MR POPPER'S PENGUINS
Tommy Popper (Jim Carrey) is a successful real estate developer in Manhattan, amicably divorced from Amanda (Carla Gugino) with two children (Madeline Carroll, Maxwell Perry Cotton) he sees on alternate weekends. All seems to be going well until a final gift from Popper's late world-travelling father, a souvenir from Antarctica, arrives in a crate: a real, live penguin. He desperately tries to get rid of it but fails and another five penguins arrive on his doorstep. As he gets increasingly attached to them, Popper's life quickly unravels: his swank New York apartment becomes a winter wonderland, the deal he's long been working on is derailed, and he almost lands in jail. Meanwhile, he starts to understand the importance of family.
Review by Louise Keller:
What a delightful surprise to find a film whose gimmick is not simply a shallow one-joke wonder but one that delivers on multiple levels. I haven't laughed as much for a long time; Mr Popper's Penguins has the cute factor, is hilariously funny and its heart is as warm as ice is cold. Based on a 1938 novel by Richard and Florence Atwater, screenwriters Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern have updated the proceedings giving situations and dialogue a contempo feel but under Mark Waters' astute direction retain the essence of the story about a man who learns the value of family through his encounter with penguins.
Jim Carrey's Mr Popper is a man who sells dreams as a way of closing deals when procuring sought after properties for a real estate firm. He's had plenty of experiences when it comes to dreaming; as a child he re-lived all the adventures with his explorer father remotely, receiving souvenir packages from his travels all over the globe. The final package his father sends him however is slightly different from the run of the mill snow dome; it contains a live penguin. Five more penguins arrive shortly after.
The initial sequences when Mr Popper tries to come to terms with his new black and white house guest are beautifully conceived and realised. He puts the penguin into the bathtub with ice from the freezer, not imagining the curious bird will somehow manage to turn on the tap and the bath will run over and so on. That's the set up for the scene in which we can see the penguin swimming through the frosted glass of the door just before the unsuspecting Mr Popper opens the floodgates.
With the doors and windows left open in the mid-winter chill, Mr Popper's stark, tidy Manhattan apartment becomes the penguins' icy, snow-filled playground; he names them Captain, Lovey, Loudy, Bitey, Nimrod and Stinky for reasons you can probably guess. Popper's children Janie (Madeline Carroll) and Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton), who used to have to be persuaded to spend time with Dad every second weekend, suddenly see their father in a different light. As does his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino, lovely).
Not surprisingly, the penguins steal scene after scene; these are incredibly well trained penguins. They waddle in formation on cue, are captivated by Charlie Chaplin black and white movies on television, play angel wings in the snow, do their business in the toilet, eat sardines at the dinner table, dance in a routine with Carrey and joyously slide belly side down in puddles of water at a dress-up affair at the Guggenheim Museum. They also sleep in Popper's bed and Captain gets a shot at paraflying, which is how high this wonderful escapist comedy soars.
Carrey is superb and goes from crazy-mode to credibly sincere in the flash of an eye. The scene when he makes his entrance to the famed Central Park restaurant Tavern on the Green speaking in slo-mo mode (the action is in real-time), with family and penguins trailing behind is a hysterical. All the cast is terrific including Ophelia Lovibond as Popper's perplexed assistant Pippi, who is perpetually pressed for progress, and who paraphrases and proliferates the art of alliteration of the letter P. It's a treat to see the wonderful Angela Lansbury as the restaurant owner who is only willing to sell to the right owner.
No penguins were harmed in the making of this film we are told in the tongue-in-cheek closing credits, but that Jim Carrey was deservedly and mercilessly bitten. That's a joke in itself -young and old will crave to have one as a pet, although the script cleverly deals with this by a perfect ending that reinforces the importance of belonging, adventure and family.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Pity the parents who take their kids to see Mr Popper's Penguins; they will be tormented with penguin requests, after seeing that yes, they can be kept at home, even in an apartment. Hey mum, Jim Carrey did it! It looks so much fun who wouldn't want some cute penguins sharing a chaotic, messy meal ...
Adorable that they are (with very few unpleasant habits), the penguins have a more important role to play in this story than just be amusing and cute, slide around the floor in puddles of water and make (sometimes deafening) quaarking noises. They help Mr Popper (Carrey) remember the importance of a close family - in which dads are there and they share their feelings with their children, something young Popper missed out on.
Audiences wonder how the filmmakers got the penguins do what they do in this fine family fantasy, and that's exactly what they want us to think. To put you out of your misery, I consulted the production notes which tell us that all of Mr Popper's Penguins are real live penguins - although some of the things they do are achieved by a bit of digital magic.
Popper's apartment has to become a home away from home for the birds that love snow and ice and water and fishy snacks. He gets attached to the little rascals as do his two kids (Madeline Carroll, Maxwell Perry Cotton) and even the wife from whom he is separated (Carla Gugino).
There are potential dangers in the apartment building, ranging from the janitor who needs to be bribed to be blind to penguins (pets not allowed, penguins especially) to the jealous troublemaking neighbour Kent (David Krumholtz) and of course the zoo, whose penguin expert (Clark Gregg) wants those penguins out of Mr Popper's place and into the zoo.
The back story is briefly sketched out as young Popper mostly communicates with his oft absent father via two-way radio; it is from this that the father-child relationship themes are developed.
Popper's PA is Pippi (Olivia Lovibond) a cute little prisoner of a peccadillo known as alliteration, which will amuse young and old alike, and Angela Lansbury manufactures some majestic moments as Mrs Van Gundy, owner of the world famous Tavern on the Green, which Popper is trying to buy for his firm.
Based on the much loved 1938 novel, the adaptation brings the story, the setting and the characters up to date (or at least changes them all to suit modern movie making) but retains its central and essential message about parenting. Without doubt there are many elements of Hollywoodism in here, including the ease with which complex relationships of all kinds are resolved. But for all its slickness and occasional fakery, it works because deep down it's jangling a universal nerve that is worth jangling.
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MR POPPER'S PENGUINS (PG)
CAST: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Ophelia Lovibond, Madeline Carroll, Clark Gregg, Jeffrey Tambour, David Krumholtz, Philip Baker Hall, Maxwell Perry Cotton, James Tupper
PRODUCER: John Davis
DIRECTOR: Mark Waters
SCRIPT: Sean Anders, John Morris, Jared Stern (novel by Richard & Florence Atwater)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Florian Ballhaus
EDITOR: Bruce Green
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stuart Wurtzel
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 30, 2011