Mr. Popper's Penguins
Those of you who, like us, saw the trailer and perhaps genuinely believed someone had greenlit a post-it note from a development executive's office that read: "Something with Jim Carey and penguins…?" can breathe easy. There is actual source material behind this kid friendly mash-up of Jim Carey's live-action, rubber-limbed hysteria and a troupe of cute-as-a-button CGI penguins.
It's like this. Loudy, Stinky, Lovey, Nimrod, Bitey and Captain are the six penguins that take over the life of real estate tycoon Tom Popper (Jim Carrey) in what is essentially a harmless and charming winter tale for kids and patient parents. Mr. Popper’s Penguins, based on the best-selling novel by Florence and Richard Atwater, is directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls) and co-stars Carla Gugino (Watchmen), Clark Gregg (The New Adventures of Old Christine) and Angela Lansbury (Murder She Wrote).
Tom is on the verge of making a huge deal with his client Mrs. Van Gundy (Lansbury) for his company when he unexpectedly receives a penguin in the mail. And then five more come. While Tom initially sees the birds as a nuisance, he begins to warm-up and bond with them, especially when his “pets” bring him closer to his ex-wife Amanda (Gugino) and their two kids Janie (Madeline Carroll, Good Luck Charlie) and Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton). As for the obligatory blowhard trying to ruin the bliss, that role is filled by zoo official Nat Jones (Gregg), who believes that living with Tom will be harmful to the birds’ health.
This family comedy doesn’t have anything close to the sophistication of a Pixar movie but it is good-natured, clean fun. As expected, much of the laughs and enjoyment come from Carrey and his interactions with the loveable birds. Carrey’s performance here is energetic and skillful; the man is a natural comedian with a malleable face and body. The penguins are adorable and thankfully they don’t speak, though that doesn’t stop them from having funny “personalities.”
Carla Gugino, who is such an underrated and underused actress, again used her very presence to help make the movie more remarkable. While we do wish her character perhaps moved beyond the irritated ex-spouse cliche, we also understand that she’s not the focus of the plot. Angela Lansbury is her usual self, classy and sassy. Clark Gregg makes for a good comic villain, and the rest of the supporting cast is decent.
Of course there are many spectacularly silly set pieces, one of the best being when the penguins take over the Guggenheim Museum. Waters stages the scene with a strong comic momentum that we really weren’t expecting with this fluffy kid’s movie.
On the downside, much of the comedy really is aimed at the under-ten crowd, and there really isn’t anything for adults to take away for themselves. The message of the movie is bland, but then again anyone expecting something profound from this sort of thing is perhaps delusional. This is an enjoyable but definitely not flawless comedy. Nothing more, nothing less.