Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Jim Carrey Stars in Overhaul of Beloved Children’s Classic

Published by Richard and Florence Atwater in 1938, Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a popular children’s novel about a house painter who can’t afford to see the world anywhere but in his dreams because he has a wife and kids to support. However, his life changes the day a penguin arrives in the mail in response to a letter he writes to an admiral exploring Antarctica.
First, Popper acquires a female mate from an aquarium so his new pet won’t be lonely, and the next thing you know she’s giving birth to ten babies. He then gets a chance to tour the country after training the penguins as a circus act. In the end, however, he decides that forcing them to perform was unfair, so he takes them to the Arctic to free them in the Northern wild.
The film version of Mr. Popper’s Penguins was directed by Mark Waters, a proven master of kiddie fare between Mean Girls and the remake of Freaky Friday. Starring Jim Carrey in the title role, the picture bears little resemblance to the original timeless, children’s classic. But the story is nonetheless just as likely to delight young and old alike.
This incarnation of Tom Popper is divorced, not married; rich, not poor; and out of touch with nature, not in touch with it. At the point of departure, the successful Manhattan real estate magnate inherits a half-dozen penguins. Behaving in a manner suggested by their descriptive names, Stinky, Lovey, Bitey, Loudy, Captain and Nimrod proceed to turn his posh, penthouse apartment upside-down.
There is much to keep any audience in stitches, here, from the profusion of poop deposited on poor Popper, which allows for lots of reaction shots on the part of the rubber-faced Carrey. He is also hit in the head and the crotch by soccer balls kicked by his emotionally-estranged children, daughter, Janie (Madeline Carroll), and son, Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton). Just as funny is the alliteration flowing from the mouth of his personal assistant, Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), whose every other word seems to start with the letter “p,” from “I can pamper the penguins.” to “You need to procure your promotion.”
Although the exasperated workaholic initially sees the anthropomorphic pets as a total nuisance, of course, they ultimately help him reconcile with his kids and his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) after a realization that family is far more important than making money. The film also features a couple of cute subplots, one involving a nosy zookeeper (Clark Gregg) determined to rescue the penguins, the other, about an owner (Angela Lansbury) reluctant to sell Popper the Tavern on the Green restaurant.
Jim Carrey’s silliest animal vehicle since Ace Ventura!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for rude humor and mild epithets.
Running time: 95 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

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