BY ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION
FOR PUBLICATION: BY WILL DATE: 06/15/2021
TV REVIEW by Richard Roeper
“PENGUIN TOWN” three stars
An eight-part series available on Netflix on Wednesday.
Imagine the narrator Patton Oswalt in his familiar, expressive voice that greets us in the eight-part Netflix documentary “Penguin Town”:
“There are a lot of movies about penguins. Penguins on ice, penguins in snow, tons of marshes. Then … there are these birds. They bravely go where penguins have never gone before. Meet the critically endangered African penguins. “
Right: African penguins. With tiny pink spots around the eyes, a smaller physique compared to some of the more rugged conspecifics, and a distinctive yelling that sounds like a troubled donkey, a colony of African penguins returns to Simon’s Town, South Africa as longtime monogamous couples every year to breed while the younger birds look for their life partner – and all while they waddle between people on the beach, in the parking lots and in the vicinity.
“Penguin Town” is a feather-light documentary about this amazing species, in which Oswalt delivers a light and humorous narrative, some pairs of penguins are named, cheerful pop music and graphics straight from a reality dating show: “Six hot months! A wild colony! No rules! ” It’s full of facts, but they’re always draped in the imagination of the penguins who pretty much take over the city while the “giants,” aka humans, are mostly seen from the PPOV (Penguins’ Point of View) and then disappear the series when the pandemic strikes and Simon’s Town unfortunately becomes a ghost town.
As great as these penguins are, the adults all look pretty much the same, so we have to rely on the filmmakers (and narrator Oswalt) to remind us of the story we follow from scene to scene. While naming pairs of penguins is terribly cute, it is actually an invaluable resource when we meet the bougainvilleas who have been together for years and are immediately in their regular place under a large bush that offers comfort and protection; the Courtyards, a couple who camped out in a garden on a posh estate; and the culverts who are new to it and discover that the struggle is real to find a safe place to hatch their eggs, especially given the elements, some unfriendly members of their own colony, and the local wildlife that pose threats. (Wildlife, including the lynx-like caracal, has been encouraged by the lack of humans in Simon’s Town, and we follow one such wildcat as it pursues its penguin prey.)
For all its sweetness and cheerfulness, “Penguin Town” does not ignore the realities of this endangered species. A young penguin suffers lethal bites from a fur seal. One of the featured penguins never returns to its home nest. This series is as far as you can get from any of those documentaries in which we see the violence of nature in all its necessary brutality, but in the midst of all the joy and sweetness we see and hear memories of that being the life of the African penguin is often tough. and in large part it is up to this small but warm and staunch group of travelers to keep the species alive. How can you not make sure they have a successful and (re) productive stay in Penguin Town?
(EDITORIAL: For editorial questions, contact Josh Peres, jperes (at) amuniversal.com.)
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