In the coldest place on earth, the only place where it is safe to care for newborns is 70 miles from the only place to find food. And so, the Antarctic’s hardiest and most determined inhabitants, the emperor penguins, must march, trudge, waddle, and slide on their bellies, back and forth hundreds of miles to raise the next generation so that they can march in their turn.
This extraordinary documentary brings us inside the penguin community with footage of heart-stopping beauty and a story of poignancy, inspiration, and resilience. The purity of the setting — blue shadows on white ice, literally a world away from the soot and grime of modern life — lulls us so that for a moment we forget how unforgivingly brutal it is. The elegance and tenderness of the penguins beguiles us so that for a moment we forget how brave and resolute they are.
Every year, the penguins march 70 miles over the ice to their breeding ground, a place where the ice is so thick it will not crack under their weight as they stay long enough to hatch the eggs and raise the chicks until they are able to make the trek back to the water, where they can get food.
When they arrive at the breeding ground they have what can only be described as a mixer. Like hopeful eHarmony subscribers, they circulate nervously in search of a mate. It’s a very serious choice, as penguins are monogamous during each breeding season and the decision can literally make the difference between life and death.
As explained with warmth and sympathy by Morgan Freeman in voiceover narration, the couples share parenting duties from the very beginning. When the mother has laid her egg, she carefully hands it over — no, she foots it over — to the father, who gathers it under his feathers and huddles against the freezing winds with the other daddy penguins, taking turns at the center of the group, while the mothers, reduced to half of their pre-march bodyweight, trudge back the 70 miles to get some food for the family. Then, when Mom arrives back at the breeding ground just as the chick has been born and Dad is near starvation, it is his turn to trek back to the water again.
There are hazards along the way. Predators pick off some of the penguins, but the more serious challenges come from the near-lethal living conditions. Still, the elegant creatures persevere with touching grace and even tenderness.
This is a beautiful, touching, and inspiring film.
Parents should know that while the movie is rated G it may be upsetting to younger or more sensitive viewers. Life in Antarctica is extremely harsh and many of the penguins, including the babies, do not survive.
Families who see this movie should talk about what makes the penguins persevere and how they depend on each other to survive. What about the penguins is like human behavior? What is different?
Families who enjoy this movie can learn more about the emperor penguins and Antarctica, which is larger than Australia and the sub-continent of Europe, with 98 percent ice and 2 percent barren rock. They will also enjoy National Geographic and Discovery Channel documentaries and feature films like Two Brothers and The Story of the Weeping Camel.