Jim Carrey is back acting opposite wildlife, but unlike the “Ace Ventura” movies, this time out he’s not talking out of his bum, or doing anything which parents may take issue with. “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is total family entertainment, paced for young ones but with enough story to keep older kids and parents interested.
Loosely based on Richard and Florence Atwater’s classic 1938 children’s book the movie sees Carrey playing the title character, a ruthless NYC real estate agent who inherits a penguin from his late, explorer father. Through a series of misunderstandings one penguin becomes six, and the entire brood becomes a birthday gift for Popper’s young son. As the penguins take over his life, Popper’s professional career—he’s trying to engineer a deal to buy New York’s legendary Tavern on the Green restaurant—goes into a deep freeze but his formerly flightless personal life soars.
There are laughs in the film, more for the kids than the adults, but I’m not sure I would classify this as a comedy. Carrey has a few funny moments, the penguins—who could be more rightly called Mr. Popper’s Pooping Penguins—engage in some animal antics, and Popper’s “p” popping personal assistant takes alliteration to new heights, but the movie is more about heart than humor. It’s about the importance of families, of spending time with the ones you love, whether they are ex-wives, estranged kids or flightless tuxedo-wearing birds.
Carrey finds a balance between his expert slapstick and the more naturalistic style of acting he’s flirted with in movies like “The Majestic.” The clowning is fun, but his journey to becoming a better dad is the more effective and memorable part of the story.
This isn’t the first time Carrey has appeared in a live action kids’ flick but the dark edge he brought to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” has been replaced with a sweet side, despite looking up penguin recipes on-line as an initial solution to his penguin problem.
“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” isn’t a classic children’s film, but in a summer cluttered with movies like “The Hangover Part 2” it is a welcome family alternative.