the pulse

They'll be coming soon to an iceplex near you

If we have learned anything from what went down in Hollywood in 2006 — besides the fact that celebrities will name their kids pretty much anything that happens to pop into their heads — it's that one group has emerged triumphant against all odds. Its members are at their best when things turn frigid and demanding, rendering them impervious to the typical forces that might hold others at bay: penguins.

In case you haven't heard, these aquatic, flightless birds currently rule show business, presiding with an iron flipper. They're ridiculously cute and cuddly and seem to know it. What's more, they're often monogamous and uncommonly gender-enlightened, with the guys staying behind to sit and keep the egg warm. Some of them are even gay!

Over the past few years, it has become clear that the waddlers want more than simple industry recognition. They aim to rule.

And now, of course, they do. The proof is abundant and irrefutable. In 2005, "March of the Penguins" hauled in an astonishing $77 million at the U.S. boxoffice, the second-highest total for a documentary feature ever. This year, the animated, emperor penguin-themed "Happy Feet" has shot past $200 million internationally (including more than $10 million on big-format Imax screens alone) and is still going more than strong.

But why penguins? Why not koalas or sea otters or hamsters? Dolphins have had their day. So have dogs and cats and mice. But this penguin thing is almost like a societal shift. Mind you, it isn't because they're really so much to look at. They're well-dressed but blubbery. And let's face it: At the end of the day, they all resemble Danny DeVito.

Nonetheless, I think it's obvious where this is all heading as we look toward 2007 and beyond. The penguins' time has arrived, and studios and television networks are no doubt already prepped to strike while these creatures are at the height of their glory. But where is the next great penguin project going to come from?

What seemingly makes the most sense would be a reimagining of many of Hollywood's past film epics to accommodate the accelerating penguin-as-cultural-icon explosion.

A few of the more obvious ones would be "The Penguin of Oz" ("Follow the icicle road …"); "One Flew Over the Penguin's Nest" (same plot, just set at a facility in Greenland); "Midnight Penguin" (a naive penguin in New York befriends a sickly one); "North Pole Story" (a musical about rival penguin colonies); "Dances With Penguins" (the tale of a cold weather-loving Civil War lieutenant with an odd thing for penguins); "Penguin Without a Cause" (a rebellious penguin with a troubled past hits town); and "There's Something About Pengy" (a penguin meets up with his dream penguin from his youth).

Some others might include "Penguins of the Lost Auk" (penguins search for their extinct Southern Hemisphere ancestors); "A Place in the Ice" (penguins learn the ice-fishing business from the bottom up); "Some Like It Cold" (male penguins impersonate females, but no one can tell the difference); "A Penguin in Paris" (penguin unexpectedly finds romance in the City of Love); "The Maltese Penguin" (everyone is after a gold-encrusted statue of a penguin containing priceless jewels); and "Guess Who's Coming to Antarctica?" (a royal penguin brings a yellow-eyed penguin mate back home to meet the parents).

At the very least, someone needs to come up with a socially relevant TV sitcom about a penguin family headed by an intolerant, bird-hating patriarch. The title? Why, "All in the Colony," of course.