This is the 10th anniversary of Disneynature creating documentary films about our planet and its inhabitants. This year’s offering (as always, being released for Earth Day) is Penguins. And as with previous Disneynature films, they will make a donation to Wildlife Conservation Network for every ticket sold during the opening week (April 17-23).
The Disneynature films take a more relaxed and anthropocentric approach to the nature films than something like the Oscar-winning March of the Penguins, so it isn’t really fair to compare them side by side. But still, this film is the culmination of three years of trips to Antarctica to capture all the footage, both on land and underwater that they use to tell the story.
The film creates a narrative focused on a young Adélie penguin named Steve, now five years old, making his first trip back for the purposes of breeding. Steve is something of a dim bulb. He’s late getting to the colony, gets lost among a colony of Emperors (where the chicks are bigger than he is), and generally is bumbling as he builds a rocky nest to attract a female. He does find a mate (Adeline) with whom he hatches and cares for two chicks. All of this is set amidst the rugged landscape, terrible weather, and the dangers in the sea (orcas and leopard seals) that could eat Steve or his chicks.
The dangers take up only a small part of the story, but the filmmakers are honest about the risks that the penguins and their chicks face. This is especially true with the leopard seals, which camera angles make look especially threatening and almost serpent-like as they seek to devour the vulnerable penguins. And a mild warning for parents taking small children: some penguins, including chicks, are caught and eaten.
The story (narration and Steve’s voice supplied by Ed Helms) is humorous, entertaining, and of course the penguins are cute. But rather than being a straight forward nature story, it becomes a fable about parenting—especially first-time parenting.
Steve, like many new parents, is a bit overwhelmed with it all. The preparation, the childcare, having to provide food and safety. His clumsiness and occasional befuddlement mirrors what many humans go through in the early days and months of parenthood. He is far from the perfect father—or even the perfect partner for Adeline, but he keeps trying to do it as best he can. As such this serves as encouragement for parents who feel inadequate and overwhelmed. Even in nature, parents are not perfect. It’s not perfection that children need; it’s parents who are willing to keep at it even when it seems too much.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios