Disneynature: Penguins focuses on the mating ritual of the titular creatures. The central figure is “Steve,” a penguin who, along with others of his kind, makes the 100-mile long journey to the preferred Antarctic mating spot. There, he finds a mate (referred to as “Adeline”), builds a nest, gathers food for his family, fights off predators, and ensures his offspring safely make their way into the world once they're sufficiently grown.
In other words, it's virtually a remake of March of the Penguins.
Okay, there are a few differences. Steve and Adeline are Adelie penguins, not Emperors. There's additionally voiceover from actor Ed Helms, who not only narrates but also provides anthropomorphic interior dialogue for Steve. The film offers pop songs to accentuate the images onscreen. When Steve and Adeline bond, for instance, it's to the sound of REO Speedwagon's “Can't Fight This Feeling.” Beyond that, they're virtually the same movie.
All of this will be new and fascinating for those who have never seen March of the Penguins. For those who have, there's still plenty about Disneynature: Penguins to hold your attention, thanks to breathtaking cinematography. The cameras get up close to capture Steve and cohorts doing their mating dance, jumping in and out of the water, enduring a harsh winter, and so on. In the most amusing scene, another penguin keeps stealing the rocks that Steve gathers to build his nest.
Encounters with other animals are engaging, as well. Some leopard seals pop out of the water in an effort to snatch babies. Predatory birds swoop in to steal the penguins' eggs. Killer whales loom below the surface of the water, waiting for a snack. Nothing too graphic is ever shown, although the point is made that the circle of life applies here.
The quality of the photography makes you feel as though all of these things are unfolding directly in front of your eyes. Amazingly, you never get the sense that the filmmakers are intruding upon nature. Revolutionary camera equipment allows them to get astonishing shots without disrupting their subjects.
Yes, the song choices are cheesy and having someone narrate Steve's humorous “thoughts” is unnecessary. Those are parts of the Disneynature brand, though, and they presumably help young kids stay involved in what's happening. Penguins may cover some familiar ground, but it's still exquisite to look at. And watching this species instinctively carry out their ritual is guaranteed to leave you awestruck.
out of four
Disneynature: Penguins is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 16 minutes.