The life of a businessman (Jim Carrey) begins to change after he inherits six penguins, and as he transforms his apartment into a winter wonderland, his professional side starts to unravel.

3
A perfectly fine family comedy from Carrey and co.

Working from the assumption that very few of the target audience will be familiar with the details of its 1939 source novel, director Mark Waters plants his camera and mostly lets Jim Carrey work his comedic schtick (and, thankfully, his dramatic chops) in Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

The rubber-limbed actor plays Tom Popper, who has morphed from authors Richard and Florence Atwater’s beloved dirt-poor, small-town painter into a ruthless New York realtor. In order to make partner in the firm (whose executives are portrayed by heavyweight actors paying some bills – The Sopranos’ Dominic Chianese and Magnolia’s Phillip Baker Hall), Popper must secure the only real estate in Central Park that can be developed: the rundown real-life restaurant, Tavern on the Green. (How the filmmakers got permission to portray the landmark in such an unflattering light for most of the film is the production’s greatest achievement.)

Popper is helped by his pretty PA Pippi (the perky Ophelia Lovibond), but two distracting influences arise when he doesn’t need them: his kids Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton) and surly, confused teenager Janie (Madeline Carroll), whom he sees on alternate weekends; and six penguins, the only inheritance from his late father, a famed explorer. Further complications present themselves in the form of the Tavern’s matriarchal owner, Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury), a fierce traditionalist who values family over profit, and the New York City Zoo’s penguin expert (Clark Gregg), who wants the birds by any means necessary.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins pushes all the buttons we expect in modern kid-friendly comedies: lots of poo/fart/burp jokes; the star getting hit and/or bitten in the head and/or testicles; and animal co-stars (or mostly well-done CGI renditions thereof) exhibiting precise comic timing. Waters, who made his name with the far more caustic Mean Girls (2004), keeps it all running smoothly, if a little rote. At the high end of the live-action family comedy spectrum are the likes of Home Alone and Night at the Museum, at the other end dirge like Eddie Murphy’s Daddy Day Care and the Problem Child movies from the mid-'90s;,Mr Popper’s Penguins sits somewhere in the middle.

The casting of Jim Carrey is by far the most interesting element of the film. Tom Popper is a familiar riff on characters he’s previously mastered; it’s no stretch to view Mr Popper’s Penguins as a sequel-of-sorts to his 1997 hit Liar Liar, in which he also played a self-centred divorcee who rediscovers his family’s worth. But knowing of his off-screen reality as a separated father with a teenage daughter, there’s a sweet melancholy that comes through in Carrey’s performance, especially in his scenes opposite 15-year-old Carroll. Despite the slapstick nonsense that pervades the film, the actor’s handling of the underlying 'family above all else’ theme is succinct and honest; it is heartening to think that the message may have been the motivating force behind Carrey’s involvement.

It’s no Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), but given its agreeable humour and digestible amount of saccharine sentiment, Mr. Popper’s Penguins will do just nicely as an afternoon at the movies for the family.