Thursday, June 04, 2015

39: March of the Penguins

Who'd have thought a documentary about the life cycle of Emperor penguins could be so compelling? From start to finish, you're on the edge of your seat thinking alternately "how do they do this?" and "hang on - WHY do they do this and not just live somewhere nicer?" For a generation familiar with penguin-based animations (Happy Feet being the prime example, but there's Madagascar of course and that one about the surfing penguins), this is the real deal. They don't sing and dance, but what they do is far more amazing - they survive where no other form of life can survive.

Add to that the superb voice of Morgan Freeman and you have the recipe for success. He's not David Attenborough, nor does he need to be: you're not going to cut to a scene with Morgan Freeman hiding behind a snowdrift peeking out at the penguins while doing an aside to camera. But his voice lends a gravity and real-world emotion to the proceedings without anthropomorphising too much.

What you may NOT know is that the original version - which is French, by the way - was voiced by two people, a female and a male, in the first-person rather than the third, telling the tale as the voices of the parent penguins in question (negating my earlier point about anthropomorphism), with a child's voice providing dialogue for the chicks as they appear on the scene. What you may also not know - or not like to hear - is that the penguins in reality aren't as altruistic as the film-makers may like us to believe: some of the 'adoptions' of chicks by other parents may be more forced than not. In other words, we're talking about kidnapping. Or chick-napping I suppose.

Either way, it's an amazing spectacle to watch, and Freeman's voice really does give us hope that, among other things, someone other than David Attenborough can do natural history documentaries.

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