On Screen Review:
‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’
Movie a lazy, formulaic effort by all involved
Jim Carrey has the unique gift of being both a brilliant, hysterical buffoon (see “Ace Ventura” or “Dumb and Dumber”) and a quality dramatic actor (see “The Truman Show” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”).
It’s when he aims for a middle ground that the results are dull at best and painful at worst. “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is the very definition of middle-of-the-road Jim Carrey and the result is a bland family film where your struggle with consciousness will be the most exciting thing happening in the theater.
The movie is based on a children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater where Carrey plays the titular Mr. Popper, an ambitious real estate executive who is unexpectedly saddled with six (you guessed it!) penguins. The penguins arrive as a gift from his deceased father, who was some sort of world-traveler/adventurer. Setting aside the logistical impossibilities of shipping live penguins in a crate from Antarctica to New York City, the movie attempts to mine comedy gold from lots and lots of “oh my gosh, penguins are living inside an apartment!” moments.
It is precisely as hilarious as it sounds.
While live penguins are used in a few shots, the vast majority of the time the animals are clearly rendered by computer animation, mainly to give the birds unique personalities and to ensure that they would poop on command. The animated birds are rarely believable, especially as their hi-jinks become more and more ridiculous.
Of course the penguins inexplicably allow Popper to become a better person and repair the damaged relationships in his life, namely with his two kids Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton) and Janie (Madeline Carroll) and his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino).
There is also a side plot where Popper is trying to use his slimy charm to acquire Tavern on the Green from the sweet and refined Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury, who I pray lives long enough so this isn’t remembered as her final role).
“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is directed by Mark Waters who hasn’t exactly been cranking out classics of western cinema, but at least showed a little spark and liveliness in movies like “Mean Girls” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” Really this movie is just a lazy effort by pretty much everyone involved. Carrey goes through the motions of delivering some of his patented schtick, but he never seems to really get a handle on his character and winds up playing second-fiddle to a bunch of poorly animated penguins.
Little kids are likely to be amused by the waddling and squawking of these cute birds, but anyone looking for more than that should probably avoid “Mr. Popper’s Penguins;” especially when you can just take those same kids to the zoo to see real penguins for free. Throw in the awesome air-conditioning and the fact that the zoo’s penguins are more emotionally engaging than anyone onscreen and it’s kind of a no-brainer.
“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is rated PG for mild rude humor and some language.