March of the Pingwings

I saw March of the Pingwings last night. It was full of oddness, and after trying to make five mental notes in as many minutes I grabbed my notebook. Perhaps it’s many years of David Attenborough documentaries, but the style of the film grated. I wanted more information.

Antarctica, we’re told, started in tropical climes and travelled southward. All animals but the pingwings fled. The pingwings ‘chose’ to stay, or ‘maybe they were just too stubborn’. I admit that my knowledge of pingwing evolution is patchy (read: not there) but I’m fairly sure there was no conscious decision making involved. I’d also guess that the other animals all died off, rather than leaving of their own accord as suggested. Pingwings survived because they happened to have adaptations that were beneficial in the cold, but even so it seems unlikely that they resembled modern pingwings.

The film centres around the 70-mile journeys undertaken by pingwings, as they travel from the sea to a mating ground. How do they know where to go? Narrator Morgan Freeman explained that we don’t know, but it could be by using the sun, the stars, or maybe an “invisible compass within them”. An invisible compass within them?! To paraphrase, the possibilities are: sun, stars or magic. Sorceror pingwings.

So the pingwings get together and mate. I was interested in pingwing sex – I mean, how could that not be a funny thing? – but it’s only vaguely alluded to. There’s a brief shot of cuddling pingwings and perhaps one lying down with the other standing up, and that’s all. I want the anatomical details, dammit. I wonder whether the rating would have been increased had there been some pingwing-on-pingwing action.

After ambling about for a bit an egg pops out. This is then transferred to the male, who looks after it while the female takes the 140-mile trip to find food. The whole procedure of egg transfer was mysterious, and badly explained. We’re told that it’s rehearsed ‘dozens of times’ before actually happening, but no further details were given. How did this work? Did they rehearse with the actual egg? If not, how? The loss of an egg during transfer also seemed bizarre, with no details given of why the egg should be ‘lost’.

There was some anthropomorphizing which seemed unjustified. The reunion of pingwing mates was ‘joyful’, the loss of a chick was ‘unbearable’ and leaving to collect food was ‘not easy to do’. I’m not convinced that pingwings feel that kind of emotion.

Once the chicks were cutely waddling around, the music changed to a minor key as a bird glided into view. This is a predator, we’re told. And that’s all we’re told. Birdy lands, eats a chick, and leaves. I didn’t even know there were birds in the Antarctic. What kind of bird is this? Is it feeding its own chicks? Does it survive purely on pingwing babies? The pingwing parents don’t seem to care – is there any reason they don’t fight Birdy off? I’m sure David Attenborough would have provided more information than ‘looklook it’s a baddy’.

Also, the credits contained a ‘digital special effects’ section. There were digital special effects?

The film was just interesting enough to keep my attention, and the pingwings were undeniably adorable, but the lack of any biological information resulted in it feeling hollow. I can’t help wondering whether anything relating to evolution was deliberately excluded because of the crazy-people market, but alternatively the intention could have been to make a simple documentary without information seen as off-putting to the general public. Whatever the reasoning, it didn’t work for me.