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The International Writers Magazine

March of the Penguins and Happy Feet;
A Review of Recent Penguin Films.
March of the Penguins
Directed by Luc Jacquet
Warner Independent Pictures, 2005
Narrated by Morgan Freeman
Happy Feet
Directed by George Miller
Warner Brothers Pictures, 2006
Starring Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman
Review by Rose Wheatcroft

2006 was the Chinese year of the dog. In Hollywood, it was undoubtedly the year of the penguin

Luc Jacquet’s documentary March of the Penguins was at the time of the 2006 Academy Awards out-grossing all top five Best Movie Nominees, and went on to win its category of Best Documentary. The wick of public interest was well and truly alight. Then, at the close of 2006, George Miller’s Happy Feet strutted its funky stuff towards centre stage, and landed in McDonalds Happy Meals and on boxes of washing detergent all round the globe. When I found myself dreaming about penguins, I knew the Corporate Hollywood onslaught had succeeded in cementing interest in this flightless bird firmly in our collective subconscious.
And so I went to see Happy Feet.

Happy Feet is essentially a film about finding one’s way in the world, about never compromising your identity in order to fit in with a crowd. The hugely likeable Elijah Wood (as Mumble) and exhilaratingly talented Robin Williams (as Ramon and Lovelace) take this narrative strand and weave it through the gauntlet of environmental and global warming issues which overshadow this riotous kids film. Like the omnipresent Antarctic mountains, it provides the backdrop for which the story of Mumble Happyfeet and his lack of a Heartsong can be played out upon.

March of the Penguins, however, does not concern itself with addressing the social conscience, instead quietly alluding to the ever-decreasing ice caps as just one of many obstacles which the humble emperor penguin must overcome in order for life to survive. March of the Penguins, through its breathtaking photography, takes us on the annual march of the male emperor penguin, as they cross the Antarctic sheltering their eggs from the unrelenting bitter winds and hungry predators. The reassuring tones of narrator Morgan Freeman guide us through this epic journey and arid landscape, whilst always remaining on the right side of informative, and without over-explaining.

Both films feature this great march of the male emperor penguin as an example of the hardship endured in the struggle for life. Both observe the iconic penguin huddle, and so displays the sense of community felt by this aquatic bird. However, the emotive responses created by these films are both very different.
March of the Penguins presents with humbling dignity the first stirrings of hatching eggs after the storms have passed. The fragility of a chick born into such inhospitable landscapes stirs feelings of hardship in us all, and is deeply moving. It would be all too easy for Jacquet to humanise the penguins during these moments, but it is the silence of Freeman accompanying the moving images which speaks volumes.

Happy Feet blows this fragility out of the water entirely, with its musical Prince and Elvis mash-up opening, and uses the cute baby voices and sorrowful expressions to full effect. A particularly successful empathy is created for Mumble’s father, Memphis (Hugh Jackman), and his struggle to support his son when he is ostracised for his adverse ‘tip-tappety’ ways. However, it is not the anthropomorphic, ethnically stereotyped dancing penguins and their forlorn eyes of loneliness which evoke the most sympathy. Chillingly, it is the humans on the other side of the zoo glass and their oil drilling machinery, so alien to the Antarctic landscape, which pulls the heartstrings.

Ironic then, in two films sold on their representations of struggling penguins, that the most moving features are ourselves, and our silences.

© Rose Wheatcroft Feb 2007
rose_wheatcroft at

Rose is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth



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