THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS
Director: Luc Jacquet
The March of the Penguins is an unexpectedly moving documentary about a year in the life of emperor penguins that manage to survive impossible odds and the brutal conditions of the South Pole where temperatures can flirt with -128 below zero. The adult seabirds instinctively take 70 mile walks during the breeding and chick-rearing season, which explains the movie’s title.
Many scenes and penguin facts are remarkable or just plain awesome. Prospective mates somehow find each other in the huge flock once they get to their appointed destination. Parents identify the chicks by vocalizations and can find them when they return from food-gathering to spell off one another. For four months and without food for themselves, fathers mind the chicks tucking the newborns on their feet.
It is quite clear that the filmmakers lived with the penguins for a year and endured the same rough conditions as their subjects. But they never interfere with or try to stage scenes, letting the action unfold naturally. And so, appropriately, there are no human actors (except for Morgan Freeman who lends a warm, gentle, non-intrusive commentary), no hunting scenes, no bloodletting, nor ‘deep’ ecological messages to taint or spoil a viewer’s reaction. Even Alex Wurman’s beautifully understated new-age soundtrack avoids the cloying emotional cues of lesser nature-flick fare.
Parents of very young children should be advised, though, that there are a few potentially upsetting moments: a long shot of a sea lion catching a penguin underwater, a bird pecking at a singled-out helpless pup, and a glimpse of a frozen chick, its distraught mother trying to steal another mother’s chick. These sadder scenes are honest, but relatively brief and low-key.
In fact, the viewer will be struck at times by the similarities between penguin and human families or behavior, all the while being aware that the birds are very much their own creatures cued by mysterious instinctual forces, but behaving decently and responsibly. Their sense of duty, family, bonding, and caring are models that will impress and inspire viewers of any age.
Having said all that, if you and your youngsters like real, cute-looking or huggable baby animals, then this movie is highly recommended on an ‘Aaah’ basis alone. March to the theatre for likely the simplest and most entertaining movie to play here this summer.
One movie avenue I also explored was film reviews for families–the kind of information not typically offered in newspaper reviews.