When did Hollywood become obsessed with penguins? It seems like these days you can’t move for the little buggers. March Of The Penguins, Happy Feet, Happy Feet 2 and now Jim Carrey’s new vehicle, Mr Popper’s Penguins.
It’s the story of hotshot, silver-tongued property lawyer Tom Popper (Jim Carrey) who’s desperately trying to buy the iconic Tavern On The Green from its stubborn owner Mrs Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury). His dedication to his job means that he’s alienated his children (Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Perry) and his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) is beginning a relationship with a new man.
When his explorer father dies and bequeaths him six penguins (Captain, Stinky, Loudy, Bitey, Lovey and Nimrod), Popper is forced to look after them in his swanky apartment with disastrous results. But predictably by looking after the penguins, he’s able to reconnect with his kids and rebuild the bridge with his ex-wife.
Jim Carrey has been toning down his rubber-faced antics in favour of more measured safe family comedies of late and Penguins is no exception. That’s actually a shame because when the old Carrey pops up in, it’s a reminder of the great days of Ace Ventura and Dumb And Dumber. There are some great gags – Carrey pulls out the old slow motion routine (still funny), a brilliantly old-fashioned physical gag with a bottle of champagne and an uncanny James Stewart impression.
The penguins are handled really well blending CGI and real footage to good effect but there’s no real sense of their personalities besides their descriptive monikers and there’s a massive overreliance on penguin poo jokes. The supporting cast are by and large fine, Angela Lansbury effortlessly slots into loveable old lady mode and Carla Gugino has a surprising amount of chemistry with Carey.
However, despite having enjoyable moments, it’s not very clear why we should side with Popper over the film’s supposed antagonist. The “villain” is a zookeeper (Clark Gregg) who warns Popper that keeping penguins in a New York apartment is bad for them. The film wants us to believe that he’s a party-pooping killjoy but surely if Popper really cared about his penguins, he’d give them over to a professional? No matter how hard the film tries to convince you otherwise, you simply can’t keep Antarctic animals in an air-conditioned apartment full of snow and love doesn’t trump animal welfare.
There’s also no imagination with the script – it’s completely predictable from start to finish – from Popper’s unresolved daddy issues to the rekindling of his romance with his ex-wife. It also hints that Popper might be going insane only to pull away before that strand even gets going. Such a twist would have made for a more original and enjoyable movie (and one where Carrey might have got to show off the physical goonery he’s so adept at) but it’s not long before it trundles back to the well-worn safe comedy path.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins certainly has its moments and it’s far from terrible (unlike last week’s animal-based abomination Zookeeper) but there’s a lingering sense of what could have been. As it stands it’s a perfectly serviceable if bland romantic comedy which will keep sprogs entertained and won’t cause parents undue distress.