Updated: Mar 21, 2020
A box office hit and Oscar winner, the documentary "March of the Penguins" from 2005 should have ended any need for further arctic bird antics on screen. But producers behind the Disneynature series know an ultimate truth: the innate adorable qualities of penguins easily withstand extra attention in movie theaters.
Series producers celebrate their tenth anniversary of nature films released around Earth Day this year with a project titled simply Penguins. While maintaining a setting in Antarctica, the movie shifts gears from the Emperor breed explored in the two-thousand five documentary by looking at Adele penguins, specifically one they call Steve. Steve marks another departure from the older movie because he represents the Disney, family- oriented approach that anthropomorphizes animals by attributing many human traits to them.
Certainly, the movie's creation involves similar challenges faced by National Geographic and other documentary filmmaking companies, using complicated equipment and techniques in harshly demanding weather conditions. Disney describes the screenplay by Steve Fowler as quote a coming-of-age story. Steve — the penguin, not writer — faces his first season as an adult with challenges including finding a mate, followed by off-screen sex, the laying of two eggs and the raising of the resulting chicks.
Comic actor Ed Helms of "The Hangover" movies narrates with cheery lightness, including speaking words and thoughts for Steve. Personally, I have no idea how filmmakers differentiate Steve and his family from the nearly one million other Adele penguins around him; I never spotted a Postit note or any other distinguishing mark.
Nor do I feel certain about the script's presentation of a successful chick-rearing season for Steve and company, but I want to believe. Do those chicks really escape an impressively well photographed and tension-filled chase by a leopard seal? Narration says so.
The movie's producers make it easy for little kids--and me--to calm down and go to bed thinking that all is well in Steve's world. This approach might not work for a purist who wants no manipulation with reality, but on an entertainment level, the title characters of "Penguins" once again do their jobs.
(Photo of me below in Patagonia with Gentoo and Magelenic penguins; I like penguin!
This review was originally aired on 4/25/2019.
You can listen to it online at https://www.kunr.org/post/penguins#stream/0