The BBC has become synonymous with top quality nature documentaries ever since a young naturalist by the name of David Attenborough showed up in the 1950s. Since then, the Beeb has produced countless natural history programmes of the very highest standard, introducing the world to countless animals the likes of which no one had ever heard of before as well as documenting startling new behaviours in species we thought we already knew everything about. Very recently, the BBC’s nature division (BBC Earth) brought us the breathtaking seven part series The Hunt, a tough act to follow for the Beeb’s latest nature show, the feature length Snow Chick: A Penguin’s Tale.
It must be noted that Snow Chick is not a ‘proper’ nature documentary in the strictest sense of the word and, as such, was not produced by BBC Earth. Instead, Snow Chick is a ‘dramatisation’, meaning that while the animal footage is legitimate, the sequence of events are not necessarily shown in true chronological order for the sake of creating a more compelling story. In the film’s defense, this is stated loudly and clearly at the very beginning as not to be seen to mislead people. Pointing this out was fairly noble of the BBC, considering many programmes do this without noting the fact, and the Beeb probably would have ‘gotten away with’ not telling anyone.
Our story concerns the baby penguin given the name ‘Snow Chick’. As the last egg to hatch in his colony, he is the smallest of his flock, meaning that the odds are stacked against him as far as making it to adulthood is concerned. At this point, the narrative is shared between Snow Chick’s father caring for him at the colony and his mother making the perilous sixty kilometer trek to bring back food for her baby. As the film progresses, and Snow Chick grows larger, we get to see him go about penguin business of his own, and the results are, as one would expect, suitably adorable.
The focus of Snow Chick: A Penguin’s Tale is focused very much on the abject cuteness of penguins. We see them amble, bumble and bicker their way through life in a fashion that we humans find intrinsically hilarious (the penguins themselves might disagree, but they aren’t the ones in charge of making television programmes). With that in mind, any act of predation is only hinted at, as opposed to shown on screen. We do not so see so much as a penguin eating a fish during Snow Chick‘s hour long running time, much less a leopard seal or killer whale gobbling up a poor unfortunate penguin. While this may seem unnecessarily sanitised to some, we must remember that Snow Chick was conceived as Christmas viewing for the entire family, including the very young and those of sensitive dispositions, so the very concept or nature ‘red in tooth and claw’ is purposely avoided here.
The narration, provided here by Oscar winning actor Kate Winslet, is also very ‘child friendly’ in that it never goes into any great detail. Admittedly, this is a fairly disappointing aspect of the film as it doesn’t really give its target audience much credit. Kids love to learn about animals and absorb such knowledge like a sponge. Here though, they aren’t really given much chance to do so, as the narration rarely deviates from describing what can clearly be seen on screen. While an intense phylogenic analysis of flightless birds wouldn’t be required, throwing a bit more education into the mix wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Although Snow Chick: A Penguin’s Tale is a very cute affair which passes the time, it really isn’t a patch on the BBC’s more recent output like The Hunt, neither in terms of wildlife photography or educational merit. While it will entertain the kids, no more so than more enlightening natural history programmes which are also capable of keeping the attention of older viewers as well.