Disneynature Penguins waddled into theaters a year ago for Earth Day 2019 and introduced the world to Steve, a first time father who also happens to be an adélie penguin. When 2017’s Born in China was released on home video, it was accompanied by two behind-the-scenes documentaries that went direct to digital, Ghost of the Mountains and Expedition China. With today’s Disney+ debut of Disneynature Penguins and two new films, Disney has debuted an exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary film about the adventurers who made the film a reality called Disneynature Penguins: Life on the Edge narrated by Blair Underwood (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC’s Quantico, Disney Junior’s The Lion Guard).
Welcome to Ross Island, Antarctica, the literal end of the world. A team of twenty cinematographers from around the globe will travel here over the course of a year to capture the life of an adélie penguin. The difficulty of lugging ten tons of filming equipment through the arctic island is only the beginning of this incredible view at the making of a Disneynature film.
It’s fun to watch the cinematographers waiting for something to happen. Penguins: Life on the Edge shows just how close the cameras get to their subjects and while they make jokes about their star’s attitude, they’re not allowed to interfere. The name of the game is waiting, whether it's for Steve to dive into an ice hole to hunt for fish or waiting for his eggs to hatch.
The teams take turns of up to several months covering the penguins using a variety of tools to capture the incredible shots in the finished film. This includes motion stabilizing rigs that hold the cameras low to the ground to get a penguin's eye view, used to follow them when they’re on the move. There are also special underwater cameras used with gimbles that can be mounted on boats or ice as well as handheld by divers.
One of the most daring moments in the documentary comes when the crew lands a helicopter on cracking sea ice to capture a pod of orcas that have arrived to hunt penguins in the water. The majestic killer whales become intrigued by the cameras and filmmakers on the ice, something you don’t see in the final film. They get closer to the filmmakers on ice than they ever could on a boat and it’s truly incredible. Other predators include the sneaky and reclusive leopard seals and the incredibly stinky elephant seals.
Ross Island is a remote location that most humans will never see in person, but you can follow these daring cinematographers behind Disneynature Penguins through this behind-the-scenes documentary, Penguins: Life on the Edge. It’s an exciting look behind the lens that is surprisingly funny at times.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.