The latest Disney-made documentary, “Penguins,” stretches the viewer’s tolerance for anthropomorphizing cute wild animals further than anything in the 10 years of DisneyNature’s history.
If you’re the 8-year-old who is the movie’s target audience, seeing it in a theater or (more likely) streaming in a classroom next year, that’s all to the good — anything to further the cause of knowledge.
If you’re the parent accompanying that 8-year-old, you may find the sweet handling a little much.
Nature filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, collaborators on the upcoming Netflix series “Our Planet,” have the DisneyNature routine down pat: Follow a year in the life of an animal, relate that animal’s experiences to human ones, and let the cuteness carry the day.
In this case, they follow an Adélie penguin, a two-foot-tall, 15-pound flightless bird in a tuxedo — to whom they give the name Steve. Steve is about five years old, and making his first migration as an adult, so the pressure is on for him to do this procreation thing right.
Male Adélie penguins must walk across the ice shelf of Antarctica to the rocky land where their ancestors spawned. They must make rock nests suitable for hatching eggs, then issue a mating call that will attract a female penguin. Once that’s accomplished, the male and female take turns sitting on their eggs and walking to water to feed on fish, which will be regurgitated to feed the chicks.
Steve crosses paths with other Antarctic creatures. They include the larger emperor penguins, predatory skua birds, smelly sea elephants, and treacherous harbor seals — who come as close as anything to threaten both the Adélie penguins’ lives and the movie’s G rating.
Narrator Ed Helms and writer David Fowler wisely don’t attempt to emulate the grand champion of penguin-related narration: the voice of God, Morgan Freeman, in 2005’s “March of the Penguins.” Helms’ approach is more down-to-earth, focusing on such mundane things as the sea elephants’ pungent odor and how feeding penguin chicks largely involves barfing at them.
Pair that level of humor with some ridiculous soundtrack needle drops (e.g., REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” when Steve meets his mate, Adeline), and you have a perfectly packaged nature documentary for human chicks to digest. Adults may regurgitate their popcorn a bit at the cheesiness, but that’s what adults have to do for their kids.
Opening Wednesday, April 17, in theaters everywhere. Rated G. Running time: 76 minutes.