Saturday, May 12, 2007

Flightless and gormless

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Seriously, no more penguins.

I've had it! Get rid of them!

Not in the real world, I guess. Real penguins don't bother too many people. They're all right. They keep to their own little corner of the world, eat fish, flop around comically on giant sheets of ice for the amusement of documentarians, waddle around carrying eggs on their feet -- they live their adorable little penguin lives far, far away from the American zeitgeist.

In pop culture, though, penguins are becoming a pain. I can't watch a movie trailer lately without somebody trying to shoehorn a damn penguin in it.

Marching penguins! Clumsy penguins! Penguins cracking jokes! Penguins frolicking in African jungles! Penguins that talk like Edward G. Robinson! Penguins making fun of snooty French waiters! Penguins practicing salacious dance moves! Penguins mistaking nuns for other penguins!

Stop! No more penguins!

I swear, if another penguin tries to tap-dance his way into my heart, I'm buying a polar bear.

You can trace the penguin domination of modern film culture to "March of the Penguins" in 2005, a documentary about penguins crossing the Antarctic. I'm not too familiar with it -- unless penguins live in fantastic Upper West Side Manhattan apartments and kvetch about their neuroses, or penguins have aliens burst out of their fuzzy white chests, it's hard to keep me interested. But what I do know, "March of the Penguins" involves a lot of marching and a lot of penguins. Morgan Freeman narrates it. In the end, the penguin played by Tim Robbins breaks out of prison and raises his little flippers in the rain.

"March of the Penguins" became a surprise hit at the box office and made $77.4 million. According to the Sea World Web site, that comes out to almost 97 cents per penguin on Earth. That's almost enough to buy each of them a KFC Fish Snacker.

So that movie hits the jackpot, and next thing I know, every Hollywood studio is coming up with a zany animated movie and cramming a few penguins in it to cash in on the craze.

"Madagascar" in 2005, features four wacky, in-your-face penguins (named Famine, Pestilence, War and Death) who desperately want to escape a New York zoo and become plush toys and Happy Meal prizes. That movie made almost $200 million. They came back in the video short "The Madagascar Penguins in: A Christmas Caper." And then the penguin invasion really kicked into overdrive: More over-hyper penguins in "The Wild." A passel of pathetic, portly, pulchritudinous, imperiled penguins in "Saving a Species: The Great Penguin Rescue." Bob Saget's Cracked magazine-level "Farce of the Penguins." And "Happy Feet," which makes me most annoyed of all -- because if there's anything more saccharine than animated penguins it's animated fuzzy baby penguins who dance and win Oscars.

"Madagascar 2," with 33 percent more penguins than the leading brand, is due in 2008. So far, that's several hundred million dollars and an Academy Award some film flunkies have earned, just on penguins alone.

Honestly. Can't these penguins find other jobs? Must they keep taking acting gigs away from Americans?

It's always like this in Hollywood. Some fad makes a load of money, and you end up seeing that same thing over and over, each time more watered-down and tiresome than the last. Like dinosaurs. "Jurassic Park" was fine, but by "Carnosaur," parts 1, 2 and especially 3, I was ready to commit self-extinction. Or Australians -- somehow, we started with "Crocodile Dundee" but ended up with Yahoo Serious.

My wife and I were at the movies recently, and before the movie came on -- right after the third warning to shut off our cell phones, which caused several people to phone up the management and complain -- we saw a trailer for a movie called "Surf’s Up."

Guess what?

Surfing penguins! With attitude.

"Sheesh!" I hissed to my wife, images of penguin flippers flickering across my face in the dark. "One penguin documentary makes some money, and now every movie's about penguins! Creativity is dead!"

To my right, a short guy with a big nose wearing a tuxedo waved a glossy black mitten at me. "Ssssh!" he said.

We watched "Spider-Man 3," by the way. I kept waiting for a crossover, with The Penguin from "Batman" showing up to do a tap-dance. While I daydreamed, I thought of other animals that need a break in Hollywood:

Sloths. Nobody's ever given a sloth its own picture, yet sloths are so interesting. Did you know that sloths sleep 15 to 18 hours a day and their fur is covered in algae -- which they then lick off when they get hungry? You'd see that in "March of the Sloths," a 38-hour documentary about one sloth's magical journey from its tree branch to a few feet farther down the same tree branch.

Barnacles. Meet Billy! Billy the Barnacle! It's one barnacle's magical journey, clinging underwater to various objects. He lives, he learns, he loves. In the end, though, he washes up on Horseneck Beach, where an old Portuguese lady picks him up and sucks him out of his shell and eats him raw.

Dodos. To hell with the penguin. This is a bird that can sell tickets. Everyone thinks it's been extinct for centuries. Turns out it's on the lam from the cops. Accused of a crime it didn't commit. The dodo's magical journey gets interrupted when he's railroaded into prison. We'll get Morgan Freeman to narrate. In the end, the dodo (played by Tim Robbins) breaks out, raises its wings into the rainy sky, and flies away -- or marches, or whatever dodos do. Did. Anyway, it's never to be seen again, until the sequels.

1 comment:

Laura C. Monteiro said...

Fancy meeting you here in blog world. I totally agree about the penguins. Enough is enough, right?

Glad to see you're doing well. Although I haven't had my blog as long has you have, you'll be happy to see that I am still the train wreck I always was.

Laura :o)

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