Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Directed by Mark Waters.
2011. Rated PG, 94 minutes.
Jim Carrey
Carla Gugino
Angela Lansbury
Clark Gregg
Ophelia Lovibond
Madeline Carroll
Maxwell Perry Cotton
Jeffrey Tambor
David Krumholtz
Philip Baker Hall
William Charles Mitchell
Dominic Chianese

Mr. Popper (Carrey) grew up mostly without his father. His dad was a globetrotting scientist who spent far more time abroad than with his little boy. Unsurprisingly, Popper isn’t too broken up when he learns his old man has died while off in Antarctica. However, Poppa Popper did leave his son something: a pack of penguins. There are six of them, to be exact. Junior fitting them into his life is a bit tricky. He has an ex-wife (Gugino) he still has a thing for, and two kids he gets every other weekend. He is also a high-octane, very successful real estate buyer. It’s a job that demands lots of time. So do the penguins. Popper trying to juggle the birds, his job, and his family ensues. Oh, he also tries to win back his ex and buy legendary restaurant Tavern on the Green from Ms. Van Gundy (Lansbury), its very grumpy owner.

If you guessed this is all pretty innocuous stuff, you guessed right. The nearly endless stream of poop jokes is as risqué as it gets. Other than that, we get the normal stuff about a dad not quite understanding his kids and Popper bonding with both, the children and the penguins. Yes, there are lessons to be learned. In addition, Carrey gives us a bit of the physical humor he’s known for. Splice in some cgi of the penguins performing some amazing feats and we get one big ball of cuteness.

Of course, there has to be a villain. In this case, one is manufactured out of the guy who wants to take the penguins to the zoo (Gregg). The three old guys Popper works for aren’t quite evil, but are certainly on the negative side of the ledger. In none of their cases do we really hate them, therefore the movie doesn’t generate sufficient tension. It moseys along sweetly, but doesn’t thrill us no matter what stunts the birds pull off. Cruella De Ville would’ve been a welcome addition to the cast of characters, a marked improvement over the ultra-bland zoo guy.

As family friendly time passers go, you could do worse than Mr. Popper’s Penguins. It gives us enough laughs not to be a drag. It also moves quickly enough, careful not to overstay its welcome. It clocks in a little over 90 minutes. On the other hand, it doesn’t do anything unexpected. MPP is content to fit snugly within the mold of the many kiddie comedies we’ve seen before. It gives us no more or less than we expect.

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