March of the Penguins

People like watching penguins because they look so silly when the walk. Their legs are ridiculously short, so when they move forward, their entire body tilts from side to side, like a teetering bowling pin. Moreover, their black backs and white stomachs make them look even funnier, like an off-balance man in a tuxedo. What people do not know is their amazing lengths they go to in order to reproduce. March of the Penguins was a smash hit in Europe, so writer/director Luc Jacquet decided to redub it in English with narration by Morgan Freeman (Batman Begins, War of the Worlds) and release it here.

Jacquet's crew spent months in Antarctica, following the Emperor penguin through its circle of life. Reproduction takes a good chunk of the year, and the journey that the penguins undertake, guided by instinct, is quite amazing. They march for days until they reach their breeding ground, a desolate, isolated area slightly protected by mountains and far from predators. From there, they begin the elaborate ritual of choosing a mate. Each season, penguins choose one mate. They identify each other through their chirps. The female will lay the egg and hand it off to the male, who incubates it under a flap of skin. If the egg touches the ice a few seconds longer than it should, the embryo will die. They have not eaten anything the entire time, and now the female must head back to the ocean for food. The males stay behind while the chicks hatch.

Survival depends on the female's ability to make it back to the ocean and return with food, and the male's ability to keep his chick safe from the harsh cold. When the female returns, it is the male's turn to make the long trek to the ocean. Each time they reunite, they need to find each other in the crowd. An incredible number of things need to go right in order for one chick to survive, and this does not include surviving blasting cold storms.

It is impossible not to anthropomorphosize these animals. Especially given Freeman's relaxed, laid-back narration and the willingness of Jacquet to show all aspects, good and bad, of the life cycle. Lost penguins collapse and slowly die, and reunited families gently nuzzle each other. March of the Penguins is a simple and straightforward documentary that tells a powerful story. The crew spent so much time with the penguins that they were able to get extremely close, and captured some marvelous things on film. And it's darn cute.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 24 minutes, Rated G.

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