After seeing trailer after trailer for Mr. Popper’s Penguins I was utterly convinced that Jim Carrey and company had taken one of my favorite childhood books and destroyed it. Dancing penguins, poop jokes and a plot that would only work in a book all made me feel that I was in store for the worst film of the summer — even if I did cut it some slack for being directed at children.
In short, I would have never paid to see this movie. Thank goodness they let me in for free to these things, but Mr. Popper’s Penguins turned out to be anything but terrible and not just because penguins are so damn adorable.
Well, maybe that had a big part to do with it.
I’m going to have a Chad moment for a second here. PENGUINS ARE SO CUTE! THEY WADDLE AND DO CUTE PENGUIN THINGS! EVEN CGI PENGUINS ARE CUTE!
All right, that’s done with so I can tell you the plot. The film is loosely based on the children’s book of the same name in that it too involves a man named Mr. Popper getting some penguins. Aside from that its all been updated a bit. Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey) is a divorced mega-real estate agent in New York City and his estranged father, who travels the world exploring, sends him a penguin when he dies. Mr. Popper then accidentally orders five more penguins, but before he can get rid of all of them his family comes over and his son mistakes the penguins as his birthday gift. Now Mr. Popper is stuck with the penguins because he doesn’t want to lose his kids love by getting rid of them.
Forced to keep the penguins in his no-pets-allowed ritzy apartment he starts to realize some valuable life lessons about love and family. And when a nefarious man from the Bronx zoo comes and tries to give the penguins a proper home that isn’t an apartment you know Mr. Popper can’t allow that because the penguins are now family.
Disregarding the fact that the care of six penguins is completely misrepresented by this film and that the bad guy is a zoo official (I’m pretty sure they’re all really nice and only want what is best for the animals), Mr. Popper’s Penguins is actually quite enjoyable for a children’s film and uproarously funny if you are between the ages of 5-10. Seriously, penguins pooping and farting is evidently the funniest thing in the world at that age. Yes, most of the jokes are crass and stupid, but they’re designed to appeal to kids and they do. Thankfully the penguins are cute enough and Jim Carrey is charmingly restrained enough to make even the lowest jokes enjoyable for the adults watching the film as well. I wouldn’t recommend seeing it without a kid, however.
Even more surprising is that the film actually has a soul. Yes, we’ve all seen this story a million times before; rich, workaholic learns valuable family life lessons when something unexpected comes into his life. It’s nothing new, but somehow Carrey and a bunch of penguins manage to squeeze some life out of the tired story anyway. There are actual family moments where I was moved, and while the plot might run far towards the cliche the relationship between Popper and his penguins somehow always seems real (even if the CGI does not).
This isn’t to say that the film is all good, all the time. There are a plethora of parts to roll your eyes at, and plotholes the size of Antarctica to herd your penguins through. I could run off a litany of bothersome questions that kept popping into my head as the film played out. How come no one but one neighbor notices these birds? Why didn’t anyone call the police? Why didn’t the birds die, which they obviously would have in real life? But the six-year-old sitting behind me didn’t seem to care much about those questions at all when the penguins started biting Jim Carrey so I decided not to as well. It made the film far more enjoyable on the whole, especially when the movie used real penguins instead of CGI counterparts.
With a bit of heart, a bunch of cute penguins, Jim Carrey not overplaying it too much and a dash of Angela Lansbury Mr. Popper’s Penguins actually turned out to be quite charming. It definitely has many issues, a lack of originality being chief amongst them, but when push comes to shove its flightless stars somehow manage to out adorable the more tired jokes and stale routines while the film’s heart just squeaks it into the range of enjoyable.