"March of the Penguins" Too Lovey-Dovey to Be True?

Hillary Mayell
for National Geographic News
August 19, 2005

Ever since Walt Disney immortalized interspecies friendships and talking teapots, anthropomorphism (attributing human traits and emotions to animals or objects) has been a movie staple.

Now some scientists are criticizing the movie March of the Penguins for portraying the Antarctic seabirds almost as tiny, two-tone humans.

The poster for the surprise hit film reads, "In the harshest place on Earth love finds a way." And the movie describes the annual journey of emperor penguins to their breeding grounds as a "quest to find the perfect mate and start a family" against impossible odds.

The penguins are the only animals that make a home above the ice in the subzero temperatures and blistering winds of the Antarctic winter. They overcome incredible odds just to survive, never mind breed and nurture new life.

But is it love?

Talking Animals

The filmmakers behind the English-language version of March of the Penguins—which is distributed by Warner Independent Pictures and National Geographic Feature Films—toned down the anthropomorphism of the original, French release.

In the original documentary the penguins "spoke" their own dialogue, like Bambi or Babe the pig. The version released in the United States uses a narrator, actor Morgan Freeman, to tell the story.

Still, the film describes the emperor penguins as "not that different from us" in their pouting, bellowing, and strutting.

The bond between the star penguin parents is called a "love story." And the penguins seem to have emotions—grieving over the loss of an egg or a chick, rejoicing at the return of a mate, loving their families.

"In a few places it's a little over the top," said Alison Power, director of communications for New York City's Bronx Zoo and the affiliated Wildlife Conservation Society. "But I thought the filmmakers did an excellent job in not anthropomorphizing the animals."

Marine biologist Gerald Kooyman studies penguins at Antarctica's "Penguin Ranch," and he begs to differ. He said the portrayal of the penguins' mating rituals as a love story is a "major" case of anthropomorphism.

Continued on Next Page >>


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