Go to the Antarctic as DisneyNature takes a closer look at the mating habits of penguins and their search for food for their young. “Penguins” was one of six documentaries DisneyNature released ahead of Earth Day. In “Penguins,” an Adélie penguin named Steve goes on a quest to build a suitable nest, find a life partner and start a family. But, he must deal with the elements of Antarctica and predators who threaten his everyday life.
Of the three documentaries that are part of the main line for this series, this fell right in the middle. I enjoyed “Penguins” more than “Elephant,” but not as much as “Dolphin Reef.” The sights of Ross Island in the Antarctic are breathtaking and the penguins are downright cute. Plus, it’s amazing to see the dangers the penguins face as they search for food, protect their young and take part in the circle of life. The up-close view of orcas and seals is wondrous. And the views of the blizzard that separated Steve the main penguin from his mate and their eggs was equal parts scary and amazing.
There are some obvious issues with this documentary. First, the narration takes more away from the documentary than it contributes to it. Ed Helms serves as the narrator for “Penguins.” And, the style of narration doesn’t work here. It comes across like he’s reading a book to the viewer and making funny voices rather than informing the viewer about the topic. If this is used in classrooms for elementary school kids, that’s fine, but it doesn’t work for an adult sitting at home. Also, Ed Helms has such a distinct voice and his attempts to bring humor come across as juvenile. Rather than focus on the penguins, I’m focused on Helms. It’s distracting at best.
Also, the music in “Penguins” doesn’t complement the documentary the way the music does in “Dolphin Reef” and “Elephant.” Both used orchestral music that conveyed the seriousness or joyfulness of the situation. It added to the documentaries. However, in “Penguins,” the use of more contemporary music took me out of the moment. I’m supposed to be following along with Steve’s journey to raise a family, but instead, all I’m following along with is the music. Music is a necessary component to making a great documentary and contemporary music has its place in some documentaries to improve them. This is not one of those documentaries. I see what the filmmakers were going for, but the finished product is a bit disappointing.
In the end, it held my attention better than “Elephant,” but that’s all it really did. There is such potential with these documentaries, and it feels like they really missed the mark. It’s sad the filmmakers weren’t able to maximize the beautiful footage they got into a better documentary. It’s not bad, but it’s just not good either. This documentary is downright average.