If I were a penguin, what would I be doing right now? Why, watching myself on the big screen, that’s what. “See, Mom,” I’d be saying, “I told you I’d be a star some day!”
Indeed, penguins are finally getting their due as National Geographic’s documentary March of the Penguins rustles up more buzz than any Disney animation has in the past five years. Narrated by Morgan Freeman (who better to voice the alternating thrill of penguin victory and the agony of penguin defeat?), this vibrant, breathtaking—icy cold—film transports you in ways no Hollywood creation ever could. It’s real in ways that no reality show could ever hope to be. And—don’t tell the kids—it’s educational, with only a tiny hint of the evolutionary theory (“for millions of years [penguins] have made their home” in Antarctica).
What’s this film about? Emperor penguins’ cycle of life. Does it contain any questionable subtext or nefarious agenda? No. Is there any nudity? No, it seemed to me that they were all wearing tuxedos. Sex? Please don’t make me say that images of a few frisky penguins should be categorized as “negative content”! Profanity? When’s the last time you heard a penguin swear? (Freeman doesn’t either.)
What about violence? Surely there’s some of that out in the far reaches of Antarctica. Yep. And because of the amazingly intimate photography, it may scare and/or sadden some young children. After losing his grip on several baby penguins, a larger bird finally succeeds in picking off one of the flock. A wicked-looking leopard seal rushes after adult penguins, and—giving the camera plenty of time to first go in for close-ups of its gaping maw—it grabs one female, swimming off with her.
It’s the weather that proves to be the penguins primary foe, however. Minus-80 degree winters (accompanied by 100 mph winds) can bring an end to adults and babies alike. Dead bodies are seen lying frozen on the ice. And one mother, distraught over her loss, tries to “kidnap” a neighbor’s chick.
The remainder of the footage, which accounts for 98 percent of the documentary, is beyond spectacular. The birds are super-cute. Their habits and instincts are interesting and filled with significance. I won’t try too hard to overlay human meaning onto the lives of these penguins, but Freeman goes out of his way to do so in a couple of places (“They’re not that different from us, really”), so it’s worth noting the great level of personal sacrifice penguin parents exhibit hatching and protecting their young. Survival mandates the involvement of both parents. To thrive, hard work is required. And great physical affection and selfless love are demonstrated along the way.
The movie doesn’t credit our Creator with the masterpiece of nature known as the emperor penguin. But if families will make a small effort to do so on their own, March of the Penguins transforms into an exhilarating exhibition of God’s grandeur and brilliance. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” So do the penguins.