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if you like pratfalling penguins (and, really, who doesn't?)
on December 30, 2011
I'm sorry. I forfeited all objectivity once the first penguin waddled on camera. Jim Carrey's past few flicks have been hit or miss with me, and maybe a part of it is that I've gotten accustomed to his schtick, despite the impressive rubber face and manic body contortions that would make a yogi master weep. And maybe I'm still holding NUMBER 23 against him. But what's cuter than an infestation of penguins? My niece and nephews adored this film. MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS, with its predictability and obvious gags, rises above the dreck by dint of penguins. Plus, it's got Carla Gugino, hotness personified.
Jim Carrey plays Tommy Popper, a businessman severely focused on his career. But, first, we see Tommy as a child who spends a span of years communicating with his father via ham radio. His dad is an explorer who is always away on exotic expeditions, and, over time, we witness young Tommy grow disillusioned with his absentee father. Thirty years later, Tommy Popper is divorced with custody of his two kids on alternate weekends. Tommy himself has become a neglectful parent. All he's focused on is securing a partnership in his firm, a position guaranteed him once he bags a primo piece of real estate called the Tavern on the Green.
The status quo gets topsy-turvied when Tommy receives a shipment of penguin to his upscale New York apartment. And then another crate of five more penguins. When his kids come over for a visit, they fall in love with them. From there the plot unfolds in by-the-numbers fashion. You may guess that Tommy Popper turns over a new leaf and becomes a better father, to the detriment of his career. You may conjecture that he becomes smitten with his ex-wife all over again, although how in heck do you fall out of love with Carla Gugino in the first place? There's fun in watching Popper gradually convert his swank Manhattan duplex into a sub-arctic region, just to accomodate the birds and to connect with his kids. Other than the usual thorny family dilemmas that inevitably crop up, the narrative conflict hinges on Clark Gregg's (a.k.a. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Agent Colson) scheming NYC zoo official who covets the six penguins because they're of the rarer gentoo breed.
I was somewhat impressed when I learned - thru the bonus features - that there's a higher percentage of real penguins in action here than one would assume. (Obviously the scene in which Carrey dances with the penguins is CG-rendered.) Several of the penguins are given enough character traits that they stand out. We learn that "Captain" suffers from flight envy. That "Nimrod" tends to bump into and fall over things. That "Stinky"... well, you can guess his specialty. The others - Lovey, Bitey, and Loudy - are descriptive enough. The birds' ridiculous antics won me over. Jim Carrey tones his stuff down, as well, and this is a welcome thing. And I did love his compulsively alliterative personal assistant Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond). I recommend this family flick for those who think penguins are funny. But for those who couldn't care less about penguins - meaning that there's no buffer or filter thru which the bad bits can be digested - there are moments in the movie that simply defy believability (like a penguin hang-gliding) and they well may hike up ye olde blood pressure. MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS is not subtle. You'll see every plot point coming, predict every pratfall. It'll be as if you're watching the addled Mirror Universe version of the MARCH OF THE PENGUINS. But the kids will laugh themselves silly. I did, too.
The DVD's bonus material:
- Audio Commentary by director Mark Waters, editor Bruce Green, & visual effects supervisor Richard Hollander
- All-New Animated Short: "Nimrod & Stinky's Antarctic Adventure" (00:06:08 minutes)
- Gag Reel (00:01:58 minutes)
- 2 Deleted Scenes with optional commentary from the director, editor, & visual effects supervisor (totaling 00:02:08 minutes)
- "Ready for Their Close-Up" - A behind-the-scenes look at the real stars of the film: them penguins (00:08:25 minutes)
- "Ladies and Gentoomen" - SeaWorld San Diego's senior level aviculturist Jessica Perry divulges fun (or informative, anyway) facts about gentoo penguins (00:05:53 minutes)
- Original Story Sampler - enjoy the first three chapters of the 1938 children's book - MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS by Richard and Florence Atwater - on which the film was based
- Theatrical Trailer
- Sneak Peeks at SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD and TOOTH FAIRY 2