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Penguins – Movie Review

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Penguins – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

In the ten years Disney has been releasing their current series of nature documentaries, they have managed to highlight the wilderness to young audiences in a way that’s palatable. Penguins continues that tradition with an emphasis on showing how cute those waddling Antarctic birds are. By focusing on a specific penguin within the flock, the filmmakers build a narrative and while not entirely necessary, it does become easy to get invested in Steve’s journey. As usual, there is also a narration by a well known actor that seeks to humanize the animals. These birds are already funny and endearing on their own, but then one remembers what the purpose of these Disneynature documentaries are.

The aspect that is always startling about the Disneynature films is the cinematography. The team of camera people capture some incredible shots of the Antarctic landscape, especially when we are watching from overhead. One recurring helicopter shot shows an entire mob of penguins walking over the ice and they look like a bunch of black blobs moving. When the penguins dive underwater, it’s even more miraculous and highlights both the wonders of nature and the swimming abilities of these birds. The close-up shots accomplished by the camera crew are also amazing and the end credits do give a peek into how they succeeded in getting near the animals.

Directors Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson and writer David Fowler have formulated a story for Penguins, involving one lone penguin they’ve named Steve. This is mostly used as an entryway point for the younger audience to have a lead character to follow. The filmmakers do go through his cycle of making a home for himself, finding a mate, having children and surviving the wild and it does make for compelling material. Some of the best bits come from the other penguins who walk into the shot and invade his story, including a surprising confrontation with another bird. Penguins also briefly shows the dangers penguins have to overcome with predators.

The narration by Ed Helms fluctuates between different intentions. At times, it is serious and informative. At other points, he provides the penguin’s inner thoughts and this can veer too far into cutesiness territory. The Disneynature documentaries are pitched to appeal to a younger audience, but their narrations can run the risk of feeling a little too condescending. One obvious area of manipulation is curiously in the sound effects department. There are moments when it looks like they have augmented the sound to fit the film’s narrative and the credit for sound designers supports this. Penguins is a nature documentary, so the environment is already the sound designer.

These Disneynature films are a good way for young viewers to experience animals in their natural environment and Penguins is another solid addition to this decade-long series. The cinematography is spectacular, the penguins are adorable and even Harry Gregson-Williams’s score has a nice spring in its step. The filmmakers also add a curious amount of ‘80s songs to the soundtrack, but they’re hardly distracting. The narration could have been better handled, but the way those are written in these Disneynature documentaries are almost expected at this point. Penguins more than gets the job done and while comparisons will be made to March of the Penguins, this manages to make its own creative decisions.

Stefan Ellison

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