Okay, okay, there aren’t many summer movies that you’re willing to take the younger kids to, and something has to fill that void, so Mr. Popper’s Penguins is pretty much your only non-animated choice.
It’s odd, because I don’t think of Jim Carrey as being much of an attraction for kids, but it’s likely intended as a draw for the 30-something parents looking for a non-panda-centric film to placate their brood. Or for those who loved the 1938 book as kids themselves, though I never read it, and, from what I gather, it’s vastly different.
Carrey plays Popper, a semi-weasel (would that make him a ferret?) of a real estate agent with a golden tongue and flair for convincing hard cases to sell their property to his high-risin’ New York firm. In this, he’s ably aided by his alliterative assistant Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), an adorably saucy little Brit with an impediment that causes her to pepper her speech with a proliferation of p’s. One day Popper receives a crate from his recently deceased father, a world-renowned explorer who never had time for his son, and in it is a penguin, which proceeds to destroy Popper’s apartment and provide the first in a series of unnervingly graphic defecations.
Further complicating things is Popper’s current assignment: Acquire the only privately owned property in Central Park: Tavern on the Green. The owner (Angela Lansbury, showing her age) is unwilling to sell, and Popper himself has some reservations due to the fact that it’s the only place where he ever got to see his father. And finally, there’s Popper’s family itself, including his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and kids, all of whom want nothing to do with him because of his workaholism. Oh, and five more penguins arrive, and there’s a zookeeper who (somewhat sensibly) is trying to get Popper to sign the penguins over to him. Chaos ensues.
Popper’s Penguins plays out like you would expect, whacky antics, shoe-horned morals, and all, but I can’t deny that Carrey, even watered-down Carrey has his charms. This is nothing beyond the ordinary kid flick, and probably a few steps below, but if you can’t laugh at Jim Carrey putting a bottle of champagne to his ear and dribbling its contents from his mouth, you can at least be satisfied constructing lurid fantasies involving his assistant.
The penguins themselves aren’t particularly charming or funny, but the kids at my screening ate them up like sardines and squawked unmerciful when they weren’t on screen. There’s no curse words, naughty situations, or, aside from the romantic subplot of two divorced parents getting back together, sticky complications, so for parents taking their kids, it’s safe–save for the penguin defecation, but I suppose it’s not too different if the children have ever watched the family cat, dog, ferret, or whatever do likewise (if that’s the case, you may want to get them to a psychiatrist). And the running time is just short enough that they shouldn’t get too antsy.