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Polar Bears and Penguins

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He just wants to wake him up so he can ask for directions.

"Well, I'm down in the bay with the Eskimos
With the polar bears and the Arctic snows
With a party of penguins who do not know
How I can get back to thee."
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Supernaturally

The primary difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic is that one has polar bears and one has penguins — if you're lucky enough not to see them in the same place or one of them in the wrong place. Oh, and they're on opposite ends of the Earth, but who can remember which one is where? Certainly not Hollywood, which treats them as interchangeable lumps of ice to send doomed expeditions up. The (Ant)Arctic circle is full of snow, chasms, avalanches and those great big ice bridges that collapse just as the last person makes their way across. Cannibalism may be unavoidable. If one is lucky (or unlucky) you might find that weird hidden tropical valley filled with... interesting denizens.

In Christmas Specials, children's cartoons, and comics, there will literally be a South or North Pole that looks just like the striped poles outside barbers' shops.note  Christmas Elves, reindeer and Santa Claus will no doubt be somewhere nearby, at least in the case of the North Pole. For the record, the North Pole is a frozen sea and the South Pole is an actual frozen continent, but that doesn't come up much either. If it did, we might start wonderingnote  why Santa built his house not on a rock, but on a floating mass of ice.note 

Incidentally, the word "Arctic" actually comes from the Greek word for bear, Arktos. This is in origin nothing to do with polar bears, but refers to the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (the great and the small bear, respectively), which are always in the north as seen from Greece. However, it makes for a convenient mnemonic — the Arctic is the land of the bears, the Antarctic is the land opposite the bears. Of course, it's probably just easier to remember NORTH IS BEARS, SOUTH IS PENGUINS. Had early Germanic peoples not been afraid to name bears, we might have had a mnemonic like "Polar orthsnote  live up north."

A subtrope of Eskimo Land, since penguins in fiction also tend to live on the same continent as Inuits. See also Bears Are Bad News. On the other hand, the bears may also be Beary Funny, in which case both bears and penguins make for a real cool Rule of Funny. When penguins are used to represent cold environments without polar bears, you have Polar Penguins. Compare All Deserts Have Cacti, the warmer counterpart of this trope.

No Real Life Examples, Please! note 


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  • Coca-Cola mostly averts this. In one, they lampshade it. It may be justified, if the bears were travelers.
  • Kid Cuisine, a brand of frozen TV dinners, has a penguin and a polar bear as their mascots. (Though they're apparently smart enough to buy clothes, so maybe one of them got a plane ticket and flew to the other one's place.)
  • In a CapitalOne advertisement, they supposedly can only afford to go to Antarctica, even though a plane trip to Antarctica would cost MUCH more than a trip to an equatorial region. The commercial ends with the father pointing out that it's walrus mating season with a herd of walruses appearing onscreen, even though it was clearly stated to be Antarctica.
  • A promo for Netflix included sample clips from nonexistent movies in various genres, including a "documentary" that apparently plays this trope straight.
  • In the 1970s, TV adverts for Cresta soft drinks in the UK featured a polar bear with a retinue of penguins. (It's frothy, man!)

    Audio Plays 
  • The Big Finish Doctor Who, The Skies of New Earth has Solar Bears and Sky Penguins living together on the ice clouds of New Earth.

    Anime & Manga 
  • K-On!: While enduring an extreme summer heat, Yui and Ritsu have an Imagine Spot about being in an arctic environment which includes a penguin, a polar bear, and a woolly mammoth.
  • In one episode of the Lupin III: Part II series, Lupin tries to bring polar bears to the South Pole and the penguins to the North. Just to find some hidden treasure.
  • Penguin Musume Heart's lead is Sakura "Penguin" Nankyoku. Her rival is "Polar Bear" Marie. Convenient. Note: "Nankyoku" = "South Pole".

    Asian Animation 
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Joys of Seasons episode 47, which takes place on a snowy day, Wolffy steals the skins of polar bears and penguins he sees wandering about to use for himself. Besides the fact that polar bears and penguins don't live in the same place, the series takes place in China, where neither animal can be found.

    Board Games 

    Comic Books 
  • A scene in Avengers vs. X-Men showed Wolverine hiking through the snow of Antarctica wearing the skin of a polar bear he'd killed.
  • In one issue of the DC Comics Looney Tunes comic, Wile E. Coyote gets blasted to the South Pole and starts chasing the little top-hatted penguin.note  One of the coyote's misfired schemes results in him being attacked by a polar bear, which he protests (via sign of course) due to this very trope. It turns out the bear was on vacation.
  • The Transformers (Marvel): In the UK exclusive "Earthforce" continuity, many establishing shots of the Autobot base have polar bears, because Simon Furman really likes polar bears. This might also explain why, in Transformers: Beast Wars (2021), Polar Claw gets a memorable introduction.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Far Side. Gary Larson drew a few strips featuring this trope for the same reason he did strips with humans and dinosaurs living together: Rule of Funny. A typical example has a group of penguins on a small ice floe commenting on the ongoing rash of mysterious disappearances, while a polar bear sits among them, wearing a fake beak as a disguise. Larson later implies that at the time he made this particular drawing, he didn't know that polar bears and penguins don't live on the same pole.
  • Garfield has frequently talked about going to the North Pole to eat penguins. Nermal once caught on to his mistake.
  • An infamous French cartoon from around 1908 commented on the controversy over whether explorer Robert Peary had truly been the first man to reach the North Pole. He is shown surrounded by penguins.
  • A Soviet artist once drew a caricature about Eisenhower looking all over the Arctic for the Communist threat. Everyone laughed at him for making the trope mistake... until they learned Josef Stalin approved of the picture.
  • Justified in Arctic Circle; the main penguin trio are immigrants from Antarctica to the Arctic.
  • Stephan Pastis of Pearls Before Swine also drew a series of strips involving penguins being eaten by a polar bear. He also had the characters point out the geographical impossibility of this happening, just to head off any complaints from his readers.

    Eastern Animation 
  • In the Soviet cartoon Laughter and Grief by the White Sea, a man telling Tall Tales states that they have both white bears and penguins. The penguins, as he explains, do not live there, but do visit as tourists.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Dingo Pictures' version of Balto features not only a polar bear, but also penguins in Alaska.
  • In the Christmas Special Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, the young Kris Kringle runs into a penguin who is trying to find the South Pole. Kringle makes a point of noting that that pole is on the opposite end of the planet and "you're about as lost as you can get."
  • The Rescuers: Originally, the movie was actually going to be about Bernard and Miss Bianca trying to save a polar bear from an evil penguin.
  • Happy Feet: Averted. Despite being a movie about adorable dancing emperor penguins, not a single polar bear can be seen. In the sequel, Sven's flashbacks include polar bears, in order to display just how far he's come. He describes them as "titans", since the penguins he is telling his story to wouldn't know them by name.
  • Most recent penguin movies avert this trope; Surf's Up for example doesn't feature any mammal besides cetaceans and an otter.
  • The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea has Melody traveling up north to the Arctic, where she encounters penguins along with the standard Arctic fauna such as narwhals and walruses.
  • Subverted in the German kid’s film The Little Polar Bear. There is a penguin in the North Pole, but none of the animals recognize him or know what species he is, with the implication being that he’s from the South Pole and ended up north somehow.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas: There are penguins all over the place in Christmas Town, while a wind-up polar bear gives rides to young elves and Arctic animals appear on the carousel.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Elf, which portrays the North Pole as a magical land populated by clay-animation creatures and talking snowmen, supposedly would be able to get away with this. Instead, it averts it by having polar bears and puffins instead, which are arctic animals.
  • Batman Returns: The designers of the Gotham Zoo obviously swallowed this trope whole, since their aquatic exhibit features only penguins, yet is called Arctic World and is topped by a statue of a polar bear. Although "arctic" (small "a") is also an adjective meaning "extremely cold", which is a valid description of both polar regions. Furthermore, the film flirts with Misplaced Wildlife by having a capuchin monkey and a python both living in Arctic World. This is partly justified by having them be pets of the Red Triangle Circus Gang; however, as monkeys and pythons are both tropical creatures, one has to wonder how comfortable they were both in-universe and on the set. The monkey at least is dressed in human-like clothes (and has fur anyway); but how could that python, being a reptile and thus cold-blooded, have managed to avoid slipping into a coma and dying?
  • In Zombieland, Tallahassee compares the rumors of which region of America is still zombie-free to penguins in the North Pole thinking that the South Pole would be warmer. Columbus immediately calls him out on his In-Universe Factoid Failure. His response?
  • In Strategic Air Command, before leaving for Greenland, Dutch asks his wife what she'd like for a souvenir: "polar bear, penguin?" After crashing his plane, he does bring back a (plush) penguin. Apparently the Thule AFB gift shop is used to dealing with this trope.
  • The Early Films pioneer Georges Méliès has a rejoicing crowd of Arctic penguins wave to our heroes in his The Conquest Of The Pole.

  • Discworld: Thief of Time describes a south-drifting iceberg populated by polar bears and seals, seeking a better life in the southern hemisphere where the ice floes are lined with crunchy penguins (even better because in the UK, "Penguins" are a brand of crunchy biscuit). Too bad that darned Titanic was in the way....
  • The Father Christmas Letters: Justified. Father Christmas sends a picture featuring the Polar Bear and penguins dancing, explaining those penguins swam from the southern hemisphere to come to his aid.
  • Older Than Radio: Wyss's Swiss Family Robinson was riddled with an impossible concentration of animals and plants on an island. Penguins arrived in numbers on an island that's so close to the equator that it never snows — although penguins aren't restricted to snowy or frigid climes by any means, the Galapagos Penguin is the only surviving species that lives in outright tropical climates.
  • There's a book about Santa Claus which subverts this — Santa's workshop has a penguin population nearby, but they're noted as emigrating from the South Pole somehow (maybe stowing away at Santa's vacation spot). This particular breed has developed a bowtie-like spot on their chests.
  • One of Margery Sharpe's The Rescuers books (not the Disney films) manages to invoke and invert this at the same time: The titular characters, while on a mission to Antarctica, do run into polar bears. The bears admit that this isn't their home; they are on an exchange program with the Arctic Ocean.
  • Jez Alborough's delightful children's picture book Cuddly Dudley may not have any Polar Bears but it does manage to include an Eskimo — and trees — in the story of the titular penguin, who is just too cuddly for his own good.
  • The fact that penguins and polar bears aren't found in the same place provides the vital clue in one Encyclopedia Brown mystery. The deceased was a famous Arctic explorer who was missing a great deal of money. There were also eight stuffed penguins arranged in one of the exhibits in his home museum, the centerpiece of which was a taxidermied polar bear.
  • In Wings of Fire, there are seven kingdoms representing seven different biomes, each with wildlife that is normally found in differing places in the real world. So in the cold Ice Kingdom, there are both polar bears and penguins, among other animals.
  • Looming Gaia: There are penguins on both the north and south poles of Looming Gaia, and polar bears in the north. Justified, as Gaia created members of many species all over the planet.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Kenan & Kel episode "Natural Born Kenan", Kenan dreams about his "real" parents as snow people (Eskimos), they have a pet penguin which Kenan has to walk.
  • In one episode of QI, Stephen mentioned that penguins had few natural land predators, and Alan confidently mentioned that polar bears ate them. Stephen had to correct him.
  • Dave Gorman discusses this in the Modern Life Is Goodish episode "Winston Churchill's Pants" when examining the spurious "fun fact" that polar bears can eat 86 penguins in one sitting. He wonders how this could have been worked out, given that this could not happen in the wild:
    Dave: I've looked into it, London Zoo has only got about 60 penguins — as far as I can work out, this involves two very cruel zookeepers and a van!

  • Punk band Millencolin have a song called "Penguins and Polar Bears". Being from Sweden however, they're aware the two animals live far apart — in fact, the song is about two lovers who end hating each other, and includes the line "'Cause we're stuck in roles as other's antipoles".
  • The Moody Blues sang "Dr. Livingstone I presume", the second verse of which is about Captain Scott of the "Antartic"[sic] — who somehow meets polar bears.

    Puppet Shows 
  • In the episode of The Muppet Show featuring Gene Kelly, the very first musical number (Hank Williams's "Jambalaya") is performed by "The Endangered Species Chorus Line", which Kermit introduces as hailing from northern Canada (Arctic). However, it also includes penguins and leopard seals (both Antarctic).
  • The Christmas Special A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa plays with the trope. At the airport, the Muppets discover that they can get to the North Pole via North Pole Airline, and wonder who exactly would want to fly to the North Pole. The question is immediately answered by a pair of penguins, who enter the scene loudly declaring to each other that they can't wait to visit the North Pole because they're sick of the South Pole, and maybe they'll see some polar bears.

  • Justified in Embers in the Dusk, since it's another planet. The penguins are high level psykers, the bears are blanks.

    Video Games 
  • Club Penguin:
    • The main villain of the game is a polar bear named Herbert P. Bear who left the North Pole because he was sick of the cold and accidentally ended up all the way in the south.
    • Early in the developement, the developers planned to have the moderators use polar bear avatars, but this idea was scrapped so they won't attract too much attention.
  • Crazy Penguin Catapult: Both polar bears and penguins show up in this game fighting each other.
  • The first Endless Ocean plays this to the hilt. Then again, about half the wildlife is misplaced anyway due to the Rule of Fun, so it's not quite as noticeable. Endless Ocean Blue World averts the trope as part of getting to see marine life in more reasonable locations, and acknowledges the difference between diving in a frozen sea and next to a frozen continent.
  • The "Arctic" scenario from Repton Around the World.
  • FarmVille's 2009 Christmas event introduced a lost penguin arriving on your farm to be adopted by neighbors. If you posted it to your Facebook page, the description would note that the penguin had walked all the way from the North pole. There's lost, and then there's lost.
  • In the ending to Death Road to Canada, when you make it to Canada, there are both penguins and polar bears in the background. This is lampshaded.
  • This trope is avoided in one of the Magic School Bus computer games, The Magic School Bus: Animals. One of the minigames involves a penguin who got very, very lost and ended up at the North Pole rather than the South Pole Fridge Logic  You take control of the penguin and guide him across the world and back to the South Pole in Frogger-style levels.
  • One game for the iPad had you launch penguins across icy hills to escape a polar bear.
  • In Doki Doki Penguin Land and its sequels, polar bears are the penguin's enemies. Both species appear to be living underground. It's best not to think about it too much.
  • In World of Warcraft, the northern continent of Northrend — setting of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion — has both polar bears as common beasts and a couple penguin colonies. However, this is a fantasy world and not Earth.
  • Spy Vs Spy III: Arctic Antics. The game's creators were obviously not informed that penguins don't live in the Arctic.
  • Spelling Blizzard (sequel to Spelling Jungle), in which the player must make their way down the "glacial river", features both polar bears and penguins among their obstacles.
  • A downplayed example in Sonic Unleashed: Holoska contains penguins but no polar bears. It does, however, contain a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to the Inuit, who live where polar bears would live.
  • Some emperor penguins turn up on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean in the second Syberia game. Granted, this happens in a game where woolly mammoths turn out to be alive, so a mere case of Misplaced Wildlife seems minor by comparison.
  • Assassin's Creed Rogue: Some of the game takes place in the Arctic Circle, where the occasional flock of Great Auks can be glimpsed, since at the time, they haven't gone extinct, and the player can hunt polar bears.
  • The final stretch of ABZÛ includes an iceberg where you can find a small group of penguins and a sleeping polar bear. However, the game's setting involves enough ambiguity that it may not even be Earth.
  • Subnautica: Below Zero, similar to the World of Warcraft example, has the penguin-like Penglings and the polar bear-like Snow Stalkers inhabiting the same polar region on an alien world.
  • You can find Cubchoo and Beartic, the polar bear Pokémon, and Piplup, the penguin Pokémon, together in the Shivering Snowfields area of New Pokémon Snap.
  • In Wizard101, there is a world called Polaris, which is populated largely by penguins, polar bears, and walruses.

  • Wally and Osborne deliberately plays with this trope by placing Wally the polar bear in Antarctica, where he forms a Laurel and Hardy-style partnership with Osborne the penguin. How Wally got to Antarctica or why is never explained, although Osborne once suggested that Wally might be bipolar.
  • There's also South Pole, with a penguin, a polar bear, and an arctic fox at the South Pole. The strip's subtitle is Strangers in Antarctica, so the author is apparently aware that one or two of these don't belong here. The reason was finally explained in strip 73.
  • While there aren't any polar bears in Pokey the Penguin, there ARE a whole lot of penguins, and they all proudly live in the Arctic Circle.
  • During The Last Days of Foxhound, Liquid Snake wounds up in Alaska after using as Ejection Seat (from a helicopter). He incorrectly assumes that he's in the North Pole, and wonders why there aren't any penguins around. Then again, Liquid is an idiot.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Walter Lantz's cartoon penguin Chilly Willy is friends with a polar bear named Maxie. In the same vein of Arctic and Antarctic animals, Chilly Willy was twice paired with Woody Woodpecker's enemy Wally Walrus.
  • A U.S. Acres segment on Garfield and Friends plays with this. When reading a book, Orson's imagination gets away with him so badly that it impacts what everyone else perceives in the world around him. As Orson pulls out a book on the frozen north, he wonders to himself if he'll read about penguins. At this point, a penguin toddles up to Wade, who decides to pet it. Orson then realizes that polar bears, not penguins, live in the frozen north, and then penguin transforms into a polar bear, which sends Wade into a panic.
  • Chilly Beach, which was clearly set somewhere in Northern Canada, had a recurring character who was a polar bear with an English accent. His sidekick was a penguin.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • The Bugs Bunny cartoon Frigid Hare has him turning up at the South Pole, where a penguin is being pursued by an Eskimo.
    • Another Bugs Bunny cartoon, 8 Ball Bunny, has Bugs trying to return a lost penguin to the South Pole, only to get there and find out that this penguin is a native of Hoboken, New Jersey.
  • In one episode of Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get A Clue! a penguin can be seen while the titular characters and their robot butler are in the Arctic.
  • In Adventure Time, the Ice King says that it is natural for polar bears to eat penguins.
  • On Wild Kratts, the brothers debunk Jimmy's belief in this trope... only to be called to the Arctic because penguins have been sighted there. Turns out Donita had dumped them off at the wrong Pole after deciding they weren't good fashion accessories. Deconstructed as they find out the reason penguins don't live at the North Pole is because they are not built to deal with land predators like polar bears.
  • An episode of Evil Con Carne has Hector venturing into the Arctic to rally the misfits of the north, including Christmas elves, the Abominable Snowman and a penguin, into joining his plan to freeze the world. One of the misfits points out that penguins are actually from the Antarctic, only for the penguin to hiss back at him.
  • In the 1930 Silly Symphonies "Arctic Antics", polar bears, walruses, and penguins all make appearances.
  • The Lion Guard: Polar bears and penguins appear in the Tundra area of the Tree of Life during Season Three.
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends: In "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the realm of the penguin King Charlatan lies in the far north of the world.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Let's Go Fly a Coot", the Couch Gag depicts Homer, as a walrus, eating the rest of the family, who are penguins.