Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Luc Jacquet
Starring: The Emperor Penguins of Antartica; Narration by Morgan Freeman
(G, 80 min.)
"We have to win the world for our children" Sir Winston Churchill
If you missed it at theaters, sit back in awe while you witness the single-minded determination of the March of the Penguins, as they trek the frozen white landscape of Antarctica and the sapphire waters that lap at its icebound banks.
Morgan Freeman narrates the real life epic journey of the emperor penguins to their ancestral breeding grounds some 70 miles from the sea. There the somewhat ungainly creatures court. couple up, and cooperate to create new life in the form of a single egg. The tender grace of the courtship, the heroic devotion of the parents, and the shared burden of protecting the egg against temperatures that fall to 80 degrees below zero, are both reflections of and models for humankind.
In their element, the penguins are swimmers of infinite grace, but they leave this life aquatic for the frozen shore every fall, lumbering on with the dogged steps of soldiers marching to battle, drawn to the inevitable rendezvous with death (and life) by forces they can neither name nor understand. As in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the mermaid hoping to achieve human form, they must abandon a world of grace and comfort for a greater purpose; theirs is no less than the survival of the species.
Day and night they journey with the awkwardness of an animal out of its element, this waddling gait not the usual fodder for derision but footsteps of love and self-sacrifice. Occasionally, the penguins take a break on the nonstop 70-mile trip inland, bodysurfing on the packed ice down the occasional hill, or propelling themselves forward with their appendages like stalwart cross-country skiers. Icy towers surround the breeding grounds, providing some comfort from the winds and storms that will buffet the region for the next nine months. Most of their predators will remain in the far away waters, but the same is also true of the fish on which the penguins survive. Male and females will alternately go for months without eating to ensure the safety of their offspring.
But I get ahead of myself. Not to be missed is the courtship, the grace and tenderness between mates who choose each other for the same mystic unknowns as we humans do. Their sleek heads bow toward each other with an elegance any swan would envy, and the gently arced beaks touch in a tentative kiss. When the female gives birth to one large egg, she quickly tucks it under the flap of her belly and balances it on the “nest” of her feet. For a brief moment the male looks on with what looks remarkably like the mixture of pride, awe, and the looming realization of terrible responsibility reflected in the gaze of most new fathers.
Then something not so typical. The mother must transfer the egg to her mate, an effort of some difficulty not unlike that party game where one has to pass on an orange clasped between chin and chest. As in the preadolescent ritual there are a few missteps, but for the penguins it is fatal. Just a few moments of exposure freeze and crack the egg. It will never come to life and the parents, bereft in their loss, separate and return to the sea, their fruitless union now meaningless. It is a story sometimes sadly repeated in the human arena.
But for most, the egg is transferred safely, and the new fathers take on the full responsibilities of parenting while the mothers, having lost 1/3 of their body weight producing the egg, must march back to the sea to gather sustenance. (I remember the trip to the nursery seemed miles long to this first time Mom, and I had a hot breakfast delivered to my bed. Can we even imagine having to walk 70 miles to find room service?)
Again we could take a few lessons from these penguin parents, as the fathers endure the hardest parts of the winter protecting the egg enshrined in their care. No cable sports channels to get them through the last long months of winter, no popcorn or chips sitting by the lounge chair, but the relentless wind and cold at their backs as they wait for their mate’s return. The group of fathers becomes an organism in itself as they huddle en masse against the wind, ferrying the eggs on their feet in a Charlie Chaplain gait like walking with display shoes still attached to each other.
In any case the eggs must be kept safe and warm, and by the time the first chick emerges in early spring, the fathers have lost 1/2 of their body weight to the task. But once the chick leaves its protective shell, it too feels the ravages of hunger, and the return of the mother, who will have now trekked over two hundred miles, is mandatory. Not unlike today’s young parents, whose times together takes backseat to parenting concerns, the couple must again separate, this time the fathers making the trek to the sea.
The chicks, cuddles of soft fur with faces that seems to be forever laughing, are far more adorable than anything put out in department stores. Day by day they grow and explore their icy nursery. The fathers return for a brief time and the intrepid camera crew catches the ephemeral family moment. But all too soon, the parents return to the sea, going their separate ways. They leave the juvenile chicks alone in the breeding grounds until they too, answer the call of the wild. The rays of summer sun have melted the ice so that the water’s edge creeps up to the breeding ground, enticing the now hardy chicks with its siren call. One by one they dive into its depths, swimming with the exquisite grace that is their birthright.
While the obvious choice for movie munchies seems to be the penguin’s favorite, raw fish, I have opted for something else. One cannot escape the high contrasts of the film, whether it is the sleek back and white fur, or the turquoise waters against the ivory ice.
My two snack suggestions reflect these contrasts.
Penguin Party Log and Iceberg Parfait
Penguin Party Log
- 8-ounce package cream cheese
- Pickapeppa sauce
- Round or oval crackers of your choice
- Goldfish crackers (optional)
The sleek coats of the emperor penguins are reflected in this simple but delicious log, or shall I say iceberg. Simply pour about 1/4 cup of the piquant sauce atop the cream cheese. The blend of mellow and spice is a delightful surprise.
The round or oval crackers are, of course, the coveted egg. Tuck your cracker into the cheese creation just as the egg nestles within the parent’s pouch.
Finally, the goldfish crackers are the color of the emperor penguin’s crown, and they are pretty good in of themselves, even if you aren’t a penguin.
- Blueberry ice cream
- Cool whip or Whipped cream
- Blue Curacao (optional)
In your prettiest parfait goblet, make layers of the ice cream and cool whip, the blue and white like ice against the Antarctic sapphire sea.
Crown with a smidgeon of the Blue Curacao for a more spirited version.
Recipe Source: Different Drummer's Imagination