When March of the Penguins came out in the summer of 2005, a lot of party poopers were eager to scold the film and its fans for anthropomorphizing the Antarctic birds. They don't have human emotions! They only operate on instinct! Stop acting like they're people!
Those spoilsports should just shut up, obviously. People enjoy pretending that animals are just like us. It makes them seem cuter. If a penguin looks like a small fat guy wearing a tuxedo, then we are going to give him a name and pretend he's a waiter. "Oh, garçon!" we'll say through the glass at Sea World. "May we see the wine list?" And then we will laugh with our friends when the penguin looks at us indifferently and goes to wait on another table. We demand to speak with the walrus-manager, whose name is Mr. Brimley!
Inappropriate anthropomorphizing aside, March of the Penguins, which won the Academy Award for best documentary, is a fine example of edu-tainment. The filmmakers spent weeks in sub-zero weather filming the birds, and the footage is beautiful. Through Morgan Freeman's kindly, authoritative narration we learn about their mating habits and family lives. What the birds endure is astonishing, a marvel of nature. The film presents this far better than any Animal Planet TV special would, with more depth and greater production values. It is the second-highest grossing documentary of all time (after Fahrenheit 9/11).
Now Warner Bros. has released a Limited Edition Giftset of the film, a two-DVD affair that includes the following bonus items:
- A 69-minute documentary called On the Wings of Penguins, all about the warm-weather African variety of tuxedo-bird. It is not narrated by Morgan Freeman, sadly, but by Peter Brooks, who seems nice and all but he's no Morgan Freeman.
- A set of eight penguin postcards that you could mail to your friends when you go on vacation to Antarctica, or maybe just put them on your wall and look at them.
- A five-inch penguin plush toy! It's very soft and cute.
I said it's a two-disc set. On the Wings of Penguins, with its not-Morgan Freeman narrator, is on the second disc. On the first disc is March of the Penguins, of course, along with its bonus features:
- Of Penguins and Men, a 53-minute doc showing what the humans had to go through to make the film. They lived with penguins for a year! More to the point, they lived with penguins in the freaking cold for a year!
- National Geographic's Crittercam, a 23-minute special from the National Geographic Channel (or NatGeo, as it thinks it can call itself now). They put small cameras on penguins and let 'em do their thing, and we get to watch. The narrator starts by saying, "Crittercam is on assignment in the coolest place on Earth -- well, make that the coldest," but it gets better from there.
- 8 Ball Bunny, the 1949 Bugs Bunny cartoon where he finds a lost penguin and tries to get him home again.
If you already own a DVD copy of March of the Penguins, you might notice a problem here: These are the same extras. This is the exact same DVD that was already released in 2005. It's so exactly-the-same-DVD that it even starts with the same trailer for Happy Feet ("Coming November 2006!").
So if you already have March of the Penguins and you want to buy the Limited Edition Giftset, here's what you're paying for: the postcards, the penguin doll, and the thing about the African penguins that's narrated by a guy who isn't Morgan Freeman. Not really worth the upgrade, in my opinion.
For first-time buyers, though, it's a fine set, particularly if you have animal-loving children in the house who can make good use of the adorable stuffed toy. It's just a shame Warner Bros. couldn't come up with some new extras to enhance the new package. That's such a stingy sea lion thing to do.