By Mike Smith
Who doesn’t love penguins? I know I do. And I also know enough people do to allow the documentary “March of the Penguins” to make over $75 million at the box office. Believe me, they weren’t going to hear Morgan Freeman’s soothing voice. Now funnyman Jim Carrey has teamed up with a half dozen feather-less friends in the new family film “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”
It’s the late 1970s. Young Tom Popper, Jr. sits anxiously in his bedroom each night hoping to exchange a few words with his father, who has spent his adult life traveling around the world in search of adventure. Though his father comes home occasionally with tales of his travels and a souvenir or two, the older Tom gets the less he sees his dad.
Jump ahead to the present day. An older Tom Popper, Jr. (Carrey) is the main talent at a Manhattan real estate office. Divorced with two young children (Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Perry Cotton), Tom has morphed into his father, an absent father, though the distance now is only a few miles and not the other side of the earth. Accompanied by his assistant Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), a young woman who has a habit of rattling of sentences proliferated with words beginning with the letter “P,” Tom has set his eye on the most sought after property on the island of Manhattan: the famed Tavern on the Green.” But when a gift from his father arrives packed in ice, Tom’s life, and the way he embraces it, will change forever.
A fun family film, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is based on the popular children’s novel by Richard and Florence Atwater. Director Waters, who knows his way around young adult fare having directed such films as the 2003 version of “Freaky Friday” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” again shows a keen eye for finding humor in everyday life. As Tom tries his best to raise his new charges he becomes a better father (and ex-husband). Whether he’s turning his apartment into a frost filled arctic shelf or corralling the penguins by having them watch (and imitate) old Charlie Chaplin films, he begins to learn lessons in life that his father, who was never home, did not teach him.
Carrey does a fine job as Tom, who is really a degree removed from Fletcher Reede, the father he played in “Liar, Liar.” While he still has a few “Jim Carrey” moments, they fit the story well and actually enforce the message. The penguins, both real and animatronic, are cute as buttons and just as funny as their leading man. And to start the laughs off, there’s a short film featuring the Scrat from the “Ice Age” films prior to the film. Jim Carrey, penguins and the Scrat? Sounds like a comic triple play.
Some great extras on here! commentary, animated shorts, deleted scenes and gag reel.