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'Penguins' Progress: Too Cool

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By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 1, 2005

I'VE JUST seen "March of the Penguins," and, penguins, we need to talk.

What is your problem?

Of all the places in the world to live, you have to choose Antarctica, where on a good day the temperature is 58 degrees below zero? I thought people in Oregon were nuts, living with all that rain-rain-rain. But you emperor penguins, whoa. And what's the deal with those long treks you make? We're talking journeys of about 70 miles to the most frigid chunk of land you can find down there. Why? So you and your babies won't slip through the ice and into the ocean, we're told.

Okay, fine. It's not like you can build condos with floors and fireplaces, I'll give you that. But still, that's one heck of a hike. And it's not like you take long strides, either. Has anyone talked to you folks about the way you walk? Waddle, waddle, waddle. Flippadee, flappadee, flippadee. So much energy wasted. Six steps like that and you're spritzing -- well, you would be if you weren't freezing.

So you get to this magical wonder spot, where, according to narrator Morgan Freeman, "each and every one" of you was born, and, hello, it's really, really cold. What's penguin for ' duh' ? So you all huddle together, nursing your eggs, while the wind moans (sometimes those gusts are 100 mph) and peppers you with snow. Here's how bad it gets in midwinter: 80 degrees below zero. If the eggs you're incubating so much as touch the ground for too long, they crack and your babies are killed. So you spend months keeping the eggs balanced between your warm pouch and your claws. And did we mention that winter also means weeks of endless night? Paging Dr. Freud. Mama is a martyr, Mama is a martyr.

I think it's cool, by the way, that the daddies help out with the incubation for a couple of months. Moms pass their egg to the dads, then walk that 70-mile journey back to the sea and load up on sea chow for the baby when it hatches. (You lose half your body weight doing this. Are we just a little concerned about those midriff bulges? Be honest.) Finally, you moms return and the babies get to nosh. But your mates are practically dead with starvation. But do you bring back so much as a plankton salad? Nada. (Any marriage counselors looking for a little business? Head south.) Dads, you go as long as 125 days without food. Way to go! Martyr high-fives all around. Now it's your turn to take that 70-mile trip to the sea.

Enough already. I'm talking to penguins. First sign of madness. Let's just say "March of the Penguins" is a delightful, wholesome experience for the family. I should mention there is a little, uh, procreation involved. But all the kids need to know is, sometimes Daddy needs to stand behind Mommy to shield himself from the wind. So many visual moments: the awesome tableau of all those penguins clumped en masse against nature's worst; a penguin slipping (cheap gag, sure, but funny); and perhaps the best part of all: those fluffy babies. Almost makes you understand why the parents go to all that trouble. Hey, I said almost.

MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (G, 80 minutes) -- Contains penguin slapstick. Area theaters.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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