Title: Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Director: Mark Waters
Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern, based on the children’s book by Richard Atwater and Florence Atwater
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ophelia Lovibond, Carla Gugino, Madeline Carroll, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Angela Lansbury, Philip Baker Hall, Dominic Chianese, Clark Gregg
MPAA Rating: PG, mild rude humor and some language
Runtime: 94 min
Major Awards: -
IMDb Rating: 5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
I didn’t really like Mr. Popper’s Penguins, it was just too predictable and it played it safe all the time with its jokes. But it’s a PG family-oriented film so we can forgive that, not to mention that Jim Carrey was still fun to watch at times, and even though I thought he was too restrained by the material it at least makes the film better than I initially thought it would be. It’s sort of like the opposed feeling I got when watching Green Lantern yesterday, even though I ultimately liked that film better than I did this one I still felt it was a disappointment because I expected more from it, while I expected this one to be seriously bad and it turned out slightly better than that (but just slightly). And that’s really one of the better things I can say about this very loose adaptation of the popular children’s book, that it’s not quite as bad as I first envisioned it was going to be.
And I think that this is the film that will finally proof that as awesome as penguins are, you can’t just throw them in any movie and have them amp up the film’s charisma exponentially. I mean, sure, the penguins here, which Mr. Carrey’s character inherits from his father, look cute and whatnot, and they made for very fun promotional material, but once you find out that the movie is this dumb at parts, you’ll soon grow tired of these penguins which aren’t really given all that much to do, and that’s when my issue with Mr. Carrey comes into play. If you know me, then you’ll know I really like this guy, he seems like one of the nicest guys in show business, a hard worker, and has given us indelible performances, both in comedies and dramas, but the way he was used in this one I just really didn’t like. Not that it’s his fault, he does the most out of what he’s given, but what he was given meant we saw a Jim Carrey that was way too passive and considering he was the sole star of the film we really needed the classic frantic Mr. Carrey to make this one funner, to make the penguins funny, actually, but he was nowhere to be found.
And if you’re still mad about me trashing the penguins, please know that I actually love penguins, I loved March of the Penguins and I thought Happy Feet was quite good, but that’s just the thing, Mr. Popper’s Penguins isn’t a documentary that will let you fully lose yourself in the world of these adorable animals, nor is it an animated film that will make them come to live and do all these silly things (and in today’s market they’d probably be silly things in 3D), they are penguins (some real, some CGI) that are put in a real environment and you see them being awfully limited by it. So that’s another thing I thought didn’t work here.
Jim Carrey is Mr. Popper, this guy who’s involved in some high class real estate business and who as a consequence is super wealthy, and lives the good life in this huge Manhattan duplex which is decorated in this very minimalistic style, and will soon be invaded by the flock of penguins that was somehow passed down to him by his father. He has two kids and is divorced from Amanda, their mom, but he’s on super good terms with her, even to the point in which you don’t believe them as a divorced couple, even though we get the gist that Mr. Popper neglected her and his kids as his father once neglected him, but whatever. He obviously will eventually fall in love with the little penguins and you know there’ll be attempts at funny sight gags with them and then attempts at some sort of sentimental moment with them, and while they’re certainly well-intentioned I just didn’t really think this one pulled any of it off. And yes, of course the little penguins will make him notice how he neglected his family and it’ll all be better.
Then, I have another problem with this film, and that’s the fact that as cute as penguins may be it’s kind of dumb to assume you’ll be able to keep them. And yes, I know this is a kids movie and little ones I’m sure will get a kick about these lovely creatures roaming a fancy Manhattan apartment, but Mr. Popper is supposed to be a grown-up, and when you have a film in which the villain character is the zookeeper played by Clark Gregg then you really can’t but into it considering that in reality this is the one guy that’s being rational, and thus the whole movie just stops working for you.
This is a family film that suffered from being just that. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is obviously material for a family flick, but this one lived and breathe by the rules set by one, even to the point in which it tried to reign in Mr. Carrey and made CGI-created animals the focus of most of the gags in the movie when you have one of the best physical comedy actors in the world as your star, I just didn’t get that. But still, when they do give Mr. Carrey his moments to shine, many of them next to the incomparable Angela Lansbury, then this film feels as though it’s lighting a spark, but then the penguins come along and extinguish it just as fast.