Judge Paul Pritchard thinks the only good penguins are the ones of the chocolate biscuit variety.
Our review of Mr. Popper's Penguins (Blu-ray), published December 18th, 2011, is also available.
"Dear Lord, thank you for the food we are about to eat. Please use your mighty power to stop the melting of the polar ice caps. Amen."
The hardest thing about having it all is discovering what's really missing.
Facts of the Case
Thomas Popper (Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is a renowned realtor working for the super-rich of New York City. Popper's successes in the workplace have come at the cost of his family, with two children reluctant to spend time with him, and an ex-wife who is moving on with a new partner. Popper is forced to reevaluate his life when he unexpectedly takes ownership of six penguins, sent by his globetrotting father. Though the penguins cause numerous problems for Popper, they also offer him a chance to reconnect with his children.
Mr. Popper's Penguins is a slick-looking production, I'll give it that. This is everything you'd expect from Hollywood when delivering a family movie. Mr. Popper and everyone in his world lives a privileged life of glitzy dinner parties and chauffeur-driven limos, and each of them resides in apartments that dwarf some airports I've been to. It's also a world where logic has no place, and the law can be overridden thanks to a quick wit and jingoistic blather. Needless to say, our eponymous hero learns a valuable lesson along the way and everyone lives happily ever after. The end.
Yet despite some immediately off-putting elements, Mr. Popper's Penguins actually has a few things going for it, chief amongst them being its star, Jim Carrey. Carrey seems to have gradually slipped from the limelight in recent years, yet he shows here he is still more than capable of putting smiles on faces with even the lamest of gags at his disposal. Here, asked to deliver a less maniacal performance than his earlier roles (such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective), Carrey turns in a performance that balances the comedy and emotional aspects of the film far more effectively than the screenplay deserves. In fact, Carrey's performance does a good job of hiding the screenplay's many deficiencies. Were it not for the warmth that Carrey brings to the role, it would be hard to care much for the character of Popper at all. A big part of the film revolves around his attempts to win back his ex-wife and kids, yet this whole thread is riddled with gaping flaws, primarily how his owning six penguins is apparently enough for his family to forget the years of neglect and heartbreak he put them through. Thanks to Carrey's delivery, such problems prove to be less fatal than they otherwise would. Carrey is ably supported by Carla Gugino (Sin City), Jeffrey Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show), Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote), and Clark Gregg (Iron Man), who all turn up in small roles, and bring a little class—certainly more than the film deserves—to proceedings.
The other real plus point here, depending on your age, is the penguins themselves. In truth they are fairly dull; when they're not pooping or sliding on their bellies, they really don't do a great deal. That said, it's impossible to deny they are a cute and endearing bunch, and small children will be entertained by their antics, as my three-year-old son will confirm. In fact, the inoffensive nature of Mr. Popper's Penguins is such that it would take someone truly bitter to pour too much scorn on it.
The biggest problems with Mr. Popper's Penguins stem from its anorexic story, which in turn informs the film's uneven tone. There are good intentions here, and clearly the film aims for a big emotional ending, but thanks to an opening 60 minutes that spend far too much time on slapstick and poop jokes, the audience isn't likely to be invested enough emotionally to really connect with the characters or their plight. Supposedly poignant moments, such as Popper's sadness when one of his beloved penguins' eggs fails to hatch, are given short shrift, and are quickly forgotten. This is endemic in a film where everything feels rushed, and nothing has been really thought out. As is sadly all too common, in lieu of any real emotional substance to the film there is an overreliance on the score to remind us when we are supposed to feel happy or sad. The film's humor is lowbrow, to say the least. Too often it resorts to penguins farting or taking a dump on Popper's face to elicit laughs. Sure, I laughed the first time it happened, but there's only so many times that gag will work before the uninspired nature of the writing becomes all too apparent. Nevermore is this true than in the recurring attempts to cram as many P's into a sentence as possible.
Fox's DVD sports a solid 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The picture is sharp, with an excellent level of detail, while colors appear natural, and are complemented by deep black levels. The 5.1 soundtrack contains crisp dialogue, and features some of the finest flatulence-based effects work ever committed to film. The animated short, "Nimrod and Stinky's Antarctic Adventure," kicks off the special features in less-than-stellar fashion due to some poor animation and ropey scripting. "Ready for Their Close Up" sees cast and crew wax lyrical about the joys of working with their penguin co-stars. "Ladies and Gentoomen" attempts to deliver a more educational look at the penguins involved, but is unnecessarily punctuated by scenes from the movie. "Original Story Sampler" offers the chance for viewers to read the first few pages of the book upon which the film is (very loosely) based. Director Mark Waters fronts an audio commentary track that proves to be a by the numbers affair, and unlikely to hold one's attention for the film's duration. Along with a theatrical trailer and Sneak Peeks at Spy Kids: All the Time in the World and Tooth Fairy 2, the disc also includes a selection of deleted scenes and a gag reel.
Although Mr. Popper's Penguins may not the total stinker you may have heard it is, I still have trouble recommending it. It's a decent rental for the kiddies, but fails to really distinguish itself in an overcrowded market.
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