The plot of the film is extraordinarily simple - the film follows the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica during their annual mating and rearing cycle. It is framed from start to finish in terms of the march - the march from the sea to the mating spot, the march to return to the sea for food, the march again for rearing the young, and the march again finally to return to the sea.
There is a great deal of humour and grace; penguins are gentle beings, vulnerable to predators and to the hazards of the winter - despite being fashioned for some of the coldest climates on earth, they nonetheless require warmth, particularly for their eggs and the hatchlings. In the severe cold and far-below-zero windchills, many do not make it, and the one negative side of the film for me was a somewhat constant lingering on this downside. While it is a part of nature, it still becomes a bit more tragic in the cycle of the film than it needs to be. As this is billed as a family film, I worried that some of the children viewing might be more emotionally upset at this than they needed to be.
Still, the details presented are fascinating, and it is a true testament to filmmaking that these shots and images were captured as dramatically, humourously, gracefully and beautifully as they were.
This film has 'Academy Award' written all over it, in many categories. Cinematography, musical score, directing, documentary - these are only some of the categories in which this film is likely to get a nod. Morgan Freeman never appears on camera, but gives a wonderful reading as the narrator of this visual feast, adding subtle emphasis that never detracts and often adds to the tale in the English-language version of this film.
Director Luc Jacquet and cinematographers, Laurent Chalet and Jerome Maison have produced a masterpiece that transcends language barriers (indeed, there is no native human language for Antarctica). A French team, they have translated this film into many languages around the world, as people everywhere will find something with which they can relate.
Perhaps the most skillful part of the filming was to make Antarctica seem so varied in texture and place; on a continent covered with ice and snow, one still gets the sense of the length of the journey, the beauty inherent in the surroundings, and the dangers involved for the penguins.
Through the credits, one gets to see the film crew in some light-hearted scenes with curious penguins. These are expanded upon in the DVD version, with many more scenes of penguins swimming, diving and feeding in truly remarkable filming. There is also a Warner Brothers short animation as a bonus. The audio track can be done in English or Spanish (French is also available as subtitles) - because of the nature of this film, overdubbing in different languages is in no way a detraction.