During a summer in which the three top comedies at the box office – “Bridesmaids,” “The Hangover II,” and “Bad Teacher” — are all rated R because of profanity, full-frontal male nudity, and sex, it’s rather refreshing to come across a movie that offers light, fun-filled entertainment for the entire family. And “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” starring the incomparable Jim Carrey, fills the bill quite nicely.
The movie begins by giving us a glimpse into the life of Tommy Popper, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his mother while his dad is traveling to various countries throughout the world. Tommy keeps in touch with his globe-trotting dad by a ham radio setup in his bedroom, but he never really sees the guy.
After the brief introduction, we skip ahead a number of years to find Popper (Carrey) working as a successful real estate developer who lives in Manhattan. He is divorced from Amanda (Carla Gugino), but they have maintained a friendly relationship for the sake of their two children, Janie (Madeline Carroll) and Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton), who visit their dad on various weekends.
Popper lives alone in his spacious Park Avenue apartment and seems to be relatively satisfied with his existence until one day he arrives home to find a mysterious crate from his now deceased father, who apparently died in Antarctica. Upon opening the container, Popper discovers a small penguin packed in ice. Thinking it is a stuffed animal, he removes it and places it on a table, but as soon as the little critter warms up, it begins moving around and making obnoxious penguin honks.
Because Popper doesn’t want a pet penguin, he tries numerous methods of sending it back, but they all fail, and it isn’t long until another crate appears on his doorstep, and this one produces five more of the congenial little fellows. Now Popper is considering his options when his children show up, and then Billy mistakenly concludes that the penguins are his birthday present. Of course this leaves poor Popper no choice but to turn his apartment into a penguin igloo, and as the film progresses, the arrival of the penguins turns out to a be a blessing disguise for him.
As one who loves animals (snakes and rats excepted), I thoroughly enjoy most films in which members of that kingdom share the screen with human beings, and this movie is no exception. It certainly isn’t going to win any Academy Awards, but it offers wholesome entertainment for adults and children alike. The film is and updated version of a novel of the same name written way back in 1938 by a husband and wife named Richard and Florence Atwater, but it has remained a favorite story for children throughout the years.
Although Carrey is correctly recognized as a comic genius, much of the humor in this film is generated by Captain, Lovey, Bitey, Stinky, Nimrod, and Loudy, the six Gentoo penguins that are his formidable costars. Their exploits in his apartment and other unexpected places are good for a number of laughs, and, of course, they are so cute that you cannot help but fall in love with them despite their orneriness. In the film’s production notes, Carrey explained why he wanted to make this film and spoke about his affection for the penguins.
“This movie stands out because it’s like nothing else out there. And I still get to be me, kind of crazy and fun and edgy. I wanted to do a movie that families are going to remember. Some people resist working with children and animals, for fear of being upstaged. But I love capturing the spark of innocence. And what is better than animals – penguins, in our case – and children to bring that out in us?
“These penguins are insanely beautiful. They are incredible creatures. There are few animals that make you feel love – that strike that kind of chord. It’s really difficult to be unhappy about a penguin. That’s one of the reasons I did this movie. Penguins are a kind of obsession with me. They are puppies, times ten!”
But Carrey fans will not be disappointed because the rubber-faced comedian has the chance to do some bits that only he can pull off including a stunt with a wine bottle that knocked me out of my seat. When it comes to original physical comedy, absolutely no one can match him.
Joining Carrey in the cast is film legend Angela Lansbury, who plays Mrs. Van Gundy, a crotchety property owner from whom Popper is attempting to attain a valuable piece of real estate. At first Lansbury was reluctant to join the project, but in the production notes she explained why she finally changed her mind.
“I was interested in doing the film because I’m a great admirer of Jim Carrey. And I understood that the story was very well known and the book was a classic with children. I always love doing something that children can enjoy.”
Another amusing role in the film is that of Pippi, who is Popper’s assistant with the preferred propensity of proliferating her speech with words beginning with “p.” She is played to perky perfection by a young actress named Ophelia Lovibond. If only her name were Penelope Penney Periwinkle!
“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” (Let’s give it a final score of seven.) provides plentiful perpetual amusement for film patrons. In a summer sadly lacking in any really hot hits, the penguins offer a welcome breath of cold air