Streaming Spotlight - Penguins at the pictures

Films to pick up and stream this week

by Amber Wilkinson

March Of The Penguins
March Of The Penguins
It was Penguin Awareness Day yesterday, with hope for the up to 19 species of the bird bolstered by British scientists who found that a proposed network of Antarctic marine protected areas would improve their conservation. To celebrate, we're taking a look at penguins on film for our streaming spotlight this week.

March Of The Penguins, Amazon, Chili and other platforms

If any one film could be credited with waddling in a resurgence of interest in penguins at the cinema it is probably this 2005 wildlife documentary from Luc Jaquet. Originally narrated in French it has since been reworked in multiple languages - although the one you're most likely to come across is that featuring the mellifluous tones of Morgan Freeman. He narrates a year in the life of the emperor penguins of Antarctica, as they hike to their breeding grounds and go on to raise their families in a way that features some quite remarkable feats of nature. The narration may be a bit soft in the middle but the footage is never less than breathtaking.

Happy Feet, Amazon, Apple TV and other platforms, from £3.49

This may be a family animation, but this tale of a young penguin who struggles to find his Heart Song also packs a strong environmental message about the pollution and commercial fishing threatening the birds' environment. These darker themes are delivered with plenty of soft-shoe shuffle and music, plus Robin Williams doubling up as the romantic rockhopper Ramon and the Lovelace, an evangelical penguin with a touch of Barry White, who, in another nod to the film's more serious message, is being slowly choked by one of those plastic six-pack rings that, thankfully, are becoming a thing of the past. Beyond the complexity of the story, the animation, almost photo-real in places, and parents of very young children might want to check out the action sequences before they let their kids watch as they pack a punch.

Encounters At The End Of The World, Apple TV, YouTube and Google Play, from 99p

Director Werner Herzog possibly protested too much when he said of his Antarctic documentary before filming, "I left no doubt that I would not come up with another film about penguins". This is because, while the film shot on the McMurdo Station is packed with eccentric characters, including a bus driving banker and the philosopher/forklift driver, it is surely the footage of a lone penguin, heading not to the feeding grounds with the others, but towards the mountains, that is one of the film's most enduring moments. “Is there such a thing as insanity amongst penguins?” asks Herzog, in typically idiosyncratic fashion, but, as so often with the director, it's what our reaction to the tragicomic animal says about us that interests him most.

Batman Returns, YouTube, Good Play, from £3.49

Jennie Kermode writes: Tim Burton's second attempt to capture the Caped Crusader is basically a great short film about Catwoman stretched over two hours with assorted male characters present to fill in the gaps, but whilst Michelle Pfeiffer slinks around stealing jewels and everyone's attention, Danny DeVito does what he can with the most ill-treated of Gotham City's villains. The abandoned disabled child of wealthy parents (including Paul Reubens, who would go on to play the father of a different Penguin in the Gotham TV series), he eventually emerges from the sewers to pursue a career in politics, but he's built up a lot of bitterness and is ready to make the city pay. His cunning plan involves a number of actual penguins, who maintain a surprising amount of dignity as they stumble around the set with bombs strapped to their bodies, but Batman (Michael Keaton, much better when in Bruce Wayne mode) is on to him and determined to avoid any kind of explosive finale. The film is set at Christmastime and fat flakes drift gently across an uncharacteristically beautiful city. It's all style over substance; although there are narrative problems, this is Burton's work at its most beautiful.

Surf's Up, Amazon, Chili, from £2.49

Jennie Kermode writes: Cody (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) is a small penguin from a very small town, but he has a big dream: to make it as a surfer. When he gets the chance to ride a what to Hawaii and participate in an international contest, he's followed by a reality TV crew (even animated characters aren't safe from this now), who follow the ups and downs of his life on the waves. There's a catch, however: our plucky little hero has been selected as a comedy contestant. Nobody expects him to acquit himself well, least of all champion surfer Tank, who bullies him relentlessly. Can he overcome his disadvantages (which include grief over the loss of his father), train hard and overcome the odds? Adults won't be surprised by how this turns out, but kids will love the well developed characters, and the animation, groundbreaking in 2007, still looks good today. There are some entertaining jokes for older viewers and sharp observations about the reality genre. Cody has a big personality and the simple story packs in a lot of action with a lot of heart.

Penguins of Madagascar, Amazon Prime

They should have known when they made the penguins bit-part players in Madagascar that they would be destined for greater things - and here they take centre stage against Dr Octavius Brine (John Malkovitch, to the manner born), who has a mutant plan for our Cheezy Dibble-loving heroes. The sight gags come thick and fast and there's plenty of humour for adults along for the ride, largely courtesy of super-spy wolf North Wind (Benedict Cumberbatch, who ironically, has faced considerable mockery over his pronunciation of the word "penguin" (you can see Graham Norton asking him about that here).

Mr Popper's Penguins, Microsoft, Chili, Amazon and other platforms, from £3.49

There may be a predictable sweep to this adaptation of the novel by Richard and Florence Atwater but, as always, Jim Carrey - who had already had a go at being a workaholic dad in Liar Liar - elevates the material by force of will and contortion of face. Mr Popper (Carrey) ends up inheriting a pack of penguins who proceed to wreak havoc - and quite a few impressive set action pieces - in his life. Another plus for the script is Angela Lansbury as the owner of a tavern that Popper's real estate bosse want to get their hands on, bringing with her the sort of life lessons she's been dishing out since Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Meanwhile, in our offbeat animated short this week, John And Karen - by Matthew Walker, who is working on Shaun The Sheep these days - a penguin receives an apology from a polar bear.

John and Karen (2007) from Matthew Walker on Vimeo.

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