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An insider's guide to penguins

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(CNN) -- They're cute, furry and flightless, but they've been accused of being behind "far left propaganda," and knocking the world's deadliest spy his box office perch. Here we explain the penguin phenomenon taking the world by storm.

What's all the fuss about?

"Happy Feet," a computer-animated romp about dancing penguins has been a huge success at cinemas in the past month. The film centers around Emperor penguins, a species that communicates through song. The lead character is a young penguin called Mumble who cannot carry a tune, but has a talent for tap-dancing.

The animated hit features voices of Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Robin Williams and comes with an environmental message, something that has put it in the firing line by critics who say it is too political to be a children's movie.

One U.S. television anchor called it an animated version of Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."

"Happy Feet" beat the much-hyped James Bond film "Casino Royale" to No. 1 in box office takings, where it stayed for three weekends. The penguin musical, made by Warner Bros., was also voted the New York critics' choice for best animated film.

One film and we were sold?

The penguin phenomenon started a year ago with the French-made flick "The March of the Penguins," which won this year's Best Documentary Oscar. Long-loved Plasticine penguin Pingu, the lead character out of the Swiss animated children's television series of the same name, is also back in the fold, with a CD out.

Why are the squat, flightless creatures so loveable?

With their arm- and flipper-like wings, the flightless birds totter around on land on two legs and look a bit clumsy. They transform their bodies to create the perfect shape for swimming, moving quickly and appearing dolphin-like and graceful underwater.

Following "The March of the Penguins," there was a lot of discussion about penguins' great parenting skills. During the cold season, parents separate for several months to protect the egg. The male stays with the egg and keeps it warm, and the female goes out to sea and finds food so that when it comes home, the baby will have food to eat. Once the female comes back, they switch. Penguins are also monogamous, but usually only for a year.

Emperor penguins are the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species and the only species that breeds during the winter in Antarctica. The total population, considered stable, is 150,000-200,000 breeding pairs.

Do I have to go to Antarctica to see them in action?

Penguins do not need to live on ice -- only four species live around ice flows, snow, and frozen seas of Antarctica -- they need to live near an ocean with cold water currents, including on or near the South Island of New Zealand. Penguins only live in the southern hemisphere; on the coasts of the southernmost continents and islands and Antarctica.

In New Zealand's North Island, in the city of Auckland, you can also find penguins. The Antarctic Encounter at aquarium Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World has an impressive simulated environment that closely mimics the penguins' natural habitat in Sub-Antarctic Islands, with fresh snow, real ice and freezing temperatures.

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Mumble, the lead character in "Happy Feet," is a part of the current buzz over penguins.

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