Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Directed by: Mark Waters
Cast: Jim Carrey, Ophelia Lovibond, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Clark Gregg, Philip Baker Hall, David Krumholtz
Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins
Release Date: June 17, 2011
PLOT: After his explorer father dies, a single father (Carrey) inherits a small group of penguins that he eventually tries to raise with the help of his two kids.
WHO’S IT FOR?: Anyone who has recently read the 1939 Newbery Award-winning children’s book will probably exude icy tears trying to sit through this penguin-brained adaptation. Thus, this movie might serve best to introduce children to the evils of Hollywood book adaptations, where even the most magical of stories can be turned into penguin potty humor. As for its Father’s Day-friendly release date, this would be the perfect gift for the dad who loves the image of penguins farting and pooping more than his elementary school kids.
EXPECTATIONS: I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but a bus advertisement that told me a penguin was called “Lovey” didn’t seem like the best of movie-going omens.
Jim Carrey as Mr. Popper: Can this be classified as Stockholm syndrome? Even with its tame nature, this is the same kind of performance we have come to expect from Jim Carrey. Sometimes its like he’s even breaking character to give audiences the expressions and faces that audiences pay millions of dollars to see from him. This time, it comes in the form of lame Jimmy Stewart impersonations, and allowing penguins to bite at his feet and poop on him. He lets his silent co-stars take most of the bits, and eventually goes to a cruise control that hopes to channel the audience’s nostalgia of whatever role he was in that actually didn’t seem torturous.
Ophelia Lovibond as Pippi: She’s the most imaginative element that the entirety of Mr. Popper’s Penguins has going for it. Her “P” fascination is cute, and gives the movie a little dose of quirky creativity that it is desperately in need of. A bit like a walking “P” thesaurus, one can’t help but think that maybe her character could enlighten kids about the positive possibility of probable wordplay. At least until the movie turns the letter “P” into “poop.”
Rest of Cast: Angela Lansbury pops in as a wise elderly woman with a killer memory for remembering every one of her patrons over the course of multiple decades. Carla Gugino plays the ex-wife of Popper, who is easily re-wooed by the man once he gets some penguins. Because zookeepers are apparently evil, Clark Gregg plays the bad guy who wants to treat penguins with the proper care, and save the eggs before Popper lets anything awful happen. As Popper’s neighbor, David Krumholtz’s character creates a boring predicament, which seems to serve as a time-killing device more than anything else. Philip Baker Hall joins a trio of elderly men who offer a poor attempt at providing the adults in the audience something to laugh with. Hall makes a reference to Howard Hughes which is simply strange and hopelessly random.
TALKING: Along with many other components of this miserable experience the dialogue is insignificant, except when it’s peppered with strange nudges at classic rock songs – that’s when the salt really starts to burn our mental wounds. Early in the movie, while talking to Lansbury’s character, Carrey references “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles, a moment that truly indicates desperation in a deep void of cleverness.
SIGHTS: Because penguins can’t smash into walls on command, CGI is mixed with actual penguins to make the sure every winter bird gag can be realized. Thankfully the CGI penguins are well crafted, which give them a believable presence, plot not considered. Mr. Popper’s Penguins acts cruel to its audience when it starts to show clips of Charlie Chaplin movies Modern Times and The Gold Rush. It’s a simply sad attempt at making a weak correlation between the slapstick humor of penguins with the great, inventive humor of The Tramp.
SOUNDS: Are there not enough of songs with “ice” in them for Mr. Popper’s Penguins? Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby continues to plod along in pop culture as a bit gag later in the movie, and that’s the only “ice” song refernce the movie offers. Although Beatles songs are discussed, they aren’t heard.
BEST SCENE: I laughed at the line, “Who’s ready for a big weekend at dads?!” It had a nice balance of excitement and sarcasm, like Popper was aware of what a boring weekend it would be. It was a nice piece of self-deprecation. But from there, the movie wasn’t really downhill, so much as it was over.
ENDING: You’ll believe that a penguin can fly, and that zoos are evil (just in time for next month’s Zookeeper with Kevin James).
QUESTIONS: Noah Baumbach and Ben Stiller were on board to do this adaptation once. Something tells me that film wouldn’t have looked anything like this, and that it would have stuck to the charm of the book. Why can’t we see that version instead?
REWATCHABILITY: No. A second viewing would only bring to light more of the film’s faults. In my first viewing, I noticed more than my brain can handle.
Like stumbling onto a wizard dog, having pet penguins can be a magical experience. For evidence, please skim over the plot synopsis for the original book “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” which features the title character cooperating with someone at the aquarium, and later turning his squadron of penguins into an entertaining troupe for the theater. What a dream, right?
This adaptation of the novel completely loses its spark, and turns the juxtaposition of sub-Antarctic animals in an urban environment into a brainless sh*tshow. The imagination of penguins is limited to slapstick simplified desperately by the script with its redundant gags and dull names for the penguins themselves (Bitey, Lovey, Stinky, Nimrod, etc). It’s as if the writers who adapted the book (who also wrote Sex Drive) were crippled by their inability to toss in penis jokes, and could only come up with a few different ways to maintain a script. Penguins falls down, penguins fart, penguins poop, penguins slide, sometimes people fall down, and Jim Carrey’s presence completely fails to sell any of this as valuable material, even when his character tows in his weak elements of fatherhood responsibility.
FINAL SCORE: 2/10