Hollywood studios see greenbacks in them thar flightless waterfowl

The summer’s big hit documentary isn’t about the antics of political weasels, or children at spelling bees; it’s a nature film about flightless Antarctic waterfowl. French-made March of the Penguins, a heartstring-yanking saga about emperor penguins, cost $7 million to make. It’s already earned over $10 million in North America, after making over $12 million in France. This profit ratio thrills Hollywood execs, who have learned a lesson: not that audiences love films about the natural world, or documentaries, or just good movies — no, that audiences love … penguins. “They feel a lot like an adorable version of humans,” says Mark Gill of Warner Bros., which plans to release an animated movie about a tap-dancing penguin in late 2006. Sony Pictures will come out with its own feature-length ‘toon centering on “the high-octane world of competitive penguin surfing,” while Disney has green-lighted a film described as “a Ben Affleck romantic comedy, except with penguins.” Let’s hope no penguins are harmed in the making.