March of the Penguins

  • Luc Jeunet
  • 2005

March of the Penguins is Luc Jeunet’s debut feature and has proved a worthwhile success. Its nature-documentary format allowed it to travel from its native France to a worldwide audience, on a journey far longer than that of its protagonists, with different narrators recording commentaries for different countries. The English-speaking world was treated to the gentle, soothing tones of Morgan Freeman — a choice which complimented the film perfectly.

The film was sold to the family audience, offering shining example of how ordeal is endured and hard-work is put in by a couple in order to produce a child, who then works with them as they all struggle to stay alive through harsh times. This idea is obviously beautiful, and the depiction of it similarly so, but it seems to have been marketed by some as a story of a kind of love which it isn’t.

The film follows the long journey, or march, that the Emperor Pengiuns of Antarctica take from their summer home of the sea to their traditional breeding ground. This march sees the Penguins walk single-file through blizzards and gales, following some strange and seemingly natural instinct to reach their destination. This is not the march though, rather the journey is to be traversed several times by each of the Penguins. Courtship and mating is hungry work and leads to the necessary trek back to the ocean for food, with first the father guarding, warming and hatching the egg and then later the mother looking after the offspring.

Visually, it is stunning, with lush, vast, epic Antarctic landscapes captured beautifully throughout.

This is not, however, a role-model family that stays together or involves any long-lasting commitment — at the end of the winter when mother, father and child return to the sea, they return as individuals, never to come into direct contact with each other again — and therefore its general mood is slightly misplaced, but this has no real impact on the enjoyment of the film.

Visually, it is stunning, with lush, vast, epic Antarctic landscapes captured beautifully throughout. The Penguins are just awesome, with their journey half-spent upright with the usual waddle-walking and then with the animals laying flat on their front and almost paddling hemselves forward, and sliding down slopes. This, all in almost comic single-file, and also the scenes of the masses at the breeding ground throughout the winter, are seen both within the glorious panoramics and expansive long-shots but also in much more heart-warming (although by nature, simultaneouly freezing) close-ups.

The film’s protagonists offer both incredibly touching and humourous moments; the courting scene and the sequence involving the passing of egg between the parents standing out as particularly affecting. And overall the tale is definitely classic — offering endurance and triumph against the odds, and all to bring new life in to the world: the film does have an overall pleasing effect. But being a nature documentary, it was always going to be interesting, heartwarming, humourous and fantastic and i’m not sure that March of the Penguins offers much more than any other. It’s certainly an interesting film though, and for the family audience, it works very well.

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