him an important lesson of not running away from love. He tells Mike to to make Jill happy for him, and wanders away.
Jill’s father and Madam O’Hara sit at a cafe discussing Mike and Jill’s relationship and are worried about how they might end up. Bob Adams meanwhile daydreams about the money he will make from Jill’s music career. Jill finally is able to visit Mike and she is delighted. She gives him a poster of her from the music production company. Mike and Jill then go out for a drive and Jill is very excited, though Mike has something on his mind. Jill says that she is moving to the Central City, but Mike isn’t keen on the idea. Jill says that he can move with her and that they will meet her long lost mother who also went there and never came back. Mike still refuses and is content with the quiet, rural life of Lake City. Jill, confused and upset, asks Mike why and he states that she can go to Central City by herself (probably to avoid more exposure from the war). Jill, who is very unhappy and confused about his decision, thinks that Mike is trying to be selfish and unsupportive and drops him off at his house and heads for Madam O’Hara’s pub.
She soon sees that Madam O’Hara is still in there, alone and forlorn with the only noise in the pub being an old record playing. Jill tells her that she’s given up on Mike. Her aunt then tells her a story. Turns out that, when she was young, she too dreamt of being a singer, but her husband who was a doctor who wanted to build a hospital in Lake City, told her to go on the trip to Central City by herself. And finally, a huge revelation is made. Madam O’Hara had been lying to Jill all along. Madam O’Hara is Jill’s real mother. Jill, realising this, hugs her and cries, realising that she shouldn’t give up the warmth of family and loved ones. Jill decides to cut the singing career and to rush back to Mike, but not before thanking her mother for everything. Unfortunately, Bob Adams eavesdrops on this and, not wanting to lose his potential fortune, races off to find Mike, leaving behind a concerned Madam O'Hara.
When Bob gets to Mike’s house, he tells him that, because Jill wants to stay in Lake City with him, he will pay him as much money as he wants just so he can leave, just so he can force Jill to sing and have loads of money. Fortunately for the stingy producer, Mike says that he was planning to leave the next day so paying him would be useless. Bob Adams leaves, telling Mike that he'll send her a free copy of her record and autograph, but just has he proceeds to leave, Jill arrives at Mike’s house as he leaves, he explains to her that Mike is planning on leaving town, so she dodges past him to see what he means. Jill then tells Mike that she won’t go to Central City and that she loves him and wants to be with him rather than entering a singing career.
Unfortunately, Bob Adams, his bodyguard and his chauffeur enter the room stating that this has gone way too far. The chauffeur grabs ahold of Jill but Mike tells Bob and the chauffeur to stop, he suggest that he tries finding someone else, but Bob isn't keen on this and his bodyguard grabs both of them as the chauffeur proceeds to torture Chico. This makes Mike furious and he escapes the bodyguard’s arms and smashes a chair on the chauffeur's head when he points a gun at him, all whilst having horrible war flashbacks. Bob Adams sends his bodyguard to seize him, but Mike tackles him out of the window. Mike targets Bob next when he tries to make off with Jill, but he defends himself by continually whacking Mike with a cane. As the flashbacks get worse and worse, Mike finally reaches his breaking point and lunges at Bob, knocking him into a chair and proceeds to punch him multiple times. Jill makes Mike snap out of it, leaving an unconcious Bob Adams. The police arrive to investigate the chaos and Mike holds Chico’s dead body in his arms as Jill embraces him.
Mike eventually ends up in prison for the night and the librarian visits him in his cell. The librarian leaves him a book of Randall James' poetry and advises him to end his long, painful travels. The next day, Mike is put on trial in court for assault whilst Jill sits in the waiting room, truly forlorn. Jill’s mother arrives and Jill tells her that she can’t bare to sit in the court and that Mike would not see her when she visited last night. He did however leave her with one last, heart wrenching letter, telling her how he lost to the monster called war which completely messed him up, and that she was the one who restored light and love to his life, thanking her for everything, a heart-wrenched Jill cries in her mother’s arms after she read the letter to her. Despite being found guilty, Mike is released from prison and put on probation. Mike goes to Chico's gravestone and bids him farewell before meeting Jack again. Jack tells him to not worry about tommorrow since there's always a south wind blowing in Lake City, and Mike tells him that if the north wind becomes too much for him, he'll return to Lake City. Mike soon gets onto a bus, waves goodbye to everyone as his solemn harmonica tune plays for the last time, and heads for the fork in the road for Mount Jeffry and Sunset Beach, not knowing where to go. No matter where he ends up going, he won’t be alone, because Jill arrives in her car meeting with him again. Mike gets into the car with Jill, and embraces his true love before the long journey ahead they will embark on, closing the film.
- Chris Sarandon as Mike
- Debbie Reynolds as Jill
- Lou Diamond Phillips as Jack
- June Foray as Madam O'Hara & Mike's Mom
- Marshall Efron as Bob Adams
- Gregg Berger as Tom and The Jailer
- Chuck McCann as Al
- Dom DeLuise as Paul
- Lea Thompson as Susan & Peggy
- Burl Ives as The Librarian
- Clancy Brown as Jimmy and Court Judge
- Tom Bosley as Dr. Moe
- Carl Andy as Waiter (Voice Cameo)
- Frank Welker
- Len Maxwell
- Dom DeLuise
- Michael Rye
- Susan Davis
- Jan Rabson
- Hal Smith
- Mona Marshall
- Barbara Goodson
- Peter Fernandez
- Alicia Fleer
- Lisa Kohane
- James Cranna
- Robert Lawrence
After helping his friend Carl Andy write the English version of Space Firebird, Garrett Fredrickson felt like making another English dubbed anime film, but he couldn't quite find one at the time until 1985, when he saw Penguin's Memory - Shiawase Monogatari and decided to make an English language version, after getting the license to make one from CBS/Sony Records (in exchange for handling the soundtrack under Columbia Records in America), the dub went into production. Before he got the rights to the film, he was considering whether or not to make an American remake the movie or to dub the movie into English. He decided to both dub the movie into English while also trying to adapt the movie to American audiences without changing too much of the film Cindy and Donald Hewitt were hired to translate the film into English as well as rewrite some of the lines to make it more accustomed for American release. The two would later write Disney's English dubs of various Studio Ghibli films.
Initially funding had to be sourced by Fredrickson himself due to initial lack of a distributor, he did ask Carl Andy who was under a 3-movie contract with Warner Bros., if he could help work on the movie, but because he was working on The Booter, he was unable to help work on the movie. However, production on the dub started to take shape when the more famous Saul Zaentz decided to help work on the dub, allowing his own production studio to help fund the production and to also seek distribution for the movie.
As the movie did deal with heavy themes, both Fredrickson and Zaentz had some difficulty finding distribution of the film due to most companies not knowing how to properly market the movie thanks to it's content, although a distribution deal was offered by New World Pictures, the filmmakers turned it down as they didn't find it a good deal. Orion Pictures, who had distributed Saul Zaentz's films Amadeus and The Unbearable Lightness of Being also turned down the film. Eventually, The Saul Zaentz Company found an alternative distributor in United Artists, who scheduled the film for a September 1987 release. At the time of release it was the only anime movie to be released by a major film studio in the United States, and the first anime film United Artists released since The Castle of Cagliostro in 1980. The international distribution rights were pre-sold to various other companies across the world (including Rank Film Distributors for the UK, Roadshow for Australia, Constantin Film for Germany, Metropolitan Filmexport for France and United International Pictures for Argentina).
When the film's title came to view by Fredrickson, he thought that the film's original title, which literally translates to Penguin's Memory: A Tale of Happiness, sounded rather clunky, and changed the movie's name to A Penguin's Memories.
While the dub is fairly faithful to the original movie, a few differences were inserted as well, these include:
- The film's opening music is shortened to just twenty-one seconds and the last few seconds of the music even play over the first few seconds of the movie.
- Al's line "If we could give him a cold beer, he'd get better in no time." was changed to "You better give him some medicine, Mike, or he'll probably die."
- When Al is describing his girlfriend, he instead describes her as "the most beautiful penguin you'll ever see"
- Mike saying Jill's name after Jill reveals that she loves him is cut out as Fredrickson found the line unnecessary
- Some of the soundtrack, with the exception of many sound effects and various music pieces, were replaced by music composed by Jerry Goldsmith, as well as added into certain scenes that lack music, such as the scene when the police come to Mike's home after his brawl with Bob Adams.
- The English script also adds a bit of meta self-awareness to the film, with some of the characters like Al and Bob Adams even acknowledging that they're penguins, unlike the original where the word "penguin" is never mentioned.
- The film's ending song is removed and a newly composed instrumental piece plays over the final scene. The end credits of the movie instead have the song "Weekend in New England" by Barry Manilow playing over them.
- A few pop songs are heard in the movie, those being Looking For Jack, Heaven's Children, Break My Stride, and All Day, All Night.
- The movie is extended by three minutes with new scenes included, some of which being extensions of other scenes and others being newly written ones.
- Mike's line to Bob Adams and the two other penguins "How about you people give up?" is changed to "You can just find somebody else!" Bob Adams' reasoning is also slightly reworded, with him instead saying "Listen here bud, you don't know how much I've spent on all the marketing and record deals for her! You wouldn't want good money to go to waste? Wouldn't you?"
- When Bob Adams is seen wacking Mike with his cane, instead of making comments on how painful it must be to Mike, he instead angrily utters "I... HATE you!"
- Before Bob Adams begins eavesdropping on Jill talking to Madam O'Hara, he is heard singing a small tune to himself, in the original, he was heard singing "Tonight i'll have all the wine I can drink".
Fredrickson's intention for the voice cast was to not only bring in some well known voice actors, but also some actors that worked well with their parts. Because of this, Fredrickson chose to seek out actors, mainly because he was concerned about the actors doing wacky exaggerated voices should he hold auditions, he had help with both Brebner Agencies and Ruth Lambert regarding casting. Some of the film's additional voices were provided by lesser known voice actors, while main roles and a few smaller roles were given to some more well known actors, including Debbie Reynolds (Jill), June Foray (Madam O'Hara), Burl Ives (The Librarian), and Frank Welker (Tom). Already an established actor through his role in The Great American Dream Machine, Marshall Efron was cast as the film's villain, Bob Adams, as Fredrickson thought his voice was extremely close to the voice of Casey Takamine, who voiced the character in the Japanese version of the film. Lou Diamond Phillips was cast as Jack as Fredrickson thought his voice was kind of fitting for what type of character Jack was, a sentimental doctor; the director of La Bamba, Luis Valdez allowed Phillips to take some time off from working on his film to voice in A Penguin's Memories. Carl Andy, who was still working on The Booters, was able to provide a minor voice as the waiter who encourages Mike to "distinguish himself" even more than he did.
Mike was fairly difficult to cast, as Fredrickson didn't know what actor would best fit him, with the casting choices eventually being narrowed down to Charlie Sheen and Chris Sarandon. Sarandon was cast as Mike around April 1986, but some of his lines were recorded separately on certain days due to him also starring in the 20th Century Fox movie The Princess Bride. In a similar case with Lou Diamond Philips, the director of that movie, Rob Reiner, allowed Sarandon to take some time off to provide Mike's voice.
Similar to a few films like Godzilla: King of the Monsters, certain scenes in A Penguin's Memories were re-filmed or changed out entirely. Many of the differences between the animation in the original and new dub is additional in-between work for some of the character animation, extending some pieces of animation to better sync with the lines, and also refielding certain scenes to correct some problems from the original animation, such as to remove certain fog effects and correct lighting problems, while some of the new scenes involved inserting new scenes to better transition each scene and to replace certain moments in the film. The additional animation work was done by Hyperion Pictures, with some of the animators later working on a few other Hyperion projects like Rover Dangerfield.
A Penguin's Memories had its premiere at the Annecy International Film Festival in May 1987, and was released in American theaters on September 18th, 1987.
The theatrical, television and streaming rights are retained by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer while Warner Bros. Pictures holds the DVD and Blu-Ray rights via their ownership of the Saul Zaentz library. Although since 2020, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has distributed the MGM catalog on home video, thus allowing MGM to regain the physical home media rights to the film.
A Penguin's Tale received a PG-13 rating for both war and standard violence and strong language, as well as mildly frightening scenes. Fredrickson had expected this rating.
Despite Fredrickson expecting the film to get a PG-13 rating, a few other people were confused why the film would need a PG-13 rating, Roger Ebert noted this in his review of the movie saying "Why A Penguin's Memories has a PG-13 rating is something of a mystery, compared to the films that created the rating, Gremlins and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, this has PG written all over it.", Gene Siskel also agreed in the At The Movies review, saying "The only truly violent scenes in A Penguin's Memories are just the war scene and the fight scenes, that's it. It doesn't have anything ridiculously violent like Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, it's more on the lines of something like Patton or Back to the Future." A few other people assumed it was given that rating due to despite being an animated film that featured penguins in it, it did carry quite a few adult subjects.
Because of competition with the film Fatal Attraction, the film only made $15.6 million at the box office against it's $9.9 million budget. Though not a box office flop, it was considered low by MGM/UA's standards. Another reason was due to the marketing, because the movie's trailer put a big emphasis on postwar theme the movie carried, but most of the TV spots advertised the film in a way similar to films like Back to the Future and a few other live action movies with a similar format. As a result, it ended up confusing audiences on what type of film genre it was trying to convey.
A Penguin's Tale initially received mixed reviews from critics, though the movie's attempt at something different in animation and voice acting recieved positive reviews, the animation on the other hand was heavily criticized. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film "had a very interesting concept. Any animated film in similar veins to a New Hollywood style movie could work if pulled off correctly, but this movie really only pulls it off in writing. The animation is a lot more clunky than something like The Secret of NIMH or many of Disney's works and the use of penguins as all the characters seems more like a novelty than anything else." Gene Siskel felt similarly about the movie saying "It does try, it really did try, but the animation kind of ruins the movie, it just feels so stilted and wooden, it's akin to a Saturday Morning cartoon."
Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times, however, gave the movie a rating of 3 out of 4 stars saying that "for all of it's cheap animation quality, this movie delivers something that animated films haven't done often lately, and that is resonating on an adult level. A Penguin's Memories may seem like a novelty at first, but once you let it sink in, it really becomes deep." He also compared the film to The Deer Hunter, saying that "It's very similar at the start, three penguins who serve a war much like Vietnam, though given this was originally a Japanese film, I think that was more of a coincidence."
In The Animated Movie Guide, Jerry Beck considered the movie to be "surprisingly good", and also praised the performances of the voice cast, in particular Lou Diamond Phillips, Marshall Efron and Burl Ives as Jack, Bob Adams and The Librarian, respecitvely along with Jerry Goldsmith and Masataka Matsutoya's score saying that "while there is a bit of a difference between their scores, they both still work in the movie's favor." TV Guide also gave the film a 4 out of 5 stars saying "It's not that well animated but it makes up for that in it's surprisingly powerful story. Even with the strange creative decisions, it's still a great movie and it's no wonder the film has a prominent cult status."
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 80% based on 34 reviews with an average score of 7.3 out of 10, the site's critical consensus reads "Featuring animation that might be clunky, but carrying plenty of heart. A Penguin's Memories is an anime film that definitely deserves a watch". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 74 based on 14 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
- 1988 Key Video VHS/Laserdisc (Distributed by CBS/Fox Video)
- 1994 MGM/UA Home Video VHS
- 1999 MGM Home Entertainment DVD
- 2005 Warner Home Video 2-Disc DVD
- 2006 Warner Home Video PSP UMD Video
- 2011 Warner Home Video Blu-Ray
- 2020 Warner Archive Blu-Ray (reprint of 2011 Blu-Ray with revised packaging)
Although A Penguin's Memories was not a hit in theaters, Garrett Fredrickson, who was previously just a writer of mostly English dubs of foreign films, would start to make his name more well known during the 1990s and 2000s with many animated films such as Rise of the Mages, The Song of the Shattered Skies, The Story of Quincy, and The Angel and the Introvert to name a few. Even with the success of his original works, Fredrickson would continue doing English dubs of anime films and certain western animated films like War of the Birds.
When the film premiered on HBO on June 18th, 1988, and on Showtime later that month, the film started to gain more attention from audiences and became a cult film, mainly with anime fans and music fans thanks to the movie's use of pop songs here and there. Even though HBO stopped airing the movie in 1996, the film continues to have a cult fanbase, despite being held up on similar levels as films like Watership Down and The Plague Dogs.
In 2003, Garrett Fredrickson would return to A Penguin's Memories with a five minute short film called Chart Crazy, and three years later, he directed and co-wrote a spin-off film to the movie called Bob Adams: Final Fate, which Marshall Efron, Lou Diamond Philips, Frank Welker, and Clancy Brown returned to voice in, although Frank Welker voiced a different character due to his original character dying in the original film. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer distributed subsequent productions instead of United Artists, although Bob Adams: Final Fate was co-distributed by Columbia Pictures due to Sony's partial ownership of MGM at the time. Despite Warner Bros holding the home video rights to the first movie, they had no involvement with any later productions.