PENGUINS: 4 ½ STARS. “CUTE PENGUINS AND EYE-POPPING VISUALS!”
There is an undeniable joy that comes with watching hundreds of thousands of Adélie penguins waddling, à la Charlie Chaplin, toward their Antarctic nesting grounds. “Penguins,” a new Disneynature documentary directed by Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, plays up the cute factor but maintains the educational component.
Antarctica. Half the year of the sun does not rise. It is the coldest, windiest place on the planet and it’s here the story takes place. Every spring hordes of Adélie penguins make their way across the frozen landscape seeking dryland to start families. We follow the story of Steve, a five-year-old penguin making his first solo trip across the tundra to find a mate and establish a home to raise chicks. The journey is dangerous and obstacle filled but with dogged (and yes, cute) determination Steve makes it to the breeding ground, takes part in turf wars for a prime spot and searches for dry rocks necessary to build a proper nest.
Nest constructed, Steve meets his intended, a female penguin named Adeline. Serenaded by 1980s soft rock on the soundtrack the pair get to know one another. We learn they memorize one another’s voice for easy identification later because, let’s face it, they all look pretty much the same. It’s not “Romeo and Juliet” but they do make an adorable couple and soon babies are born. We’re then given penguin parenting tips, Antarctica Adélie style, like how the chicks eat regurgitated fish directly from their parent’s mouths.
There is a hint of the circle-of-life as predatory birds and leopard seals prey on the penguins but there is nothing as shocking as walruses falling off cliffs in the Netflix doc “Our Planet.” It’s very kid friendly topped with amiable, light-hearted narration courtesy of comedic actor Ed Helms.
The film’s main strength—aside from the penguins—is the beautiful photography. Fothergill and Wilson capture the icy vastness of Antarctica, giving us gorgeous landscape views and up-close-and-personal shots of the penguins. Visuals of Steve and thousands of his penguin pals swimming like dolphins in the icy water are eye-popping, almost like synchronized swimming.
“Penguins” misses the chance to make a statement about global warming. Instead it focusses on the resilience of these remarkable, and cute, don’t forget cute, creatures.