Penguins are incredibly cute. It's the rare, hardened soul who can resist their appeal. French filmmaker Luc Jacquet exploits their appeal to tremendous effect in "The March of the Penguins." The eighty minute long film is billed not as a nature documentary (which of course it is) but a love story. Morgan Freeman, whose rich, familiar voice projects both compassion and authority, playfully narrates.
The mating rituals of the emperor penguin are truly something. These poor birds endure what looks like unbelievable hardship in order to mate and produce offspring. The process begins with an insanely long journey across the frozen tundra of Antarctica: a stunning single file progression of determined penguins. From there, the hazards of the emperor penguins' seemingly foolhardy enterprise only increase. Though the goal is to create life, the penguins must defy death every step of the way. Death by starvation, death by snow storm, death at the jaws of hungry seals and swooping bird, death by exhaustion.
But mate these penguins must. And do. The footage is stunning, from the physical magnificence of the barren planet to the marvelous close ups of the penguins themselves. The journey of the empire penguin is engrossing material. The narration, however, is guilty of anthropomorphizing the penguins' single-minded devotion. What seems like love might be genetic programming at work. Jacquet manipulates emotions with a zeal that seems unnecessary. Watching the penguins waddle, cuddle, and feed is enough to turn an audience of hardened film fans into gibbering fools.