3 penguins from pop culture that waddled right into our hearts

penguins neil turner flickr

It’s World Penguin Day today, folks, and that means we pay tribute to the flightless, tuxedo-wearing shore dwellers we know and love.

Cape Town is particularly important in this regard, hosting one of the world’s few African penguin populations. But beyond the city’s shores, penguins have their own special place in pop culture.

Today, we take a look at the moments these lovable critters waddled into our hearts.

DC’s The Penguin: from laughing stock to best DC villain

Okay… maybe not waddled…

The most ominous and possibly evil example of a penguin is of course The Penguin.

Perhaps most famously portrayed to modern audiences by Danny DeVito in 1992’s Batman Returns and Robin Lord Taylor in Gotham, Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot was created by Bill Finger and Bob Cane in the 1940s.

Although not literally a penguin, Cobblepot is effectively a demented, rejected human being handed the short straw by life, and subsequently donned a top hat, long-tail tuxedo and monocle. As one does. His large nose in some depictions also furthers the small, flightless bird comparison.

The latest depiction of The Penguin by Taylor though changes this perception.

He is the most suave, methodical and ruthless there’s ever been. Once for comic relief, The Penguin is now a maniacal modern day villain.

Pingu: penguins, claymation and Penguinese

With no malicious feather on his body, Pingu is a stop-motion clay penguin who lives life to the fullest.

The kids series ran for over 150 episodes, spanning six seasons and well over three decades. That’s quite remarkable considering that there’s not much you can really do living in Antarctica, human being or penguin.

Pingu’s self-contained narrative in episode is fairly simple, and usually involves the penguin causing a ruckus, and solving it before the five-minute short ends. There were longer versions of the show (one special ran for well over 20 minutes), but it’s the earlier episodes that are most memorable to those born before Twitter was a thing.

As for Pingu’s voice? That’s Carlo Bonomi — an Italian clown who became synonymous with the protagonist’s moot-moot catchphrase and the language of Penguinese.

Happy Feet: penguins’ real breakthrough into pop culture?

If there’s one show other than Pingu, the sadistic Penguin or March of the Penguins that have cemented these flightless birds into the slate of pop culture, it’s Happy Feet.

Debuting in 2006, the animated musical feature film starred Elijah Wood as a penguin who was just too shy to dance. Because, you know, penguins dance to attract mates in this universe.

Nevertheless, it’s a bildungsroman that explored themes of love, hierarchies in society and, of course, lipsyncing, and appealed to the young and young at heart. It bagged an Oscar for Best Picture, a BAFTA for Best Animated Feature and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. It won pretty much all the awards.

It was a simply iconic movie.

Do you have a favourite penguin from pop culture that stole your heart? Let us know in the comments section below.

Feature image: Neil Turner via Flickr (CC 2.0, resized)

Andy Walker
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