Family Movie Review: March of the Penguins

If you’ve read some of our other movie reviews, you know we don’t always use the best (or any) judgment when choosing films to watch with our children.

So when we found March of the Penguins available on Netflix instant viewing, we were thrilled -- what could be more family friendly?

Everything’s cool for the first fifteen minutes. Lovely footage, soothing narration provided by Mr. Morgan Freeman, and we’re learning some cool shit about penguins. It’s not the most exciting thing ever, but since I refuse to watch most children’s movies, it’s a good compromise.

The penguins gather at their wintering-over spot, copulate, and lay their eggs. But here’s the tricky part. After an egg is laid, the mama penguin has to transfer it to the papa penguin. Why? Because Mama’s got to high-tail it to the ocean, catch and eat a bunch of fish, rush back to the flock and regurgitate the food for her newborn chick.

I wish I could do that.

At this point we're thinking that maybe we're actually capable of choosing a kid-appropriate movie. It's heartwarming, educational, and the kids think the whole regurgitation thing is very gnarly and cool.

Ah, but it’s during this egg transfer process that things start to go south. It seems that if the penguins don’t get the transfer exactly right, the egg rolls off into the snow and can’t be recovered. Why? I’m not really sure – I’m guessing it has something to do with their tiny brains and lack of opposable thumbs -- but the upshot is frozen penguin embryo omelet.

So the sad music starts and soon the screen is littered with abandoned, off-color penguin eggs. “Eggs that will never hatch.”

Our middle son, who is very sweet, very sensitive, and who loves all animals (baby animals in particular) starts to understand what’s going on here.

Here’s a ‘lil snippet of the resulting conversation:

  • Miles: “What’s wrong with that egg? Why isn’t it with a daddy penguin?”
  • Me: “Uh, well, there was a problem, and the daddy can’t get the egg back on his feet.”
  • Miles: “So another penguin is going to get the egg?”
  • Me: (Looking toward Michael, who’s avoiding eye contact) “Well, no, that egg isn’t going to hatch now.”
  • Miles: (Incredulously) “You mean the baby in the egg is DEAD!?”
  • Me: “Yes, it’s very sad, but not all the eggs hatch.”
  • Miles: (Recovering quickly) “But that’s ok, because that penguin will just lay another egg.”
  • Me: “Yes, she can, next year.”
  • Miles: “That’s not fair! Why can’t she just have another egg this year? Does she know her baby died? Does she know that she can’t have another egg until next year? Why can’t she just have another one? It’s not fair!”

I pleadingly look at Michael, who shrugs and stuffs a handful of popcorn in his mouth. Bastard.

  • Me: (Grasping) “Animals don’t experience things like death the same way people do. She probably knows something is wrong, but can’t really understand what it means. It’s not the same as a human mom.”
  • Miles: (Starting to cry.)“How do you know? You don’t know that. What if she does know? What if it is the same?”
  • Me: (Glaring at Michael, whose only contribution is to lamely mutter something about the ‘great circle of life’) “Miles, honey, we’re just gonna have to see what happens. I’m sure most of the eggs hatch just fine.”

And then Morgan Freeman said, “But the worst is still to come.”


The next hour was pretty much a non-stop festival of penguin death. On…and on…and on it went. Storms separate baby penguins from the flock and they freeze to death. Babies starve to death before mothers can make it back with food. Mother penguins die from exhaustion or starvation and then their babies die from starvation. Evil seagulls attack and kill baby penguins (in slow-mo, no less). Christ, it was a fucking blood-bath.

At this point, Miles was curled up in my lap, his tears silently dropping onto my chest. Once in a while he would sniff and ask for another Kleenex.

I did ask him if he wanted to turn the movie off, but he thought it would be better if he “found out what happened to all of the baby penguins and the moms.” Ugh. This was not encouraging. At this point, things were looking seriously fucked for those baby penguins, and not much better for the fully grown birds.

And then there was the seal. The mother-fucking seal.

Seals are the playful clowns of the sea, right? Oh no. In March of the Penguins, seals are vicious, bloodthirsty and have a rack of teeth as terrifying as any Great White shark.

Of course, the seal takes a mama penguin down. And if we all weren’t feeling bad enough, Mr. Freeman chimes in to remind us that the seal is responsible for two deaths, since her baby will now starve. Thanks for pointing that out, Morgan.

Our youngest son had pretty much lost interest at this point, and we assumed he was just a little too young to really grasp the totality of the carnage. That's until he started wandering into the room from time to time to ask helpful questions like, “Did all the baby penguins die yet?” or “Is that one dead too?”

After the seal incident, Miles decided he’d had enough, so I can’t really tell you how the movie ended. I assume at least one penguin made it through the winter and back to the ocean, perhaps to become a tasty snack for chompy the seal.

So, in summary, if you want an evening filled with death, weeping and the fucking circle of life, check out March of the Penguins with your kids!


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post. Your family conversation is so hilarious, I had to read it to my roommates, who also enjoyed it.

-LukeStory on Twitter

Jude Walker said...

I'm waiting now for the new movie... the one about the fish trying to survive the ravages of the vicious and bloodthirsty penguins.


Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for the heads up. I don't know how many times that I have almost grabbed this movie for my kids to watch. I can just see my daughter asking me a ton of questions and then being put off for a week or so.

Btw glad to find you on the web.

Hope all is well with you,

Thomas S.

Anne Quimby Mathias said...

Hey, who left the comment above? Is it Thomas Spatt? If so, send me a note at michaeljmathias@sbcglobal.net. I'd like to hear from you.


Anonymous said...

Don't kids need to learn about this stuff somehow? It's reality. It's how the world works. It may seem like a pain in the keester right now to deal with their sadness and suffer through the heart-breaking questions, but in the end movies like this one can actually help children have a positive and realistic point of view.

I've seen what happens when a person grows up not being able to effectively handle the negative aspects of life because they never had to deal with it when they were children.

Anonymous said...

I watched this movie once and could not bring myself to sit through it again. I understand reality, but this is presented in such concentrated form ... like 'Le Miserable' of the animal world. Some people/children are born more sensitive than others. (I have 7, now adults raising their own, handling hard things in life, and doing well) Yes, we need to find a way of coping with sensitive, hard life issues, but this makes you feel locked in to the misery. It might be easier to learn this stuff in smaller doses as maturity happens. Teach your children that life isn't always fair, that no matter how bad you think you've got it, there are more people in the world that cope with far more ... Teach them compassion. This movie is just too in your face with so much in so little time:(