That the new French wildlife documentary March of the Penguins was a knock-’em-over, prostate-stroking crowd pleaser at Sundance is no surprise—Park City, it seems, has become a mecca for American media’s punchiest delusionaries. On earth, Luc Jacquet’s film is a hyperextended Animal Planet special; I cannot decide whether it’s fitting or shameful that life-cycle footage of South Pole fauna seems utterly mundane to us by now, but there it is. Granted, the movie’s wide-screen cinematography is antarctically glorious, and the images of emperor penguins literally marching in file across 70 miles of glacier to mate and lay eggs can be hypnotizing for 20 minutes or so, or until the second commercial should show up. But penguins are dull. That doesn’t stop narrator Morgan Freeman from trying to sex up the drama (“The worst is yet to come!” he intones too often to believe) or indulging in anthropomorphic garbage. “The loss is unbearable!” Freeman fulminates when an egg freezes solid. When the penguin péres must return to the sea after hatching the eggs—all right, the chicks are fucking cute little Pierrots in turtlenecks—severing “the bond” is “not easy to do!” It’s not? Cut to: a penguin, stoically holding back the tears.
Though a vampirically shot leopard seal makes a late appearance, weather is the villain, and so triumph translates to standing in the freezing wind, which penguins are apparently well suited to do. In any case, Jacquet tries the old, Disney’s Living Desert montage bullcrap, editing together disconnected footage to create action and even scoring the penguins as if they were silent-screen comics. (No stumble goes by without a soundtrack trombone snicker.) The Central Park Zoo is cheaper, you can walk away from the penguins after 10 minutes, and it has snow monkeys and beer.