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It’s unclear how French filmmakers became the go-to guys for avian documentaries, but there’s no question why the latest Gallic bird epic enlisted Morgan Freeman as the narrator of its English-language version. Whether coaching Batman, Jet Li, Hilary Swank, or a papa penguin, Freeman’s warm timbres are more comforting than the combined intonations of Michael Caine and Liam Neeson, the actor’s principal competition as cinematic mentors. Strictly speaking, March of the Penguins’ subjects don’t need Freeman’s encouragement. Emperor penguins know—or sense—what needs to be done, astonishing as that may be: The birds trudge by the thousands to their icy breeding ground, mate, and then nest during the fierce Antarctic winter, with the males sheltering eggs on their feet for two months. Combining this period with the trek to and from the ocean, the dads don’t eat for 125 days—which is rather a bigger sacrifice than having to take the kids to McDonald’s after Little League. Such analogies are wildly inappropriate, of course, but also inevitable: On land, penguins look more human than most birds, and their dedication to their single annual offspring seems entirely bourgeois. Still, Freeman’s narration, written by Jordan Roberts from the French script by Michel Fessler and director Luc Jacquet, does overdo the anthropomorphic commentary. The emperors’ saga is presented as a tale of love and courage punctuated by heartbreak. Between Freeman’s remarks and Alex Wurman’s programmatic score, March of the Penguins pushes a narrative line that’s much tidier than nature itself. (There’s a telltale credit for digital special effects, although their use is not overt.) Because this film is basically Animal Planet material, perhaps it would be best to wait for the DVD and watch cinematographers Laurent Chalet and Jérôme Maison’s images with the sound off. But then again, the big screen is ideal for showing ice of vivid blueness, winds of frigid intensity, and penguin parents that are hard to see as anything other than plucky. —Mark Jenkins