Movie review: 'Penguins' a delightful, premature Father's Day present

Updated 4/18/2019 1:30 PM
  • Ed Helms narrates the movie "Penguins."

    Ed Helms narrates the movie "Penguins." Courtesy of Disneynature

"Penguins" -- ★ ★ ★

Walt Disney marketeers kind of botched an obvious natural release date for their eighth amazing Disneynature feature "Penguins."

Father's Day.

"Penguins" oozes with paternal celebration in every scene of its economically efficient 76-minute running time.

True, the father figure and star, Steve, may be a lovable, comically clumsy Adélie penguin, but he possesses the same responsibilities as most dads: finding Ms. Right, building their dream home (even if it consists of rocks), raising the kids and protecting them from the dangers of the real world.

And Steve's world is really dangerous -- Antarctica, where the temperatures drop to minus 40 degrees and menacing leopard seals rise out of the water ready to sink their teeth into fluttering, defenseless Adelie penguins.

By turns cute and adorable, suspenseful and scary, funny and touching, "Penguins" marks one of the better of the eight Disneynature projects. (Disney doesn't call them "documentaries" because their fictional elements do not qualify as documentaries.)

No. 6, "Monkey Kingdom," still ranks as the best of the series, a brilliantly executed Shakespearean tale of a monkey who would be king.

That was directed by Jeff Wilson, who codirects "Penguins" with Alastair Fothergill, who gave us two other memorable Disneynature epics, "Bears" and "Chimpanzee."

Here, Wilson and Fothergill head a filmmaking team that spent three years compiling elegantly lighted footage of Steve and the penguin world. (Photographers shoot most of their footage at dusk or dawn, when the lighting reaches its dramatic zenith.)

Ed Helms narrates Steve's story, then performs double-duty by taking on Steve's un-flightly personality to provide a bird's perspective on the events in his life.

"Penguins" immediately telegraphs it will be a different experience from the enthralling, yet more conventional 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins."

Bumbling, fumbling Steve shares his insecurities as he joins hundreds of thousands of males on an icy Antarctic quest to preserve the species.

When a kajillion females amble over for one gigantic penguin mixer, Steve re-connects with his old flame Adeline (while the song "Can't Fight This Feeling" plays ­­-- it's that kind of movie).

Helms handles the switch between narrator and Steve with suitable aplomb, yet one wonders how the late Robin Williams would have separated the characters even more for greater comic effect in this delightful premature Father's Day present.

• • •

Starring: Ed Helms

Directed by: Alastair Fothergill, Jeff Wyatt Wilson

Other: A Walt Disney Pictures release. Rated PG. 76 minutes

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