Mr. Popper’s Penguins
– for mild rude humor and some language.
Director: Mark Waters
Starring: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Clark Gregg
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: June 17, 2011
Mr. Popper is a driven businessman who is clueless when it comes to the important things in life. Mr. Popper finally understands what he’s been missing, thanks to a new inheritance: six penguins who turn his swanky New York apartment into a snowy winter wonderland and the rest of his life upside-down. (from PoppersPenguins.com)
If you scan Jim Carrey’s film roles over the past couple decades, you’ll notice that the actor seems to pick and choose his roles very carefully. Closer observation will also reveal that the comedian has been branching out into all forms of different genres over the years. Whether it’s been horror, romance, animation, or just plain controversial, Carrey seems to be more concerned with trying different things than just making movies for the sake of making movies. After having recently done a motion-capture animation project with Robert Zemeckis and Disney for A Christmas Carol, Carrey’s latest project is a straight-up family comedy, titled Mr. Popper’s Penguins. The film brings the famous childrens’ book of the same name to life, but doesn’t maintain any of the characteristics of the original story in attempt to modernize it for 2011.
What’s interesting about the film Mr. Popper’s Penguins is that, oddly enough, it seems to include many similarities to other Jim Carrey films while also sticking closely to the family comedy formula. The fantastical and the cartoonish is the norm for such films, but they’re also a trait of many of Carrey’s own more “mature” comedies. For example, in his 1997 film, Liar Liar, Carrey plays a divorced lawyer who is a pretty inept father and through extraordinary circumstances is able to slowly mend his broken family. In that situation, too, his ex-wife is with someone else and Carrey’s character has to deal with trying to keep his wife (and kids) in his life. In Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Carrey’s central character is once again divorced and also a successful businessman. In Liar Liar, the plot’s extraordinary circumstances get in the way of his trying to make partner with the law firm. Here, Popper is trying to make partner with a large real estate giant. In both movies, he needs to decide what’s most important to him — his family or his job. Fans of Carrey’s work (and by now, there’s a very, very good chance that young people who went to see Liar Liar in the theaters might be taking their kids to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins today!) will definitely find the material in this film familar. There were certainly times I was expecting the plot to go a certain way that it may have in other films — even when he was trying to make news anchorman in Bruce Almighty while having to decide what’s really important in his life there. The idea of Carrey’s successful businessman character having to win back his family because he’s essentially kind of a jerk in actuality is kind of a tired idea. It’s nearly a big strike on Popper’s Penguins, but it doesn’t quite ruin the movie in the end.
The biggest difference from any other film Carrey has ever done, clearly, are his six costars… the penguins. A mixture of real penguins and fabricated CGI, these penguins often steal the show, but Carrey’s charismatic performance is not only the glue that holds the movie together, but the pillars beneath this structure to hold it up. If you take away the penguins and our leading funnyman, you have your standard crazy scenario that helps a self-centered guy win his estranged family back. Night At The Museum used this formula too (even though he wasn’t really trying to win his wife back), although Stiller’s character was more down-on-his-luck than successful, so for family films this is really nothing new either. The penguins and family-safe comedy help keep the movie appealing for all ages, but it’s unmistakable that Popper’s Penguins is as cute as a live action Jim Carrey movie is going to get. The content is rather clean and Carrey’s jokes stay surprisingly away from the edge. I got a little nervous near the beginning of the movie when he turned Viagra into an adjective at a business meeting to express the masculinity of a something, but from then-on, it’s ultimately the penguin Stinky dropping farts and penguin poop jokes that lend to the crudity in the movie. And for PG movies these days, it’s all surprisingly rather mild. The worst of the profanity in the film is kept to a handful of “Oh my G-d” and a use of “For G-d’s Sakes,” while a “h*ll” and “d*mn” are both heard during the closing credits song, “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. It’s rather refreshing to finally see a comedy made now that’s entertaining without being really vulgar. However, you really have to be a fan of Carrey’s schtick to appreciate all of the film’s humor. And while some time does pass without a good, hearty laugh, Carrey fans with an open mind are likely to find that they laughed more than they expected to by the time the credits roll.
Alongside Carrey is a decent but not especially standout supporting cast that includes Carla Gugino (who was the object of Stiller’s affection in the first Night at the Museum) as Popper’s ex-wife, and the legendary Angela Lansbury as the owner of Tavern on the Green, which Popper is trying to get her to sell to his firm. Clark Gregg, who I saw last play kind of a villain in In Good Company and who is currently making the rounds in the superhero films that lead up to next year’s Avengers collaboration, steps in as the foe here. While Gregg was fairly good in those aforementioned roles, he’s a bit one-dimensional and kind of cheesy as this film’s “villain” who wants the penguins for his zoo. His character is kind of stereotypical for this genre, but he still pulls it off more effectively than many in that position usually do. In the end, the penguins and Carrey really are the best thing that Mr. Popper’s Penguins has going for it, which tend to make the film feel a little bit smaller than it could have been, but director Mark Waters (500 Days of Summer, Just Like Heaven) does a fair job making Mr. Popper’s Penguins one of the better films of its kind. Still, in retrospect, Waters does the movie a bit of a disservice by not keeping it grounded in a sense of reality, allowing some of the characters to feel more cartoony than they could have been. The worst scene is when Popper turns his ritzy apartment into a snow palace, complete with the stairs becoming a snow slide that has a table with a snow cone machine at its base. Then the film’s climactic scene feels a lot like the large-group scene at the end of, ironically, Evan Almighty (the sort-of sequel to Carrey’s Bruce Almighty that actually didn’t even star Carrey). It’s a corny finish, and far more goofy than I’d have preferred it. But while it doesn’t ruin the film for me, the escalation of absurdity up until this point does seem to hold the movie back from having a stronger outcome.
While it probably could have been a lot better, if not a lot more timeless, the 2011 reimagining of the classic tale of Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a funny and heartwarming pro-family story that is pretty safe to take the kids to, which isn’t something you can say about many movies these days. Jim Carrey fans will finally have a new movie that isn’t rife with profanity and bedroom jokes to watch, while fans of the arctic birds won’t have to subject themselves to Happy Feet (or its abysmal looking forthcoming sequel) to get a comedic penguin fix. Mr. Popper’s Penguins is at its best a decent matinee trip to the movies and at worst a rental. But families could certainly do a lot worse for family entertainment (like last Christmas’ Gulliver’s Travels, perhaps?) than Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/17/11)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Popper uses the word “Viagrality” (or something like that?) to describe the masculinity of something; Amanda and Mr. Popper reminisce about one of their past romantic dates and how they went snuck into an icehouse or something, to which she sort of suggestively remarked that it was warmer in there than they thought (meaning they fooled around in there?)
Vulgarity/Language: At least 8 derivatives of “G-d”; and 1 “h*ll” and 1 “d*mn” in the end credits song of “Ice Ice Baby” [In the movie, there are also a few incomplete “What the…” and one scene where Popper holds a penguin who poops into the toilet and remarks “That’s some serious s…” but Loudy yells in his face before he could swear]
Alcohol/Drugs: Popper makes a word picture analogy for Mrs. Van Gundy using colorful imagery, but she stops him and tells him she doesn’t do drugs; We see some drinking at a banquet. Popper offers Mrs. Van Gundy some champagne, but she turns it down. He then drinks some and tips the bottle to his ear and spits it out of his mouth for a gag
Blood/Gore: None. We see some penguins pooping a few times. In one scene, Popper picks up a penguin who poops over the toilet. He then grabs another, commenting that he looks full, and squeezes him over the toilet and we see more white poop squirt out the bottom of the penguin; The penguin named Stinky is often seen farting
Violence: Popper makes a joke about stabbing his eyes out and cutting off his hands, then ponders out loud how that would work out in sort of a verbally graphic fashion; Nat Jones tries to catch the penguins through the gate, so Popper grabs the zookeeper’s restraint stick and ties Nat’s hands up on the other side of the gate and makes Nat punch himself; The penguins wreak some havoc at a party, causing people to fall over and into each other; The penguins often peck and nip at people; A penguin poops in Popper’s face while he’s hanging off his balcony, causing him to fall; And other mild comedic violence