In Brief: Penguins waddle through an 80-minute Disney Nature flick. It’s positive Friday Flick fun for kids and die-hard nature movie lovers. Not so much for this curmudgeon critic.
The penguins in Penguins are the Adelie variety. At about 10-pounds they aren’t all that big, or that tall when compared to the gigantic Emperor Penguin. The Emperor runs about 50-pounds and were the subject of their own movie in 2005.
It is a documentary called March of the Penguins. Like Penguins, it attempts a story. The attempt’s result is a much better, won an Oscar and other awards, and is a more interesting movie.
Penguins is directed by Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson. This is Wilson’s first shot at a major motion picture but Fothergill directed the Disney Nature hits Bears and Chimpanzee, and did a lot of directing for the Planet Earth TV series.
Their movie follows the now Disney Nature formula and adds to the nature footage what’s supposed to pass as a plot. Steve is the film’s hero penguin. He is now five and it’s his first year as an adult. When the film opens, Steve is wandering the ice alone and is the last of the Adelies to make it to the mating ground.
Steve — according to the story — is a bit of an oddball. He finally meets the female of his dreams in Adeline and they have two chicks. They mate a bit late so the late-blooming chicks are part of the film’s end crisis.
The two directors and their crews spent a summer in Antarctica shooting video of Adelie penguins. They took the hours and hours of video, waded through it and created a story. David Fowler, who wrote the nature film plots for Born in China and Growing Up Wild, was tabbed to craft a screenplay.
Ed Helms (The Hangover, TV’s The Office) tells the story and does a little supposedly humorous dialogue while pretending to be Steve.
The tale they tell is — fortunately — fairly short. It does not, however, manage to stay on course. To make this worth the price of a ticket, they wander about, flitting here and there to drag Steve and Adeline’s 30-minute story out to 76-minutes.
That complaint aside, I must give kudos to Fothergill, Wilson and their crew. The footage is stunning and the editing is masterful. But why a story, and a dumb one at that? Why not just do a documentary about the struggles these poor birds have with procreation?
Oh, wait. March of the Penguins already did that. Plus, it was narrated by Morgan Freeman. He could narrate a phone book and it would be a hit with fans of film and with me. Penguins is narrated by Helms. He’s not close to a narrator of Freeman’s skill level, and neither he, nor the movie have a prayer of being a hit with me nor the masses.
Plus, Penguins doesn’t have a chance of win a best documentary Oscar or any other awards.
Directors: Alastair Fothergill, Jeff Wilson
Narrator: Ed Helms
Rating: It’s a nature film, it’s close to Earth Day and it has Penguins. What’s not to love? Leave out the lame story, and I’d like it better. Actually, I’d probably like it. Period. Give it a 2 on the 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.