Went to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins this afternoon, and we were the only people in the theater not accompanied by someone under 10. It’s a formula family film, but we enjoyed it, because we wanted to see adorable penguins doing cute things, and that’s exactly what we got.
The plot — rich guy learns family is the most important thing through having to care for wacky animals — is comforting, even if I do agree with the critic who said it is WAY past time to stop putting out kids’ movies where divorced parents just need the right push to get back together. That’s the wrong message to show children, because they don’t realize just how much of an idealized fantasy it is.
It’s clearly a Christmas movie, with snow and cold weather featuring as part of the plot, so I was temporarily confused why it’s out in July. Then I realized that it goes well with movie theater air conditioning on a hot day, and this way, the DVD will be on sale perfectly timed for holiday buyers.
Jim Carrey does an admirable job goofing around with the (sometimes real, sometimes CGI) birds, even if his mugging did occasionally not seem quite right for the character. His real estate salesperson was supposed to be a charmer, not so much a funnyman. Carrey is very good, though, at blending the heavier emotions with the light goofing with animals. You’ve already seen several of the best sequences — the birds invade a museum fundraiser, Carrey faces off with an evil zookeeper (Clark Gregg) who wants to take his penguins — in the ads.
My favorite character was Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), Carrey’s assistant who uses words with Ps any time she can, unconsciously. I thought her presence was left over from the source, a beloved children’s book, because I thought no one would create a character that creative for a kids’ movie these days. Turns out I was wrong — that role was one of the many many changes made for the screen, and the performance, made more fun by her British accent, is one of the best things about the movie.
Another favorite moment: the way the penguins love watching Charlie Chaplin movies. As you might have gathered from the trailer, there are a variety of poop and fart jokes to keep the kiddies entertained with bird bodily functions. Some of the plots, such as the nosy neighbor, simply disappear from the film after a while, while others (the ending) are unbelievable, even within the logic of the movie. It’s convenient that in these kinds of films, dad always has a job that’s made him rich, so once he comes around, no one has to worry about making it to work on time any more. None of this matters, because the point is to watch Carrey go from unfeeling snob (with gorgeous apartment) to loving family man and caring bird-keeper, and that’s exactly what we get. I’m eager to see the inevitable DVD making-of, just for more bird footage.