P-P-P-P-Pick up a Penguin
On a chilly weekend in mid-November a diminutive tap-happy penguin by the name of Mumble beat out James Bond for the number one spot at the US box office, the margin almost as close as a hanging chad. Neither production had reason to be glum: both took in a whopping $41 million over the course of just three days.
Business as usual for Bond, perhaps, but further confirmation of the incredible appetite for animated animals. Hard to believe that just 15 years ago animation seemed to be on its last legs: Disney still monopolised the market, but the studio had lost touch with its audience, and traditional cel animation was so labour-intensive and expensive, it looked like the genre might go the way of the musical.
Instead, the animated musical made a comeback in hits like The Lion King, and Pixar rejuvenated the art form with computer-generated crowd-pleasers like Toy Story and A Bug's Life. Now every studio in Hollywood has an animation arm, and they're churning out computer generated family films by the dozen, with movie stars flocking to do the honours on the mic.
This year we've had quite a menagerie. Owen Wilson played a sports car and Kathleen Turner was a house, but these are mere novelty items. Animals have ruled the roost. Queen Latifah impersonated a mammoth; Bruce Willis played a raccoon; Julia Roberts and Nicolas Cage were ants; Martin Lawrence was a grizzly bear; Courteney Cox a cow; Kate Winslet a rat; William Shatner a wildebeest; and Robbie Williams a corgi. (And they say it's to escape typecasting!)
This particular field is beginning to look seriously over-crowded, but evidently the real stars were biding their time for the opportunity to pull on that tuxedo and flap: Happy Feet boasts box office muscle from Lord of the Rings (Elijah Wood), X-Men (Hugh Jackman), Batman Forever (Nicole Kidman), The Matrix (Hugo Weaving), Sin City (Brittany Murphy) and, uh, Death to Smoochy (Robin Williams). And after all, who wouldn't want to play a penguin, given half a chance? Cute yet resilient, agile but comical, steadfast yet oh-so-progressive when it comes to child-minding - this is how actors like to see themselves. And with impeckable dress sense too.
You might be surprised to hear that Happy Feet was in production two years before March of the Penguins became box office gold, but for birds that can't fly the little critters do get around: they practically stole Madagascar and made a comeback in The Wild. Swiss star Pingu made over 100 episodes of his popular claymation TV show. Dick van Dyke danced with them in Mary Poppins. John Hurt froze through the winter with them in Mr Forbush And The Penguins. Drew Barrymore ran one over in 50 First Dates. There's an evil penguin, Feathers McGraw, in Wallace and Gromit's The Wrong Trousers - with a rubber glove on his head - and Danny De Vito played a heavy by the name of Oswald Cobblepot in Batman Returns. And when Edward Norton came to pppick his 'power animal' in Fight Club… well, you already know, what else could it be?
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