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A fun, plucky adventure | Disneynature’s PENGUINS: Review

Trying to take flight in Disneynature’s PENGUINS | (c) Disney 2019

When we think of Disney, we normally think of iconic animated characters, feature films and lastly theme parks. Of course, that doesn’t take away from other business ventures they’re involved with. As a company, Disney has lots of tentacles latching on to pop culture and that’s why they dominate. While I’m at it, it’s important to also keep in mind when we hear the name Disney, it’s also synonymous with nature-based documentaries.

For a little over a decade, Disneynature has extraordinarily exposed its audience to various animals in their natural state of existence. With every film presented in unique form and appeal, Disney has been keeping this charming light of nature shining strong – and their latest is another notch on Mikey’s belt.

Disneynature’s latest feature – PENGUINS – is an enchanting story that follows “Steve,” an Adélie penguin who joins thousands of his fellow-feathered comrades in the icy Arctic spring. Embarking on a drawn-out journey to build an inhabitable nest, seek out love and start a family, life hits with inevitability by none of it coming without a challenge. Targeted by obstacles that include killer whales, leopard seals and harsh weather conditions, nature’s will imposes hurdles that pushes Steve to the edge in order to obtain that happily-ever-after result.

First and foremost, much love and respect to the unsung-heroes dispatched to multiple locations all over the world when shooting these types of films. For PENGUINS, the site was Antarctica, and as one of the most aggressive forms of land on the planet, the hours and hours of shooting presents us with some breathtaking imagery around ocean and mountainous terrain. The art of cinematography serves as a gorgeous backdrop as it presents us with its star – Steve!

PENGUINS is a joy from start to finish. This frigid yet engaging journey with its protagonist penguin is cute, fun, funny, jovial, adventurous and most of all… driven by courage. Narrated by comedic actor Ed Helms, along with a soundtrack that includes REO Speedwagon, it’s a visually delicious piece that’s easy to follow and educational in a way that doesn’t come off all “sciency.” PENGUINS has all the ingredients that continues to make Disneynature’s films a unique experience. 

With intense scenery immersed within the icy habitat, gathering footage on land and underwater, from boats, from helicopters and on foot, PENGUINES is inundated with real emotion, but also extremely relatable. It’s an adventure with raw footage of the extremes penguins encounter in Antarctica, but told in a way that tugs at your heart. Helms elevates the documentary with his quirkiness as he serves as the voice who represents Steve’s thoughts. Matching voice-over to reaction, it’s almost as if one is watching an animated feature rather than a documentary. That’s where the magic of editing comes in, because it’s all meshed in so well. Touchy and engaging, you become one with the elements.

One thing I will say is Disneynature’s PENGUINES is not (in any way) 2005’s MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, narrated by the ever-so-eloquent Morgan Freeman. While gorgeous and educational in its own way when exposing Emperor Penguins (another species inhabiting Antarctica), the appeal of the Adélie penguins differs in a lot of ways and presented beautifully by directors Alastair Fothergil and Jeff Wilson.

Its focal point being the arc of maturity within the male Adélie penguin, who metaphorically presents truth in terms of struggling in an imperfect world against all odds. Basically, no different than any other species it shares the planet with, including ourselves. Steve is clearly a symbol of us doing our very best. And as PENGUINS would present it, doing our very best can be sweet and triumphant.


Grade: A / Genre: Documentary / Rated: G / Run Time: 72 minutes

Narrated by: Ed Helms

Directed by: Alastair Fothergil and Jeff Wilson

Website: Disneynature PENGUINS

(c) Disney 2019