31 July 2011

Movie Review: Mr. Popper's Penguins


Mr. Popper's Penguins
2011, 94mins, PG
Director: Mark Waters
Writer (s): Sean Anders, John Morris, Jared Stern, Richard Atwater (novel), Florence Atwater (novel)
Cast includes: Jim Carrey, Clark Gregg, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Ophelia Lovibond
UK Release Date: 5th August 2011

For the sake of fairness, I should disclose that the kids in my screening of “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” absolutely lapped the picture up. An adaptation of a famed children’s book, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” has a very specific target demographic in mind, namely nippers under the age of ten. It’s important to note that this family flick wasn’t built with the likes of me in mind, but even so I’m happy enough to excuse it as a mild and harmless piece of cinema. Fronted by a likable Jim Carrey, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is perhaps a little overly focused on mining bodily functions for giggles, but most other facets of the flick are substantially less insulting. Primed with a strong set of morals, a few clever sight gags and some very cute CGI penguins the movie emerges as an adequate babysitting device, even if it possesses limited appeal for older patrons.

Tom Popper (Jim Carrey) is a cynical businessman with a profession befitting his sour personality. He specializes in destroying New York landmarks for profit, his latest target a restaurant named Tavern on the Green, owned by the defiant Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury). When Popper’s estranged father passes away, the workaholic is rendered indifferent, until he receives his dad’s final gift. Left to him are a gaggle of playful penguins, the birds quickly running amok within their new owner’s luxurious penthouse apartment. At first Popper seeks to dispose of his new guests, but they quickly provide him with a rare opportunity to connect with his children (Maxwell Perry Cotton and Madeline Carroll), and even a chance to rekindle romance with ex-wife Amanda (A thoroughly wasted Carla Gugino). However whilst his domestic life improves, Popper finds his professional aspirations waning, with added strain coming from Nat Jones (Clark Gregg), a shady zookeeper determined to confiscate the penguins and place them in captivity.

Jim Carrey works hard in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”, doing his best to inject the obvious plotline with energy and verve. The performance is less caffeinated than some of his other work, but the actor still finds time to indulge his silly side, offering up a Jimmy Stewart impression, some slow-mo spoofing and enough physicality to satisfy fan expectation. The character of Tom Popper is pretty standard, indeed Carrey has covered such redemptive ground before (chiefly in 1997’s “Liar Liar”), but the actor at least puts some genuine conviction behind the performance. It’s all very generic, but Carrey refuses to phone it in. None of the other human participants have much to do, Ophelia Lovibond is occasionally fun as Popper’s alliteration obsessed assistant, whilst Maxwell Perry Cotton and Madeline Carroll submit above average turns given their age groups. No, aside from Carrey the real stars are the penguins themselves, the film using the adorable critters for a variety of slapstick interludes, some of which are admittedly more successful than others. For example, there’s an amusing joke involving a penguin swimming in a fully flooded bathroom, but by the same token the movie pushes the fecal humour a little hard. It’s a mixed bag but “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” probably has at least half a dozen solidly executed gags, which is honestly more than I was expecting.

I have to question the employment of director Mark Waters, a filmmaker who hasn’t been on form since 2004’s “Mean Girls”. His more recent output (“The Spiderwick Chronicles”, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”) hasn’t been up to scratch and his vanilla handling of this feature is to the detriment of the overall production. “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” hasn’t been edited with much care or precision, the photography (One lovely skyscraper based shot aside) also suffers from disappointingly plain presentation. If it weren’t for Carrey frantically attempting to jazz the story up, then “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” would have very little to offer, its director obviously not particularly excited by the material.

The picture ends on a saccharine note, the film’s various emotional arcs turning to treacle during the dying moments. Expecting anything else would be ridiculous, rendering such a complaint moot, but it’s one I’m going to note anyway. “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” didn’t do much for me, the picture a very hit and miss experience, but then again I’m definitely not who it’s seeking to enthrall. This is a film aimed squarely at youngsters, and based on the reactions I gauged earlier they’re more than happy with it.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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