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Penguins: Promoting Polar Awareness While Melting Our Hearts
(Released August 2012)

podcast link 
  by Natalie Abram  


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Penguin Infatuation


From appearances alone, penguins seem to be the happiest birds on the planet.  Their beaks curve up in a smile.  Their widespread wings look outstretched in a perpetual welcoming hug.  They seem so approachable.  Even though most humans do not live near colonies of penguins, the friendly symbol has made its way into all aspects of popular culture.           

Movies, documentaries, books

Why are penguins such great leading stars in movies, animations and documentaries?  One researcher suggests that they are pawns in a new genre of film.  “Within the growing field of ecocinema studies, in this opening chapter I further define the cultural logic of ecology and demonstrate how the historical roots of the contemporary film melodrama are intertwined with capitalism and climate change making these particular films key sites for locating hegemonic social and environmental perceptions…” (Rust 5). The ecological perspective in cinema is a new field.  If worldwide problems such as global warming, sea ice reduction, and overfishing can be brought to light masked in penguin cuteness, then producers are doing their jobs well. Just like morals hidden in fables, these environmental problems hidden in plain sight of penguin movies achieves its purpose to educate the masses with as little strain as possible.

"March of the Penguins (2005) and Happy Feet (2006) examine the ideologically charged media role played by Emperor penguins as megafauna mascots of the warming planet” (Rust 5-6). These films did very well at the box office.  Both were nominated for an Oscar, and March of the Penguins won an Oscar for Best Documentary.  Surf’s Up (2008) and the Madagascar movies (2005-2012) also had penguins in the leading animated roles.  In each film, the penguins do funny things and audiences everywhere burst out in laughter.  Penguins naturally provide a source of entertainment, while, “[s]ome studio executives say that by the time Surf’s Up debuted, moviegoers were suffering from penguin fatigue. (Sappell 2008)

Other movies feature penguins as leading protagonists without speaking parts.  Some of those include 50 First Dates (2004), Good Luck Chuck (2007), and Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2012).  In those comedies, humans do the talking and the penguins do the acting in the background.  Animal handlers cue the birds behind the scenes and watch out for proper treatment.  Hollywood loves stories that catch the audience’s attention and play into future marketing schemes.  The penguin then is perfectly viewable on screen and off-screen. “They look adorable, walk upright, and we like to think they share our emotions-attributes that seem to be a winning combination for movie-goers” ("Why Are Penguins" 2006).  Penguin-palooza in cinema will hopefully continue for years to come!   

Here is a list of Penguins in Popular culture:


Medium (Date)

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Book (1938)

Chilly Willy

Cartoon (1950’s)

Tennessee Tuxedo

Cartoon (1960’s)

The Penguin (Batman Series)

Actor in costume and DC Comic Strip (1960’s-present)

Pittsburgh Penguins (Pete the Penguin, now Iceburgh)

Hockey Team and Mascots (1967-present)

Neurotic Penguin Opus

Comic Strip (1980’s)

Feathers McGraw

Cartoon (1993)


Mascot for Linux Software (2000’s)

Admiral, Chill, Frigid, Pablo, Slapshot, Toboggan, Tux, Waddle, Zero

Penguin Ty Beanie Babies© Plush Toy (1995present)

Pablo the Penguin

The Backyardigans Cartoon (2004-present)

Disney’s Club Penguin©

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) (2005-present)

Mumble, Lovelace, Gloria, Memphis, Norma Jean, and Ramon

Happy Feet Cartoon (2006)

Cody, Zeke and Lani

Surf’s Up Cartoon (2007)

Squishable Penguins (Mini, Micro, Massive)

Stuffed Plush (2007-present)

K.C. Penguin

Kid Cuisine Frozen Meals Mascot

Skipper, Kowalski, Private and Rico

Penguins of Madagascar Cartoon, Television Show, Video Game, McDonald’s© Toys (2009-present)

Pillow Pets©

Stuffed Plush (2011-present)

Table Two: Lead characters in movies, books, toys, or cartoons. (Glaser 2006).


Each holiday, stores are filled with toys, figurines, and ornaments with penguins in a variety of fashions.  Most penguins sport a Santa hat or scarf.  Throughout the year, other stuffed penguin toys can be found.  Beanie Babies© have a wide variety of species with names and bios.  Club Penguin© is a tween social media site where kids play games, earn tokens and buy decorations for their igloo or new clothes to change.  House goods such as serving ware, rugs, dish towels, dishes, blankets, linens, pillows and bathroom accessories can be found in department stores with penguins plastered on them.  Lastly, penguins have been sewn onto clothing, socks and sweaters for years.  Each winter brings new colors, varieties and styles for the penguin enthusiast.

All penguin toys are not just for children.  Swarovski© crystal introduced penguin figurines and charms into its high-end collection.   Penguin jewelry in the form of rings, earrings, necklaces, charms, watches and bracelets can be found year-round in stores and on the internet.  Gold, Platinum, bronze, gems, and diamonds all come together beautifully illustrating the penguin physique.  Plastic and cement statues can decorate gardens and yards, while giant holiday inflatable displays light up the outdoors.  Collectors around the world spend millions of dollars supporting their favorite polar bird. 
Sports Teams

Pittsburgh Penguin mascot Iceburgh
NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins mascot, Iceburgh

Sports bring further penguin memorabilia to the public.  Two specific teams have penguins as their mascot.  First, there is the NHL Pittsburgh penguin named Iceburgh.  Originally the team’s top penguin was named Penguin Pete.  Naming contests later on selected Iceburgh as a play on words with Ice and Pittsburgh.  This mascot perfectly suits the team because the arena is nicknamed the ‘Igloo.’ These penguins literally hit the ice during hockey season and do not stop until the team’s season ends.   Then there are the American Hockey League Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with a mascot named Tux that play separately from the National Hockey League.  These athletes skate, slip and slide on the ice just like the penguins do in the wild. 

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