One of the year’s most unexpectedly moving films, this French-made documentary about the mating cycle of emperor penguins took moviegoers by surprise and became a box-office blockbuster in the process. Small wonder: March of the Penguins is cinema vérité at its purest, an unsentimental yet intimate depiction of one of nature’s true marvels.
As narrator Morgan Freeman explains, every year these indomitable creatures leave their ocean habitat and make a long, arduous journey over the treacherous Antarctic ice to their traditional breeding ground. Guided by instinct and undeterred by the harsh climate or lack of food, the penguins trudge single-mindedly to their destination, engage in their unique mating ritual, and labor tirelessly to provide for the helpless offspring they bring into an unforgiving ecosystem.
Director Luc Jacquet — who can’t be over-praised for marshalling a crew with the patience, skill, and dedication required to capture these unforgettable images on film — presents a simple but compelling story that’s every bit as focused and dignified as the penguins themselves. He draws us into their world and celebrates their unflagging resolve, making us care to a surprising extent about these waddling critters. It’s a remarkable achievement, and one you’ll want to experience over and over again.