HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - In the wake of two blockbuster hits, the second highest grossing documentary of all-time "March of the Penguins" and the currently top-rated film, the animated feature "Happy Feet," one of the last of Hollywood's real professionals, the penguin extra is finally getting his due, all 20 million dollars worth.
After decades of appearing merely as minor characters in numerous National Geographic specials, promotional films for mid-major zoos and countless ad campaigns for frozen food products, the lowly penguin has finally broken out.
The rise started with the success of the heart-warming documentary "March of the Penguins," detailing the hard frozen life of Antarctica's Emperor penguin. It was then followed by boffo box-office returns for the cartoon musical based on the life of Mumbles, who is not coincidentally also an Emperor penguin. So now, the Emperor penguin is king, of Hollywood, that is.
The movie industry experts had thought that it's next mega-star would be Daniel Craig, who plays James Bond in "Casino Royale," but instead it's another cool character in a tuxedo, Louis Reginald VIII.
Reginald, the penguin in "March of Penguins" on whom the cartoon character Mumbles was based, has signed a four-film deal with Universal worth $22 million per, a superstar contract that puts him in same category as Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp.
"March of the Penguins" had been seen as a novelty, but after Mumbles beat Bond, James Bond, in ticket receipts three weeks running, Hollywood agents started climbing all over themselves to sign any bird wearing a tux.
"This marks the end of the Hollywood reign of Tom Cruise," said Steven Levitt, president of Marketing Evaluations, Inc., which generates the Q-scores, a measure of name recognition and likability of celebrities. "We had thought Cruise's kooky antics and bizarre beliefs would do him in -- but they just got him publicity. But when the public found a wholesome alternative, they abandoned Cruise and every other major human male lead in droves."
According to Levitt, not just Mumbles but any male Emperor penguin's Q-score blows the former Hollywood headliners out of the water. "They look like ice cubes next to any penguin. After the female viewers saw how male Emperor penguins are willing to sacrifce not just for their babies but for the their unhatched eggs -- going for weeks in sub-zero temperatures without eating while they incubate them -- the so-called Hollywood hotties leave them cold."
"They really don't care that the average Emporer penguin is the same height as Danny Devito. The penguins don't spend all night out drinking Limoncellos with George Clooney, they spend it sitting on their eggs -- what's not to love?"
"What fans really appreciate about the penguins is their humility -- something in short supply in Tinseltown," said Laura Kim, a vice president of Warner Independent. "They crushed 'The Nativity Story," in its opening weekend, in their third week out. They could have done a John Lennon, proclaiming, 'We're bigger than Jesus,' but they didn't. In fact, all they would say is, 'We had better publicity, that's all. Jesus is still cool with us.'"
"Happy Feet," the animated tale of a well-dressed penguin who's gotta dance and his singing friends, beat out the James Bond tale "Casino Royale" for the third consecutive weekend at the movie box office.
"Happy Feet" earned $17 million, running its 17-day total to $121 million, while Craig's Bond rang up $15.1 million for a 17-day total of $115.9 million. "The Nativity Story" collected a dismal $8 million, finishing in third place, despite opening in more than 3,100 theaters nationwide.
Copyright 2006 Douglas Salguod