Penguins are intrinsically amusing. In general, Jim Carrey is amusing, too, provided you can overlook that whole How the Grinch Stole Christmas debacle. In Mr. Popper’s Penguins, he and they add up to surprisingly fun family entertainment.
The new comedy shares little with the classic children’s novel from 1938, the title and the birds being the main similarity. The modern-day Mr. Popper (Carrey) isn’t a poor, small-town housepainter but a wealthy Manhattan real-estate wheeler-dealer who neglects his family in shameless pursuit of the next hot property. His ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and two kids will always fall somewhere behind pleasing his bosses and making partner.
Then his long-estranged adventurer father passes away and sends him a passel of penguins. Popper tries to dump them on a variety of agencies to no avail. By the time a shifty-looking guy from the zoo (Clark Gregg) shows up to take them, Popper’s kids have already fallen in love with the critters, and Popper decides to keep them around, turning his apartment into a winter playground.
A fairly high tolerance for penguin poop is required of anyone who sits through this movie, but, to be fair, if you’re 9 years old, penguin poop is hilarious, the kid equivalent of, say, Tina Fey. There’s no real reason for an adult to show up at this movie without a kid in tow, unless he or she is some sort of Jim Carrey fanatic, and the less said about that the better. So prepare for flatulent penguins and soccer balls that wind their way toward Carrey’s testicles. Fortunately, the movie throws adults a few bones along the way; this is by no means an unpleasant film to watch, and the Ice Age short that runs with it is funny, too.
Director Mark Waters — who tortured us with Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and delighted us with Mean Girls — wisely gives Carrey plenty of chances to do his schtick, as Popper tries to snow the intractable owner of Tavern on the Green (Angela Lansbury) into selling her property to his company.
Yes, the fact that Popper must learn what’s important (his family) through an unconventional device (penguins) is a plot borrowed from the Carrey movie Liar Liar (and plenty of other films as well). But the penguins follow Popper to the Guggenheim and wreak havoc among the rich folks. There’s enough kid in all of us to appreciate that.
Cast: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury.
Director: Mark Waters.
Screenwriters: Sean Anders, John Morris, Jared Stern. Based on the novel by Florence and Richard Atwater.
Producer: John Davis.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 95 minutes. Mild rude humor, some language. Opens Friday July 17 at area theaters.