The good news for Jim Carrey is that unlike his last film, the more critically praised yet box-office bomb I Love You Philip Morris, Mr. Popper's Penguins
is very likely to be seen by a wider audience.
The bad news? It doesn't really deserve it.
While March of the Penguins
may have been a perfectly wonderful and poetic film about penguins, an animal that seems to capture the imagination and hearts of children and adults alike, watching Jim Carrey and director Mark Waters struggle to bring life to these surprisingly uninteresting animals is an exercise in patience even for those who might be familiar with what is reportedly a beloved children's book from 1938.
Carrey is in full-on Eddie Murphy mode here, trying to bring back to life the shtick that made him one of Hollywood's biggest stars while recognizing that at his age he probably ought to lean more towards family friendly fare if he wishes to remain cinematically relevant. It's understandable why Carrey would choose this project - he was, after all, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Mr. Popper's Penguins
is an opportunity for Carrey to do some of his wild physical comedy, his silly faces and even to do a wee bit of his over-emoting.
In the film, Carrey plays Mr. Popper (Duh!), a successful real estate executive with, you guessed it, a largely ignored family life while he attempts his rise to the top. He's amicably divorced from Amanda (Carla Gugino) and doesn't spend nearly enough time with his two children (Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Perry Cotton). When his father dies, he inherits...I know. I know. The suspense is killing you...PENGUINS! Before long, his Manhattan duplex is becoming a skating rink but, lo and behold, Mr. Popper is starting to figure out what's important and his children are starting to see him in an all new light.
The penguins in Mr. Popper's Penguins
are a mix of CGI creations and live-action penguins, and you'll be fairly hard pressed to tell the difference between the two - a rather impressive feat. Or flipper.
The reason Mr. Popper's Penguins
earns a modest recommendation, and it does, is that there are moments in the film that are truly inspired and beautiful to behold such as when we discover the penguins' love for Charlie Chaplin and and a few of the homebound antics that unfold with creativity and zest.
Carrey is very clearly emphasizing silly over sentimental here, a choice that feels intentional and works just fine giving the film's rather basic material anyway. While Carrey's silliness certainly shows those inevitable signs of aging, he looks like he's having a blast and between his enthusiasm and the penguins the film should play decently well for families looking for a weekend outing. Carla Gugino does fine as his ex-wife, who gives glimpses of remembering this version of her ex-husband as the man she married. Angela Lansbury shows up and has a good time, while Clark Gregg is terrific as a zoo guy who tries and tries and tries to collect the penguins. Madeline Carroll, who was one of the few appealing things about Rob Reiner's last film Flipped,
cuts loose a bit more here and continues to grow as a young actress.
By no means groundbreaking, it will be interesting to see how audiences respond to Mr. Popper's Penguins,
a bit of a return to his comedic roots for Jim Carrey and yet a maturing into the "dad" role that seems almost inevitable for stand-up comics turned actors. There's no way that Mr. Popper's Penguins
will be nearly as beloved as the children's book upon which it is based, but until Cars 2
opens it may be the best option for families seeking an outing. Mr. Popper's Penguins
is the recipient of a Truly Moving Picture Award from Heartland Truly Moving Pictures, an Indianapolis based organization that recognizes transformative films that artistically explore the human journey.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic