Mr. Popper's Penguins
2011, PG, 95 min. Directed by Mark Waters. Starring Jim Carrey, Carla Gugin, Angela Lansbury, Ophelia Lovibond, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Madeline Carroll, Clark Gregg.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 24, 2011
The good news is that in Mr. Popper’s Penguins Jim Carrey is neither in his ridiculous mode where he talks out of his ass nor in his serious mode where his behavior and line delivery is mawkishly sentimental. Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a children’s story in which Carrey draws a little from both sides of the spectrum but manages to find a happy medium – which is about right for a comedy about a divorced father who cohabits with penguins. Equally good news is that these penguins don’t converse with humans. Talking animals have become all the rage in kids’ movies over the last couple of years, and I lay the blame squarely at the feet (paws?) of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Mr. Popper’s Penguins uses a mix of live animals and CGI, but the animals, despite a little creative license, behave like the animals they were born to be and not some pipsqueak, wiseacre humans. These penguins honk and squawk, but they never cross the line and start speaking English, and the CGI work seems mostly reserved for stunts and tomfoolery. The film is based on a 1938 Newberry Award-winning children’s book and perhaps now has a built-in film audience due to the success of the documentary March of the Penguins. Carrey plays a New York City wheeler-dealer who lives in a grand apartment and is separated from his wife (Gugino), with whom he remains on friendly terms, and two children (Carroll and Cotton). When he is sent the penguins by his own long-absent father, his apartment suddenly seems to his children an exciting place to hang out rather than an obligatory weekend domicile. Things escalate the more emotionally involved he becomes. A subplot about the sale of Central Park’s famous Tavern on the Green (owned here by a dowager played by Lansbury) will not interest the kids, but there remains a lot of splendid and loose physical comedy between man and penguin. Sure, we know that once a gala at the Guggenheim Museum is mentioned that there are going to be a half-dozen penguins sliding down the structure’s circular hallways, but the fun of seeing it unfold feels fresh. Of course, all family issues are happily resolved in the end – as is the penguins’ fate. In the sea of mediocrity that passes for children’s films these days, Mr. Popper’s Penguins has enough originality (and silly physical comedy) to make it stand out. Like carrying snow to Antarctica, Mr. Popper’s Penguins is not on a fool’s mission.