On this day in 2005, March of the Penguins, a French-made documentary about emperor penguins in Antarctica, opens in theaters across the U.S. March of the Penguins went on to win numerous awards, including an Oscar, and became one of the highest-grossing documentaries in movie history.
March of the Penguins followed the yearlong reproductive cycle of the emperor penguins and their arduous journeys between the ocean and their inland breeding grounds. Two cinematographers spent a year in isolated terrain and challenging weather conditions in order to film the penguins in their natural habitat. The penguin parents were shown caring for their unhatched eggs and young chicks. Male-female penguin couples were presented as monogamous, leading some conservative commentators to declare that March of the Penguins promoted family values. The film’s French director Luc Jaquet rejected this view. In a 2005 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, he stated: “I condemn this position. I find it intellectually dishonest to impose this viewpoint on something that’s part of nature. It’s amusing, but if you take the monogamy argument, from one season to the next, the divorce rate, if you will, is between 80 to 90 percent… the monogamy only lasts for the duration of one reproductive cycle. You have to let penguins be penguins and humans be humans.”
The American version of March of the Penguins featured straightforward narration by the Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman. However, the French version of the film, titled La Marche de l’empereur, used the voices of human actors to make it appear as if the penguins were speaking. At the 78th Academy Awards, on March 5, 2006, March of the Penguins won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
The success of March of the Penguins appeared to spark a mini-penguin craze: In November 2006, Happy Feet, an animated film about emperor penguins, opened in U.S. theaters. Happy Feet, which featured the voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams and Nicole Kidman, won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 79th Academy Awards on February 25, 2007.