The International Writers
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
Directed by George Miller
Warner Brothers Pictures, 2006
Starring Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Robin Williams, Nicole
Kidman and Hugh Jackman
Review by Rose Wheatcroft
was the Chinese year of the dog. In Hollywood, it was undoubtedly
the year of the penguin
Luc Jacquets 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
Millers 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 ones 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
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 Mumbles 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
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
studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth
rose_wheatcroft at hotmail.com
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