Jim Carrey doesn’t get the respect he deserves. This is most likely because most people remember him as “the guy who talked out of his butt” in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. But since that (admittedly funny) movie, he has branched out and tackled films with serious dramatic intentions, hitting home runs in The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and, to a lesser extent, Man on the Moon. He’s such a versatile performer that I can't help but wonder why he accepts roles like the one in Mr. Popper’s Penguins. He is capable of so much more. Still, despite my wanting to see him in more dramatic roles, he puts his all into this movie, a respectable effort in a film that doesn’t fully deserve it.
Based on the children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater, the film follows Mr. Popper (Carrey), a hard working businessman with two children and an ex-wife who he more or less ignores. It’s a neglectful trait he took from his father who was too busy exploring the world to spend time with him as a child. Now, he receives word that his dad has died and is sending him a package as defined in his will. Much to his surprise, it’s a penguin. Before he can even get rid of it, five more arrive at his door. Unfortunately, this happens on the day of his son’s birthday and the little guy mistakes the penguins as gifts, which forces Popper to keep and care for the penguins.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins is not a film to be overanalyzed. Those who do will find enough lapses of logic to drive them crazy. Popper lives in a New York apartment building, surrounded by other tenants trying to live peacefully, yet only one seems to hear the loud squawking penguins at night. That person tries to make a complaint, to no avail, and is essentially forgotten afterwards. Then later in the movie, Popper takes his children and all six of the penguins out to Central Park for a game of snow soccer and there isn’t a person in sight. Moments like these are impossible to ignore, but aren’t meant to be intellectually dissected.
However, the largest of these gaffes is a narrative problem so big you’d have to be sleeping to miss it. The “villain,” the person who is trying to take the penguins away, comes in the form of zookeeper and penguin expert, Nat Jones (Clark Gregg). In the film, he is played as cold and cruel, only wanting to bring emotional turmoil to Popper and his children by stealing away the penguins they’ve come to love so much. But, realistically, that’s the right thing to do. In one scene, Jones tells Popper he doesn’t know how to care for penguins and they could come down with a number of diseases if not properly kept in a zoo or in their natural habitat. Well, he’s right. Jones, the animal expert, clearly knows what’s best for the penguins. Popper and his children do not.
That problem strips away much of the emotion because we’re supposed to want Popper to keep the penguins, even though we all know he shouldn’t. But I don’t suppose most people are going to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins for its oversimplified story. No, I figure they’ll be there for the laughs and, surprisingly enough, the movie delivers. While it’s by no means a gut buster, it produces more laughs on a more consistent basis than many comedies so far this year (“It’s funnier than The Hangover 2” a colleague of mine said). While primarily for children, there are some great adult jokes, including some fun comparisons between the mannerisms of the penguins and Charlie Chaplin.
When all is said and done, though, it comes right back to Jim Carrey, who has always had a talent for physical comedy going all the way back to his days on “In Living Color.” He has such a knack for it, he manages to make getting hit in the groin seem fresh. Because of his physical prowess, these moments are genuinely funny (as opposed to someone like Kevin James who we’re supposed to laugh at because, oh ha ha, he’s kind of fat). Mr. Popper’s Penguins is not a great movie (and there are far too many scenes of penguins defecating), but it sets a goal and reaches it. And that’s more than you can say for a lot of other movies.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins receives 2.5/5