Penguins: Film Review

Imax educational film crafts a tidy narrative about the King Penguin's reproductive cycle

David Attenborough narrates a nature doc with far more modest ambitions than "Planet Earth."

Continuing a trend in which Imax films advertise themselves with titles so broad they can't help but disappoint their most curious viewers, Penguins is less an introduction to the many varieties of flightless bird who bear that name than a bite-size narrative about the way a single species, the King Penguin, mates and raises its young. Its limited ambitions will hardly stand out at Imax-equipped science centers, where keeping groups of young children from growing restless takes priority over scholarship and artistry, and the film won't seduce home-video audiences who've embraced other David Attenborough-narrated projects like Planet Earth.

Observing slightly more than a year in the life of "Penguin City," a vast colony on the island of South Georgia near Antarctica, the filmmakers focus on a single King, who washes ashore after a long fishing trip, finds a mate and makes a baby. The narration, which Attenborough wrote, anthropomorphizes this ritual, emphasizing that the pair will remain steadfastly loyal to each other throughout the time it takes their egg to hatch and for that chick to become self-sufficient. (The film allows the family-values crowd to assume these two will be mates for life, though most couples stay together for one breeding cycle only.) Their teamwork is remarkable, as one adult takes a turn guarding the offspring while the other goes on fishing trips spanning hundreds of miles.

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The film takes a heavy-handed approach to predators, eschewing the straightforward circle-of-life approach and instead using shock cuts and scary music to depict leopard seals and ugly birds as villains. Perhaps the filmmakers are saving footage of King Penguins hunting their own food for a different project starring a family of innocent fish who are terrorized by sleek black-and-white killers.

The cinematography is fine, but not as ravishing as some might expect. Occasional moments of humor (like an encounter with massive, flatulent elephant seals) add personality to the doc and will be especially amusing to younger kids.

Production company: Atlantic Productions

Screenwriter: David Attenborough

Producer: Anthony Geffen

Director of photography: Simon Niblett

Music: James Edward Barker

Editor: Rob Hall

No rating, 38 minutes