We were surprised to hear so many kids voices in the theatre for a recent screening of "March of the Penguins" ("La Marche de L'Empereur") since many parent reviewers on Yahoo forewarned movie goers about how inappropriate the content of the movie was for kids.
The film was beautifully shot and relentlessly anthropomorphic. From the opening faraway shot, as distant upright figures walked across a shimmery horizon, the film cajoled us guilefully to feel kinship to these birds - these other bi-pedal creatures - ooh..ahhh - so cute. To encourage the physical mirage and viewer empathy the director chose not to reveal the relative size of the birds until the end credits when some of the film crew are filmed towering over the birds. The soundtrack is equally dedicated to the departure from traditional documentary style, regaling us of bird love and painful family separations.
For those of us sitting in the fifth row of the packed theatre, the sonorous tones of commentator Morgan Freeman were replaced by the chirpy commentary of a three year old perched on his mother's knee inches from our ears. Though his pitch was distinct from Freeman's, the content was similiar and equally thoughtful. In a scene of the penguins walking across the ice (of which there are many - thus the title) he asked; "Are they tired yet?"? In a death scene; "He go to sleep mom right?" And in the mating scene he wondered; "'Day happy mom right?" Which was a little tenuous since as he commented the male had his beak poised over the female's jugular (or where it would be if it were us). The child had no apparent problems with the content whatsoever and in fact his innocence to the emotional differences between birds and man provided credibility to his commentary, whereas the *official* commentary was almost cloying. The appreciative family chorus of ooohs and ahhs showed that at least in some markets, this was a family film.
The cinematography was spectacular and it was amazing to spend an hour or so scooting along the vast ice landscapes in Antarctica with the Emperor penguins; weebly-wobbly in their walk but surprisingly graceful swimming and ice-surfing on their stomachs. Their yearly routine and fortitude in Antactica is remarkable.
As for the 'bold' affront to documentary standards heralded by some reviewers - the film has no doubt captured a larger market by losing the documenatary genre's claim to reality, however in the attempt to make a family film some details were lost that at least *some* adults and even children would appreciate. In addition to the perspective on size for instance, we wouldn't have minded hearing of things like how penguin metabolism manages such a prolonged fasting or why their defenses against predators as presented in the film evolved to be so rudimentary and sheeplike. Nevertheless, a pretty film. For more pictures, there is this site.
[As the movie makers jaws happily drop at their ever growing number of devoted admirers, The New York Times reports that conservatives appropriate the movie to champion values such as monogamy, virtue...]