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Review: Disneynature’s Penguins

April 17, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Disneynature’s Earth Day releases have become somewhat of a tradition over the last decade, starting with Earth in 2009. While we haven’t gotten one every year, this year the studio is back with Penguins.

The film opens with our protagonist, an adorable Adélie penguin named Steve, waddling across the snowy landscapes of Antarctica to the sounds of Patti Labelle’s “Stir It Up,” with his little wings jutting out to the sides to help him balance.

It’s an unquestionably cute way to open the film, and it sets the stage for the coming of age journey that we are about to be taken on, as Steve races towards the coastline to set up a nest so he can become a father and continue the circle of life.

Directors Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson follow Steve over the spring and summer seasons as he finds a mate, a female Adélie penguin named Adeline, and builds a nest out of rocks where the two of them will take turns sitting on the eggs to keep them warm until they are ready to hatch. Much of the film focuses on him facing the trials and tribulations of fatherhood in the coldest place on Earth, from finding enough fish to eat and regurgitate for his young, to protecting them from natural predators.

There are a lot of delightful moments here, including a penguin mating ritual set to REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” and a genuinely funny scene where another penguin keeps stealing the rocks that Steve is collecting for his nest, as well as the more dramatic moments that you can expect from a nature documentary. The filmmakers are careful not to show much real carnage, but there are several moments where things do get a little intense, with the young hatchlings being threatened by hungry skuas, leopard seals and killer whales.

This is maybe the cutest Disneynature film yet, and it also feels the most geared towards kids. This both is and isn’t a bad thing. The narration by Ed Helms works to personify Steve as a clumsy young dad, but it also feels somewhat intrusive and overly childish at times. The constant talk of “eating barf” during the feeding scenes does get tiresome, not to mention gross. It feels cheap, like the film is trying to pander to little kids with a certain kind of scatological humour that isn’t really needed.

While it’s considerably less sophisticated than March of the Penguins, in which Morgan Freeman’s godly voice provided the gold standard for nature documentary narrations, Penguins still gives us the often irresistible opportunity to watch penguins waddle across the screen for 76 minutes, and that’s more than enough to make it worth seeing. It’s as beautifully filmed as we have come to expect from a Disneynature release, delivering stunning images of Antarctica that are worthy of being seen on the big screen.

Disneynature’s Penguins is now playing in theatres across Canada.

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