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  • Brandon MacMurray

Mighty Penguins Review

Mighty Penguins, Directed by Louis Myles and Ahmed Twaij

Sports have the ability to change lives in every way imaginable. Football, with its global reach of 3.5 billion people, exemplifies this potential. “Mighty Penguins” is an examination of the social benefits of football. It tells the story of Allan Cockram, a retired Brentford Football Club player who, after leaving the sport, has a difficult time finding purpose in life. While working as a cab driver, Allan befriends a boy named Phil who has Down syndrome. Phil would often sit in the front seat of Allan's cab and they would laugh together and dance to music. Every so often, they would stop and get out of the car to play football together. Some time later, Allan comes home from the pub one night and proposes the idea of starting an all-Down syndrome football club in Brentford to his wife. It is clear his moments with Phil serve as inspiration for Allan to take his experience with the sport that changed his life and share it with a community that could benefit from it both socially and physically.

What is most charming about “Mighty Penguins” is the framework that directors Louis Myles and Ahmed Twaij use to tell the story of Allan's club, the Brentford Penguins. It goes well beyond being a bio-doc about Allan’s trajectory and career. Penguins players like Woody, Peanut, Captain Charlie, Special K, Louis, Summer, President Ollie, Arjen and Big “D” are all introduced in spontaneous scenes of genuine interaction between each other, Allan, and sometimes even the filming crew. This is a key part in building the emotional narrative that the documentary does so competently. "Mighty Penguins" follows the same common trajectory of many sports documentaries: the team is presented with a big event approaching that they have to prepare for. While usually this event is a championship or important game, in this case, it's the Penguins being the “guard of honour” in a Brentford’s Premiere League match against Leicester. This unique take on the standard approach to the genre does not harm the emotional aspect of the short, but somehow makes it all the more sincere. 

Another important component of the narrative is the connection of the community of Brentford to the Penguins, not only in name, but also in its support of club events. The Penguins host a comedy fundraiser that allows the players to tell jokes and shine in a room full of members of their community.

The interviews used in the documentary are powerful and evocative. They not only provide the information needed to emotionally connect with people like Allan, but take a peek inside the lives and hardships of the team members. It is touching to see Allan’s pure love and care for the team. He not only teaches them football, but cultivates a space where they can bond with each other and create meaningful friendships. This is shown in the film's many heartwarming, funny, and pure moments of interaction, which makes very clear to the viewer the importance of the initiative Allan and his wife have undertaken.

“The Penguins have given me my acceptance in life as well,” Allan explains.

When Covid hits and Allan isn’t able to see the Penguins, he misses them “like a hole in the heart,” and finds himself in a “dark place." He realizes he needs the team as much as they need him. "Mighty Penguins" shows the the football club doesn’t just benefit Allan and the team, but has an enormous impact on the parents and families involved as well. It not only brings them to know their child better, but also gives them a support network with other parents who know exactly what they are going through.

“If you analyze it deep enough, you see yourself in them... There’s a human spirit I see within them kids, and I just feel at home.”

It's fitting that Allan says this near the beginning of the film, because by the end of this lovable short, you feel the same way about each incredible player on the Penguins.

Mighty Penguins debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival 2023 and it is now qualified for the Best Documentary Short category at the 2024 Academy Awards.

Review by Pedro Lima and Brandon MacMurray



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