Movie Review: Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Starring Jim Carrey

I have to wear two hats as I review Jim Carrey’s newest movie and this weekend’s entry in the “Family Film” category for Summer openings, Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

First, I’ll assume the role of {semi} serious critic. There is nothing earth-shattering or ground-breaking about this film. In fact, I read a humorous Tweet to the effect of, “Looks like another Liar, Liar, just with penguins.” That’s…well…pretty accurate. Carrey plays a divorced dad who goes through a soul-transforming experience and eventually reunites with his wife and kids (despite the fact that in both movies, the ex-wife is actually dating someone else!!). In the meantime, he struggles through a professional crisis as he finds himself in outrageous circumstances beyond his control, bounding about the screen with goofy faces, voices, and stunts aplenty.

There’s no sense of urgency in this movie – the villain isn’t very villainous, the meddling neighbor poses no real threat, there are no great odds to overcome. And I felt very little spark between Jim Carrey and Carla Gugino, who plays the ex-wife. Which means I could have hardly cared if they got back together.

I have not read the Mr. Popper’s Penguins book for children, written by Richard & Florence Atwater, upon which the movie is based. Some devoted fans of the book are not happy with how little the film actually resembles the book. Even just  a quick overview of the book online, and I can see the only two things that seem to tie the two together: the name Popper, and penguins. But I confess I don’t have a strong opinion on this aspect of the film, so I’ll leave it at that.

Now, reviewing the movie as an average theater-goer looking for a little entertainment… I liked it! I found the movie, despite the predictability of the plot, very charming. There were some unexpected moments in the dialogue – both funny and sweet – that kept me engaged. The broader strokes of Carrey’s acting included the signature goofy-ness he’s known for, but underneath there were more subtle, heartwarming tones, and I found that enjoyable. I loved watching the incomparable Angela Lansbury, and frankly, I enjoyed Carrey’s assistant Pippi (played by Ophelia Lovibond) and her “P problem.”

And the penguins? OH, the penguins. Adorable and laugh-out-loud funny. I had to tap my 17yo daughter on the knee a few times to remind her to quiet down – she was laughing so loud (and so often!). As with nearly every movie involving animals, each penguin was given a distinct personality and fitting name, which felt a little cliche, but was still quite cute.

There’s a bit of potty humor in this movie, but not too much, and every time I felt like they could have taken something way over the edge, they backed off and let it be. I was grateful for that.

Honestly, Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a movie we will likely buy when it comes out on DVD; I could see my kids watching this over and over and getting some good laughs each and every time.

NOTE: Mr. Popper’s Penguins is rated PG for mild rude humor and some language. Running time is 95 minutes.

Disclosure: I was invited to an advanced screening in order to facilitate this review. No other compensation was received. All opinions expressed are honest and my own. Any day now I’m expecting my kids to ask just how possible it might be to have a penguin as a pet. Here in Houston, I’m guessing “pretty impossible” is the right answer.