MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS barely registers.

Contributor; Chicago, Illinois
MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS barely registers.

The top three reasons to avoid seeing JIm Carrey's latest film:

1. You read the book growing up and don't want to see it updated into a forgettable piece of family fluff. 

2. You simply can't deal with the completely illogical plot.

3. Who needs another reason.

Such a sweet film is hard to criticize. I certainly won't bother dissecting it as a film. This is exactly the sort of inoffensive family fare one expects from an American studio. But of course that is hardly a recommendation. The book was a charming turn of the century yarn about a middle aged man who longs to travel North but who has had to settle for the more practical adventure of raising a family and being a small town house painter. Perpetually ruffled and rumpled, the kind, unassuming Mr. Popper receives an unexpected crate from Admiral Byrd containing a penguin. Soon Popper finds himself feeding  and housing a whole houseful of them and going bankrupt to boot. His solution, training the birds as a musical acrobatic act sets him and his family on the road to fame, fortune and hilarious misadventures.

This retelling adds in all the usual stuff one sees these days in family movies. The Popper's are divorced. Dad is a high powered heartless exec with his own daddy issues who needs to connect with real life and family. Everybody lives in super nice houses way beyond the average viewers pay grade. Do I have to tell you how it ends? Do you even care at this point? What if we add in an evil zookeeper who wants the penguins for himself?  As a period piece this could have been a real showcase for Carrey. But here he seems deliberately low-key. Little to no use is made of his ability to do physical comedy and his character is completely stock. That's too bad because the movie could use some energy. 

The penguins are fun to watch in a low-key sort of way but one always has the feeling that you are watching a group of generally ill-behaved children that have decided to act good for the day. A second act bit of melodrama concerning an unhatched egg that provides Potter a spiritual reawakening isn't very well written and showcases the film's basic flaw. It comes dangerously close to being ....boring. A bad Jim Carrey movie? Sure. But a boring one?!

That criticism in place it is interesting to note that director Mark Waters has made some very good films including the very funny and insightful Mean Girls (2004) and wondrous and thrilling The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008). One could almost forgive him his last film The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009), but he only just manages to keep this movie at all interesting. One gets a sense that Waters thinks his movie is more whimsical than anything else but whimsy is awfully hard to generate when your story lacks anything original. When Popper turns his apartment into a winter wonderland for the birds it seems less whimsical than patently deranged. This movie desperately needed to take place in a world of it's own instead of the patently real world approach Waters takes. 

My kids, ages seven and eleven, enjoyed this film, but just as promptly forgot about it after seeing it. Perhaps that's best. My wife and I read the book to them when they were boh quite young. In fact it was the first longer book read to them and a copy of it still sits in my office where I smile at the memory. Will anyone remember this film that way? I'd lay money not. 

Mr. Popper's Penguins

  • Mark Waters
  • Sean Anders (screenplay)
  • John Morris (screenplay)
  • Jared Stern (screenplay)
  • Richard Atwater (novel)
  • Florence Atwater (novel)
  • Jim Carrey
  • Carla Gugino
  • Angela Lansbury
  • Ophelia Lovibond
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Mark WatersSean AndersJohn MorrisJared SternRichard AtwaterFlorence AtwaterJim CarreyCarla GuginoAngela LansburyOphelia LovibondComedyFamilyFantasy

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