“PENGUINS” — 3 stars — Narrated by Ed Helms; G; in general release; running time: 76 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — The Disneynature series is the perfect solution for anyone who is squeamish about the sight of an animal eating another animal for lunch. This is nature, Disney-fied.
Like its predecessors, the new documentary “Penguins” uses astounding cinematography and storytelling to bring its adorable subject matter to life in a family friendly way, while still making the harsh realities of the animal kingdom clear.
Previous films like “Born in China” (2016) and “Monkey Kingdom” (2015) built their narratives around single characters trying to make their way in the world, and “Penguins” follows the same tactic. Narrated by comic actor Ed Helms (“The Office”), “Penguins” follows the adventures of a 5-year-old Adelie penguin named Steve as he tries to survive his first season as an adult.
Right away, it’s clear the odds are stacked against him. The film takes place during the comparatively warm spring through fall season of Antarctica, when the sun never goes down and where a daily high of 32 degrees is a toasty heat wave. The first phase of the Adelies’ annual routine is to trek across the Antarctic ice to its frozen shores, and Steve is already lagging well behind.
Once he arrives — after an awkward delay lost amid a colony of Emperor penguins — Steve has to stake out a spot on a crowded, rocky shore, build a nest and land himself a mate. Assuming he can do that, the next challenge will be to keep his chicks fed until they can get big enough to head back into the ocean with Mom and Dad before winter hits.
Watching Steve work his way through this process is both entertaining and insightful, even if it won’t be anything new for people who have already seen “March of the Penguins” (which focused on the Emperor penguins) or one of the high quality BBC nature series you can find on Netflix these days. The antics are cute and often juxtaposed against ‘80s rock anthems from the likes of REO Speedwagon, and the content is excellent and will still be enjoyable for viewers older than 5 years old.
The visuals are simply astounding, matching expert cinematography to a mesmerizing landscape. This is one film where you will want to stick around for the credits, as behind-the-scenes footage gives you an idea of what the crew went through in production.
The wildlife footage is amazingly up close and personal, and audiences will delight at one sequence that demonstrates how among penguins, there is apparently no honor among thieves. “Penguins” also manages to show the danger of nearby predators, including leopard seals and a bird species that has no issue hauling off penguin eggs or attacking vulnerable youngsters.
Overall, it’s hard to find anything not to recommend about “Penguins.” Even its short 76-minute runtime feels neither padded nor brief. More serious viewers may prefer the iconic tones of Morgan Freeman — who narrated “March of the Penguins” — to Helms’ more kid-friendly delivery and dialogue, but if you’re looking for an educational family friendly option for the youngest members of the clan, “Penguins” should be high on your list.
Rating explained: “Penguins” is rated G, but does contain some scenes of peril.