[Screen It]


(2019) (Documentary) (G)

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Documentary: A look at a 5-year-old Adelie penguin's return to his birthplace to rear chicks of his own.
The documentary follows the return of a 5-year-old Adelie penguin -- named "Steve" here -- to his Antarctica birthplace for the first time since coming of age. He's there to find a mate and does so in the form of a female named "Adeline" who he manages to impress despite his chronic tardiness. Once she lays two eggs, it up to them to keep those viable and then protect those chicks not only from the harsh elements, but also various predators before the summer is over and the seas freeze over again.
OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Let's face it -- unless a nature documentary consists of nothing but a static shot of whatever its subjects might be, human intervention in one form or another is going to take place when it comes to showing the resultant footage in some sort of engaging way for human viewers. Even the acclaimed "Planet Earth" documentaries use camera shots, editing, an added musical soundtrack, and voice-over narration to up the ante in terms of informative storytelling.

Taking that a step further, many of Disneynature's offerings anthropomorphize their subjects via narration that not explains behavior in human terms but also often gives an inner monologue voice to the animals being featured. Nature purists likely scoff at such modifications and manipulation, but let's face it -- if you're trying to reach younger viewers and don't go "The Jungle Book" route of actually having the animals' mouths move with conversational dialogue, this might be the best way to engage young minds and hearts.

The latest such offering from that Mouse House branch is "Penguins," an entertaining and sometimes gripping look at Adelie penguins returning to their birthplace in Antarctica to keep the population fully stocked. But wait, you might say or ask, didn't we already pretty much see that in "March of the Penguins?"

Well, yes, to a degree, as those were the much larger emperor penguins (that briefly make a cameo here early on), but this one is aimed a bit younger in its approach. Just think of it as a more realistic and educational complement to the computer-animated "Happy Feet" and "Penguins of Madagascar" flicks.

Featuring some amazing footage -- both in close-up and in long shots that depict the scale of what we're watching -- the film runs a fairly brief 76 minutes, is fairly straightforward in its A to Z storyline approach, and arrives as narrated by Ed Helms.

While his main job is imparting general information, he gives the film -- and thus by default our main, bumbling but well-intentioned penguin -- its personality and the comedic actor does a fine job on all fronts. As does the camera crew -- seen as usual in such flicks during the end credits doing their work -- that gets great shots, be those on ground level right there alongside Steve and Adeline, underwater, or from awe-inspiring aerial shots.

Documentary purists might not like the overall approach -- and might cringe at some of the song choices used to hammer home certain "plot points" (and I have to agree with some of that) -- but if this sort of approach gets kids interested in animals, nature and our environment by entertaining them while providing some education, I'm all for that. "Penguins" gets the job done and thus rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 10, 2019 / Posted April 17, 2019

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