Dir. Mark Waters, 2011, USA, 94 mins
Cast: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Madeline Carroll, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Angela Lansbury, Ophelia Lovibond
Review by Michelle Moore
First there was March of the Penguins (2005) and Happy Feet (2006), and then Surf’s Up (2007) quickly followed. Just when you thought it was safe to go to the cinema and not see a lovable cuddly penguin popping up on the big screen, here comes Mr. Popper’s Penguins, a new live action adaptation involving the brilliant Jim Carrey in the lead as Mr Tom Popper Jr.
Mr Popper is a divorced realtor, whose father was always away travelling during his childhood. When his father dies, he leaves his son a penguin, which through miscommunication is joined by five others. These penguins begin to impact on two areas of Mr Popper’s life – his relationship with his family and his job. Initially he intends to donate the penguins to a zoo, but his children fall in love with them and subsequently grow closer to their father as he begins dating their mother again. At the same time, Mr Popper is given the task of purchasing Tavern on the Green, where he used to dine with his father as a child, in order to tear it down. Its elderly owner (Lansbury) refuses to sell to just anyone, but when she sees how he has transformed his life, she sells to Mr Popper, who renovates and restores it rather than reducing it to rubble.
Director Mark Waters has done a wonderful job in making this film a delight to watch, a kind of feature-length ‘Penguins do the funniest things’. When the first penguin arrives, Mr Popper puts him in a bath filled with ice and goes to work. When he returns, he finds the tap on and the penguin swimming behind a frosted glass door. The result is not only hilarious, but also creative. This sequence, as well as a penguin flying, dancing and even using the toilet provide some orginal and sometimes breathtaking shots – the penguins steal the show. Mr Popper pays such devotion to these penguins that he even names them, and the names pretty much give away their personalities: Stinky, Nimrod, Loudy, Bitey, Lovey and the one in charge – Captain.
Penguins apart, the movie benefits from a fantastic human cast. Jim Carrey has made some phenomenal films in the past, such as the animated A Christmas Carol, and live action flicks like Ace Venture and The Mask. In this role he is charismatic and really puts emotion as well as comedy into his character. His relationship with the penguins is touchingly caring and paternal. When they lay three eggs and one doesn’t hatch, he becomes obsessed with saving it, really bringing out his fatherly love. The scene where he makes an entrance at Tavern on the Green is typical Carrey. He moves and speaks in slow motion to make an impact not on the audience viewing the film but the diners sitting in the restaurant. Carrey is joined by the wonderful Angela Lansbury as the restaurant owner and Ophelia Lovibond as Mr Popper’s assistant Pippi, who is puzzling yet intriguing, and has a habit of overusing the letter P in her pronunciation of words.
Over the last few years there have been numerous family films released based on children’s books. Some were transformed into animated features such as How to Train Your Dragon, while others were adapted into live action films like Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief and the brilliant Harry Potter. Mr. Popper’s Penguins, which is based on a 1938 novel by Richard and Florence Atwater, is something special and is funny and enjoyable viewing for all the family.