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March of the Penguins

Movies | A documentary on the annual trek of Emperor penguins is dazzling audiences

Issue: "Superheroes strike again," Aug. 6, 2005

This stuff just can't be made up. The documentary March of the Penguins (rated G) is dazzling audiences for many reasons-but chief among them must be the simple facts of what it takes for emperor penguins to survive the harsh conditions of their home. Their story is told over the nine-month period it takes the penguins to hike 70 miles inland (if anywhere in Antarctica can be called "inland"), mate, lay their eggs, and return to the water. And it has to be seen to be believed.

Thankfully, French filmmaker Luc Jacquet allows us to do just that in this remarkable movie. Morgan Freeman narrates the U.S. theatrical release of the film, working from a script that often stretches to anthropomorphize the animals and sometimes, frustratingly, leaves details unexplained-but this is a story that easily stands on its own two very short legs.

Emperor penguins make an annual winter trek to their breeding grounds, a spot to which they've been returning for (according the film) thousands of years. In unbelievably frigid temperatures, with no hope of food for months on end, the penguins select mates, huddle together to survive harsh snowstorms, and engage in an elaborate ritual designed to protect the single egg that results from their coupling.

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That any one of these eggs survives is a remarkable feat-and, some might suppose, a strong case for intelligent design. It's sad that acknowledgment of a creator is absent in the examination of such strange and wonderful animals. But it's also a gap easily filled by family discussion after the film. Talk of evolution is minimal, as is much scientific discussion of onscreen events, with Mr. Freeman's narration focused more on the poetic than Discovery Channel--style details.

Stay through the end credits to get a sense of just how clever Mr. Jacquet and his team of cinematographers were in getting up close to the penguins (you may be surprised at the penguins' actual stature). A few sad moments (not all of the eggs or penguins survive) and some fearsome predators might make parents think twice about taking the youngest of children, but this is a film that should engage and delight most members of the family.


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