March of the Penguins (2005)

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Fun With Animals | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Penguins are crazy awesome, but are unfortunately mortal.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers when I say documentaries (and experimental films) don’t typically make money or draw large crowds to theaters. At most, they receive some critical acclaim, find screenings in arthouses, and possibly shuffle into the annals of history. But when a documentary about some emperor penguins waddled along in 2005, film experts found themselves at a loss for words – and for good reason.

Director Luc Jacquet and a team of fearless filmmakers traveled to the most uninhabitable place on Earth (where the average temperature is 58 degrees below zero in the sun), got some great footage of the emperor penguin’s annual cycle, and managed to out-gross all five of the Academy Awards best picture nominees by raking in $77 million (it also won an Oscar for best documentary).

March of the Penguins is a simple Penguins2non-fiction tale of the life of emperor penguins. At the end of each summer, these amazing creatures emerge from the ocean – where they ate steadily for three months – to walk 70 miles to a breeding ground. After getting there, which is no easy task in itself, they find a mate and procreate. When the eggs finally arrive, the mothers entrust the fathers to keep them warm while they revisit the ocean to refuel. Over the course of several months, the birds must battle unimaginable winter storms, hungry seals, and long walks, all while keeping their offspring alive.

As narrator Morgan Freeman explains, “This is a story about love.” Well, I’d argue it’s more about survival than love, but it’s a touching point of view nonetheless. The film gives viewers a sense of the imperfect penguin (just watch them try to move fast and then fall over – hilarious), while at the same time giving an otherwise unrealized appreciation for the determination of the species.

While the film’s topic is intriguing enough, the filmmakers present a series of beautiful shots and mind-boggling scenes. With the accompaniment of some light music or Freeman’s lofty narration, the film beautifully shows baby penguins breaching their shells, slow-motion shots of the birds diving in and out of the ocean, the Southern Lights, and the glaringly beautiful landscape. And while we gaze at the film in awe, I can’t help but wonder what it took to spend a day in Antarctica, let alone a year, just to create this sense of wonder and beauty. Still, just as the penguins persevered, so did the filmmakers – and it paid off.

To date, only Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 made more cash in the documentary category than this flick. The film also traveled well with versions in French, Swedish, English, Italian, Danish, and Japanese. These beautiful creatures captured the eyes and imagination of the entire film world with their cute innocence and incredible journey. It is that combination that appealed so broadly to both parents and children, not to mention the animal lovers.

Even as a single twentysomething, I found the film to be so powerful that I still vow to someday have a penguin for a pet. While it may look weird to see me walking down the street with my pet penguin on a hot summer day, it has got to be a hell of a lot better than asking him/her to walk several hundred miles each winter just to survive. Plus it’ll be hilarious to watch a penguin open a mini-fridge to go to sleep.

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