The makers of the new kids film Mr. Popper's Penguins seem to have built the film on three main conceits: 1.) Penguins are inherently cute and funny 2.) Penguins are even cuter and funnier when they poop, fart, or fall over, and 3.) Jim Carrey is inherently entertaining when he acts like Jim Carrey, not an actual person you might ever meet in real life. And judging by the reaction of the crowd I saw the movie with, they were right, as kids and many of the adults laughed at the antics of Carrey and his six waddling co-stars, "eeewwed" when a penguin pooped or farted, and "aaawwed" when a penguin did something cute.
I didn't enjoy the movie because, of course, I'm dead inside. But with its cute animals, mostly clean humor, and a star whose talent for zany clownishness is unparalleled, Mr. Popper's Penguins seems like a natural choice for parents to take young kids to. But if you're a parent who's single or gone through a divorce, I'd think twice about this movie -- and I'll tell you why in a second. Watch the trailer for Mr. Popper's Penguins below.
Carrey plays Mr. Popper (his first name is never given), a budding New York real estate mogul whose habit of putting his job before his family has led to a divorce from his wife, Amanda (Carla Gugino), and resentment from his teenage daughter (Madeline Carroll) and younger son (Maxwell Perry Cotton). But that starts to change when Popper's father, an explorer who was never around, sends Popper a crate containing a live penguin, surely violating dozens of international laws on animal trafficking.
Soon, more penguins arrive (making six in all) and are given names like Bitey, Stinky and Nimrod. But Popper's kids fall in love with the birds before he can get rid of them, so to keep his kids coming back, Popper decides to keep the penguins and turn his luxurious apartment into their habitat by opening his windows to the winter snow. That is, unless the birds are taken by a zoo official (Clark Gregg) with an oddly dim view of animals and the despicable notion that exotic animals should be kept in a zoo and cared for by professionals. In the meantime, Popper is trying to make partner at his real estate firm by negotiating to buy Central Park's famous Tavern on the Green from its aging owner (Angela Lansbury).
As a kids movie, Mr. Popper's Penguins is passable fare, though I can't imagine many children will care much about whether the Tavern will retain its old school charm. The penguins, a mix of real and CG birds, are cute, and unless you find penguin poop and fart jokes offensive, the film's humor is kid friendly with a few jokes for parents sprinkled in. The supporting cast does a decent job, and Carrey's performance, with its mix of silliness and over-the-top physicality, is entertaining and similar to the role he played in the superior kids movie, Liar Liar. The film is also markedly different from the beloved 1938 book the film is loosely based on.
But what stood out for me is the film's message that divorced parents need to be reunited to achieve familial happiness. This is a common fantasy for children from broken families and has been around in movies at least since 1961's The Parent Trap. But with divorce and single-parent households increasingly common, it's a sentiment that strikes me as being outdated, as well as unfair to divorced or single parents who are working hard enough to raise their kids without having to rehash the painful conversation about why mommy and daddy aren't together anymore. It's also potentially cruel to impressionable, perhaps emotionally fragile young children from broken families who will have to be reminded that their parents will, most likely, never get back together.
So be warned, single/divorced parents, especially single/remarried dads who might think an afternoon at the movies with the kids might be a nice way to spend Father's Day. However, in a rare move, Mr. Popper's Penguins is only being offered in 2D, so cash-strapped parents tired of inflated 3D ticket prices might take their chances anyway.
Mr. Popper's Penguins is rated PG.
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