Life is lovely in Penguin Town, your new favourite comfort watch
If Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town, Cape Town, wasn’t world famous for its endangered African penguin colony before, it certainly is now. This Netflix Original documentary series delivers eight delightful episodes about some of Simon’s Town’s regular residents.
“Penguin Town, narrated by Patton Oswalt, is betting on the unshakable fact that pop culture can never have too many penguins. Penguin Town bets correctly,” says Den Of Geek.
Penguins are adorable. On land, their flightless waddle is cute as, and in the water they are sleek, elegant and speedy. Somehow I’d not noticed before, that in silhouette, they look humanoid, which is perhaps why we find them so endearing.
Penguin Town covers the six months of the year the African penguins (which used to be called Jackass penguins because of their braying call) swim into False Bay and set up home in and around Boulders. Here, they nest, breed, hatch and feed their young before waving them goodbye as they launch themselves into the big ocean.
Oswalt executive produced as well as narrated, and the script is excruciatingly twee at times, but this opinion is from an old Capetonian; for younger viewers (rated PG 10-12 for violence – it’s mild penguin on penguin) and the massive audience of Netflix subscribers who have not been to our fair shores, it will no doubt be wonderful.
The format is not dry, educational nature documentary; it assigns anthropomorphic names and personalities – even back stories – to the “characters” but at the same time subtly rolls out plenty of cleverly disguised facts and statistics. You’re being educated without even realising it.
The camera work is superb, from every angle, including little hidden cameras to capture moments that would otherwise be impossible. Filming is almost entirely done from a penguin’s point of view so other than a few scenes (the release of birds rescued and rehabilitated by Sancob is a real tear-jerker), no human faces are seen, only legs and feet. For local viewers, we can immediately see half the series was shot before lockdown at the end of March 2020, and the rest after – even before Oswalt points it out as it’s integrated into the later episodes.
“Are there shots of penguins walking around slowly in packs, like the protagonists during the opening credits of Reservoir Dogs? Yes. Is there a lot of plinky-plonky music? Yes. Is one of the characters called Mrs Wheelbarrow? Yes.” – The Guardian
While the penguins – a gang of bullies, a married couple that turns into a single dad after mom goes missing at sea, newlyweds whose home is tragically destroyed along with the eggs – are undoubtedly the stars of Penguin Town, Simonstown is beautifully showcased. It’s always interesting to see it through other eyes and be reassured it’s just as amazing as everyone says.
“Netflix’s new comfort watch about lovely penguins living in a South African town is gore free and pandemic-perfect,” says The Guardian. Which is an excellent point. I’m forever traumatised by David Attenborough, bless his socks, calmly narrating as baby elephants expire while parents look on helplessly and vultures circle. There’s implied danger in Penguin Town, and it gets tense at times, but for all intents and purposes, the penguins survive.
“Are there shots of penguins walking around slowly in packs, like the protagonists during the opening credits of Reservoir Dogs? Yes. Is there a lot of plinky-plonky music? Yes. Is one of the characters called Mrs Wheelbarrow? Yes,” says The Guardian. “But are we exposed to the raging savagery of the sort that the BBC’s Dynasties served up with its scene of penguins trapped and awaiting death in a frozen gully? Thankfully, not. After the year we’ve all had, Penguin Town will do nicely.”
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