Disneynature celebrates Earth Day with the release of their most charming documentary yet. Penguins is an endearing, informative, and supremely entertaining look at the beloved flightless aquatic birds. The film follows an Adelie penguin, adorably named Steve, through a season of life in frigid Antarctica. Penguins is irrepressibly funny with stunning cinematography. It is geared towards children, but does not sugarcoat the dangers and violence of life in the wild. A clever narrative structure, rollicking soundtrack, and goofy penguin hijinks are a winning combination.
We first meet Steve ambling across the ice. He’s on his way to meet up with the Adelie penguin colony, but has fallen far behind. Steve trips, falls, and does a few tummy glides as he tries to catch up. Along the way he gets sidetracked by the much bigger Emperor penguins, but quickly realizes he’s in the wrong place. When he finally reaches the massive gathering, Steve struggles to find a place to build his nest. All of the good spots are taken.
Steve’s efforts finding rocks for his nest are hilarious. The other penguins aren’t shy about stealing a sweet rock from another nest. This is the point when Penguins shows the true difficulties of colony life. Steve finds a mate, starts a family, and begins the arduous task of caring for hungry chicks. It is a hundred miles round-trip to fish for food. The chicks must be kept warm through a brutal, freezing winter. They must also be protected from sneaky predator birds that try to snatch them for the nest. Then there are the vicious Leopard seals that strike unexpectedly from cracks in the ice. It’s a dangerous world for Steve, but he proves more than capable of protecting and providing for his family.
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Penguins greatest accomplishment is setting the right tone. The film never bores with scientific details or gets too preachy about climate change. Directors Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson keep their penguin stars in focus. The plot is a simple exploration of their life cycle. Steve finds a mate, has chicks, and provides for them through a season in Antarctica. The humor is well timed by screenwriter David Fowler. Steve and the other penguins are innately funny in their interactions and with the surrounding environment. Fowler has a quip for every trip, fight, and regurgitation of digested fish. Combined with Ed Helms’ sharp delivery, the laughs are spot on every time.
Music plays a huge factor in Penguins entertainment value. The soundtrack consists of everything from Twisted Sister to The Isley Brothers. There’s a toe-tapping, head-bopping tune that accompanies Steve’s adventures. Composer Harry Gregson-Williams also does an excellent job with his winsome score. You’re in cuteness overload as all of the elements come together. Penguins gets high marks for crafting the overall experience. The children in my theater were captivated from the opening frame.
Disneynature hits a home run with their thirteenth feature. It helps to have penguins as the subject matter, but props must be given to the delivery. The film is a visual feast, loaded with humor and knowledge. I loved Penguins and highly recommend it for all ages. It’s the perfect nature doc for younger children. They will be entertained and learn valuable lessons about wildlife conservation.
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