It’s funny how films are often released with similar themes or types of characters at a similar time for seemingly no reason. In a given year, we’ll get two “Attack the White House” movies – White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen – or two movies about ants (ANTZ and A Bug’s Life). Well, this month, we have another doubling, although the final takeaway is quite different. Penguins seem to be on Hollywood’s mind so we have Disneynature’s Penguins and the anime film Penguin Highway. They are both very impressive and definitely worth checking out.
Let’s start out with real penguins from Disneynature’s Penguins. In the grand tradition of Disney documentaries, the team at Disneynature seeks to craft a narrative around the animal they are profiling in the hopes of both teaching and entertaining kids. In Penguins they choose a plucky little Adélie penguin they call Steve. He has a lot of free spirit and is always lagging a bit behind the other penguins, which of course makes him even more adorable.
The film basically followed Steve as he enters mating season in Antarctica. He must prepare the nest, find a willing partner, guard the eggs from snow and predators and then feed/train the chicks after they hatch. It’s all very sweet and delightful.
The only small flaw with Penguins is the music cues were a little over-the-top, as were the puns from narrator Ed Helms at times. That said, the adorable penguins make up for any flaws and kids will especially love it.
Next up is the new anime film from director Hiroyasu Ishida called Penguin Highway. Aside from having the same kinds of small penguins, this film is completely different from Penguins. It’s actually a sci-fi mystery that reminded me a little bit of the show Stranger Things – but with penguins!
Penguin Highway tells the story of a 4th grade boy named Aoyama-kun who is fascinated by science and exploring the mysteries of the world. He keeps several notebooks and writes about all the strange things he sees around him. One day, he is startled to find a flock of penguins at his town park. They aren’t indigenous to his town so he can’t figure out where they have come from. When more penguins keep appearing the mystery deepens and he discovers a woman named Onê-san may be the key to figuring out all the answers.
The best parts about Penguin Highway are the unpredictable script and beautiful animation. I didn’t know where the mystery was going and surprised me at every turn. It also has a ton of heart as we see Aoyama come out of his shell and grow more confident with each discovery. And of course there is nothing cuter than all these anime penguins!
The downside to the film is that Onê-san is a grown woman so her interactions with Aoyama can sometimes be a little awkward especially his fascination with her bosom. I wish they had made them more similar ages like they do with Eleven and Mike in Stranger Things.
But I can ignore this flaw because everything else works so well and Penguin Highway is such an imaginative, beautiful, fun film. I highly recommend seeing it and Disneynature’s Penguins as soon as possible.
Penguin Highway ✮✮✮✮
Disneynature’s Penguins ✮✮✮.5