Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mark Waters
Stars: Jim Carrey, Angela Lansbury, Carla Gugino, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Madeline Carroll, Olivia Lovibond, Clark Gregg, David Krumholtz.
Audiences seem to have a fascination with penguins on screen. The delightful animated Happy Feet was a huge box office success, and we reveled in the scene stealing antics of the penguins in the animated Madagascar series. And of course we marveled at the documentary March Of The Penguins. This latest Jim Carrey comedy also features lots of cute penguins.
Mr Popper’s Penguins is a family comedy reminiscent of one of his better films Liar, Liar. Like that film, this film also deals with a workaholic who puts his personal ambitions ahead of family obligations and who eventually gets a timely wake-up call that helps him change his ways and learn to appreciate the important things in life.
Here Carrey plays Thomas Popper, a high powered and successful New York realtor who is able to buy up older buildings for redevelopment. To gain a valued partnership at his firm, Popper must negotiate with the formidable grand old Mrs Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury, from Murder, She Wrote) to buy the landmark Tavern On The Green, the only free standing building in Central Park. But while in the midst of these delicate negotiations Popper receives a surprise gift from his late father of a Gentoo penguin.
Through an expected communication mix-up, Popper finds himself left in charge of six penguins, each with its own distinct personality. Popper soon transforms his lavish New York penthouse apartment into an Arctic wilderness for the birds. The cute birds also help him re-establish a strong bond with his estranged family – ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino), son Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton), and surly teenaged daughter Janie (Madeline Carroll).
Mr Popper’s Penguins will have broad appeal. The film has been adapted from Richard and Florence Atwater’s beloved children’s book, but here it has been given a more contemporary flavour. Somewhat surprisingly, this family friendly comedy has been written by Sean Anders and John Morris, a pair who are better known for more raunchy adult comedies like Sex Drive, Hot Tub Time Machine and the recent She’s Out Of My League, etc.
The director is Mark Waters (Mean Girls, the recent remake of Freaky Friday, etc), who brings a certain slapstick sensibility to the whimsical material, but he also allows it to become overly sentimental.
Carrey has forgone the old saw about never working with children or animals, and as he moves into middle age he’s obviously starting to feel all warm and fuzzy. The last time we saw him interact with animals so well was in his breakthrough film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but here he is easily upstaged by his animal co-stars. The use of some classic Charlie Chaplin clips is also a reminder that in his earlier days Carrey was a very physical comedian as well. Carrey’s performance here is more restrained and the usual over the top mannerisms and hyper-kinetic style are reined in.
I particularly liked Olivia Lovibond’s character of Pippi, Popper’s perky personal assistant with a propensity for pronouncing words that start with a “p”. The supporting cast includes Clark Gregg, who also brings some humour to proceedings as Jones, the obsessive zoo employee determined to take the penguins off Popper’s hands, and David Krumholtz, from tv’s Numbers, etc) as Popper’s nosy neighbour.
The CGI generated penguins are seamlessly incorporated into the live action scenes, so that it becomes hard to tell them from the real ones. Younger audiences will delight in the cute antics of the playful penguins, especially when they create havoc at a swank party at the Guggenheim museum. The familiar moral messages and themes will resonate with older audiences.
A note during the end credits playfully informs us that no penguins were harmed during the making of this film. “However, Mr Carrey was bitten mercilessly. But then, he had it coming.” Mr Popper’s Penguins is inoffensive family friendly fare and perfect entertainment for the school holidays.