Directed by: Mark Waters
Starring: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Ophelia Lovibond, Madeline Carroll
There are worse Jim Carrey movies than Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and there are worse Jim Carrey performances (just think about his green-tights-and-ham performance in The Grinch). That doesn’t keep Mr. Popper from being yet another workaholic, neglectful dad/husband yarn so beloved by the folks who crank out “family friendly” fare. It hits the whole laundry list of cliches for such movies, but possibly ups the flatulence and feces quotient thanks to its covey of penguin co-stars. Those two surefire elements are guaranteed to please the 4-year-olds and other discerning viewers, I suppose.
If you’re expecting anything even slightly related to the 1938 book that’s been an elementary school perennial for 70-plus years, you’ll be better off disabusing yourself of that idea from the onset. (When the studio called it a “contemporary adaptation,” you should’ve seen that coming.) There’s a Mr. Popper (Carrey), there are penguins, and ... well, that’s about it. That would matter less if the replacement material was even slightly inspired. But apart from the notion that penguins can be endlessly entertained by Charlie Chaplin movies (resulting in some peculiar, but rather charming, uses of the Chaplin scores on the films carrying over into the next scene), there’s just not that much here.
The plot revolves around whiz-bang real-estate agent Popper receiving a live penguin as a legacy from his late father. When he tries to have it sent back, the man on the phone thinks he wants more, and so five more arrive. Unfortunately, his semi-estranged children are taken with the critters and it proves hard to get rid of the animals. Of course, the penguins are also Popper’s path to redemption. We have cardboard villains—two of them, in fact, though one of them inconclusively vanishes and the other suffers from unclear motivations. We have heart-string tugging, a painfully obvious plot twist, and an ending that doesn’t entirely make sense.
And we have penguins—six of the feathery fellows—of the Gentoo variety, not Emperor penguins as Fox originally claimed. There’s no denying that the penguins are cute, even if they are very obviously being made to to things no penguin in its right mind would do without the help of CGI. Actually, from an adult perspective, the birds are most likely the only thing that keeps the movie from being something akin to relentless water torture. Whether that’s enough is a personal matter, but if you aren’t taking a wee nipper to the movies and don’t find yourself reviewing the thing, I’d bear it in mind. Rated PG for mild rude humor and some language.