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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Penguins is Disneynature's documentary about an Adélie penguin's first year as an adult during breeding season in Antarctica. Narrated by Ed Helms and co-directed by critically acclaimed wildlife documentarian Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, the film focuses on a different species of penguin than 2005's March of the Penguins (those were Emperors), although the larger birds still make a comedic appearance. There's slightly less natural-world peril/violence in this film than in similar documentaries, but you can still expect brief scenes of predators swiping and eating eggs and killing chicks and even grown penguins. But the scenes aren't bloody or graphic in any way, and none of the main animals come to serious harm. Audiences see mating rituals, and there are jokes about a penguin needing to find and attract a mate. With its funny narration and on-the-nose soundtrack, Penguins is obviously geared toward families with younger kids -- who will learn a lot about penguins and pick up messages of teamwork and perseverance.
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What's the story?
Narrated by Ed Helms, PENGUINS follows a male Adélie penguin -- dubbed "Steve" -- who's joining adult society in his first breeding season in uncompromising Antarctica. Directed by award-winning wildlife filmmaker Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, the documentary follows Steve as he travels to a rocky Antarctic beach, attempts to lure a potential mate by building a nest, and finds Adeline, his mate. The focus then shifts to the penguin mates as they work together to keep their two eggs (and, later, chicks) warm, well fed, and away from predators like skuas, killer whales, and leopard seals. To accomplish their parenting goal of fattening up their chicks in time to return to the open sea, Steve and Adeline take turns going on long round-trip treks to secure food for their babies.
Is it any good?
Technically brilliant with charming (if verging on overly cute) narration, this documentary is sure to delight kids. Penguins will also remind audiences of all ages that the Antarctic animals may be adorable, but they're also tough survivors that overcome unthinkably harsh conditions and a full slate of predators to fulfill their annual duty to reproduce. Steve is a lovable everyman type. He's not a preening alpha male; he even has some of his best rocks stolen from him as he tries to build a desirable enough nest to attract a mate. It's his first year on the scene as an adult, Helms explains, so it's a pleasant development when he meets his partner, Adeline, with whom he begins the arduous journey of penguin parenthood. The visuals are stunning as Steve goes from one of countless bachelors to new mate to father.
The best nature documentaries are amazing feats of technology and artistry, and this is no exception. Purists may bristle at the penguins being humanized, but it's definitely a kid-friendly tactic to structure the film like a family comedy with high stakes. There's more peril than actual violence, plus a few wink-wink nods at mating season rituals (particularly those of the polygynous -- and apparently stinky -- elephant seals) that will likely go over smaller heads. The soundtrack is full of telling throwback pop and rock ballads like REO Speedwagon's "Can’t Fight This Feeling," Average White Band's "Work to Do," and Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" that make the action even funnier to watch. Penguins isn't trying to surpass March of the Penguins, but it's a light and sweet ode to the tough, tender Adélies.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the peril/violence in Penguins. Is it appropriate for the target audience? How much violence is too much for kids?
What did you learn about Adélie penguins from watching this documentary? What do you think of them as parents?
How does the narration add to the story? What if there were no narration? Do you prefer nature documentaries with funny narration or more serious, matter-of-fact narration?
How do penguin parents provide an example of teamwork? How does it feel when you're part of a team that's working well together?
- In theaters: April 17, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: August 13, 2019
- Cast: Ed Helms
- Directors: Alastair Fothergill, Jeff Wilson
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Wild Animals
- Character strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 76 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: November 13, 2019
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