Disney's "Penguins" overlooks the Elephant in the room
“Penguins," Disney’s newest addition to the Disneynature series, released on April 17, focuses on Adelie penguins-- often overlooked in favor of their taller, arguably more regal looking cousins, the Emperor penguins. The film captures Adelie in all of their awkward squawky glory. Steve, voiced by Ed Helms, navigates clumsily through his first attempt at fatherhood. “Steve” their leading penguin finds success in his search for a mate and creates a family with a shocking little setback.
Disneynature films are always released on Earth Day, with an initial message that plays before the film thanking audiences for their contribution to environmental conservation via ticket purchase. However, there is little to no mention of environmental crisis or need for conservation within the 76 minutes of the film. The adorable plot line and comforting, somewhat sugar-coated portrayal of life in the Antarctic fails to showcase the importance of environmental conservation.
Throughout his story, Steve faces many hardships and threats to his survival, but climate change is seemingly never one of them. While the usual myriad of Antarctic animals such as Leopard Seals and Orca Whales are vilified and pit up against the plucky little penguin, Global Warming is one beast that never pokes his head above the ice.
On April 26, shortly following the release of “Penguins,” CNN broke the news that the Antarctic's second-largest colony of emperor penguins, Steve’s regal and much more famous cousins, have virtually vanished over the last three years due to extreme weather conditions. A colony had been gathered for breeding in what was considered to be the safest part of their range. A google search of the word “Penguins” brings up first the showtimes for the Disneynature film, followed by one article concerning the emperor colony’s disappearance.
The shift in the narrative of nature documentaries in this decade is absolutely a depressing one. Netflix’s, “Our Planet” never gives the audience a chance to simply marvel at the wonders of nature, David Attenborough drops the guillotine of reality at every turn nowadays. “Penguins” offers some reprieve from the endangered elephant in the room, and while it is nice to just laugh as Steve struggles to walk on ice for an extended opening shot of the film, one has to wonder -- is it responsible for Disney to ignore the ugly truth brewing below the surface?