Movie Review - Mr. Popper's Penguins (*** out of 5)

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MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS.  95 mins.  PG.  Directed by Mark Waters.  Written by Sean Anders & John Morris and Jared Stern.

Jim Carrey has seen his star dim a bit in recent years due to the rise of Judd Apatow-style comedies and R-rated fare like The Hangover.  And while, on paper, this adaptation of the classic children's book looks like the kind of family junk that Eddie Murphy would star in, Carrey, god bless him, never treats the material as a mere paycheck.  He never phones it in, and when given a little room to improvise, he comes up with a few funny physical gags that remind audiences why we loved him in the first place.  Pair him with some reasonably clever and entertaining penguin hijinks and you've got a decent family film.
My 3 year-old son was thoroughly entertained by Mr. Popper's Penguins, and I enjoyed it quite a bit as well.  The plot finds Carrey back in Liar Liar mode, as a neglectful, workaholic dad who most people (even his kids) just call Popper.  When Popper's adventurer father dies, he leaves Popper with six penguins, each bearing their own gimmicky character trait, not unlike the seven dwaves.  There's Captain, Lovey, Loudy, Bitey, Stinky, and Nimrod.  You can take a guess as to which penguin has which trait.  Needless to say, thanks to Stinky, there are plenty of penguin fart and poop jokes to get around.
That may be a dealbreaker for some of you.  It typically is for me, but amazingly, I found the toilet humor pretty easy to overlook.  Popper's kids take an immediate liking to the penguins, and Popper uses the birds to not only get in good with his kids but reconcile with his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and gain a finer appreciation of what's important in life.  In other words, typical family film fodder.
 
Most of the humor revolves around the penguins in various residential predicaments - sleeping in bed with Popper, nesting in the freezer drawer, etc.  The movie may be a one-trick pony in that regard, but I found that one trick to be rather charming and interesting.  I've never seen penguins in that kind of environment.  All the movie penguins I recall are like the ones in March of the Penguins or Happy Feet - stuck out in the Antarctic cold.  Not these.  And the penguins themselves, a seamless mix of real and CGI, look fantastic.
The live action family film, capable of entertaining both adults and children, is a rare commodity these days.  Mr. Popper's Penguins is no classic, but it doesn't insult the audience and will have your younger kids mimicking the penguins for days afterwards.  For the adults, there's the draw of Carrey - a great comic actor who works hard to raise this material, rather than take the easy route and stoop down to its basest, most crass level. 

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  • Personally I think it sucked. While it had it's cute and funny moments, the whole poor divorced dad with obnoxious kids thing is getting tiring. Would have been infinitely better with Sean Connery as Mr. Popper and less poor me. They could have stuck closer to the book and it would have been a HUGE hit. Instead they settled for an overused politically correct "template" and made it mediocre. Minus 2 stars - the book was 5 stars.

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