MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS Review

by     Posted 3 years, 105 days ago

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Your kids are probably going to love Mr. Popper’s Penguins.  I saw it an audience filled with kids and their parents, and the kids laughed throughout.  They laughed when the penguins farted.  They laughed when the penguins pooped.  They laughed when the penguins fell down.  They laughed when Jim Carrey made a funny face.  The movie easily walks beneath the low bar set by what passes for family films and if you want to keep your kids amused for two hours and can’t find a shiny object, then Mr. Popper’s Penguins fits the bill.  There’s nothing I can say against this film that makes it any less of a joy to kids who ask nothing more than funny faces, fart jokes, and slapstick.  Instead, I’m fascinated by the film’s unsettling subtext..

I’ve never read the book Mr. Popper’s Penguins, but I have to pray that it’s not as soulless and warped as the movie.  Tom Popper (Carrey) is standard-issue workaholic dad who doesn’t spend enough time with his kids because he’s so focused on his career and making lots of money.  Naturally, his career is shallow and makes him a lot of money, but Carrey already did Neglectful Lawyer Dad in Liar Liar, so now he’s Neglectful Real Estate Dad.  But we can always throw some daddy issues on that fire and it turns out that Tom Sr. was always away on an expedition and Tom Jr. grew to resent his father.  Then Popper the Elder passes away and leaves his son a penguin as if it were another souvenir from one of his trips.  It’s a live creature that needs care and attention, but whatever.  When Tom tries to return the penguin, he ends up getting five more due to a miscommunication (over a language barrier!  Oh, when will those silly foreigners learn to speak English?).

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Mr. Popper struggles to get rid of the penguins but then his emotionally distant kids see the adorable animals, start warming up to their father, his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) starts to re-evaluate him, and he grows to like the penguins because they’re adorable.  And they even serve different functions!  There’s Main Penguin, Farty Penguin, Loud Penguin (who is seriously called “Loudy”), Huggy Penguin, Biting Penguin, and Slapstick Penguin.  Need a slapstick joke?  Let’s go, Slapstick Penguin!  Has been almost 15 minutes since the last poop joke?  You’re up, Farty Penguin!

Obviously, Popper will learn a valuable lesson, realize that his job is awful, become more of a family man, and it’s all thanks to those darn penguins.  Kids don’t know these are the beats of the generic family film and they don’t care.  But I have seen them and the laziness of the script is magnificent.  You could take almost any generic live-action family comedy from the last thirty years, change a few names and plot devices, and boom: You have Mr. Popper’s Penguins.  What’s remarkable is you have three credited screenwriters on this thing.  And you know that at least one of them got the note: “Needs more penguin shit,” which is how you get a scene where Carrey squeezes the shit out of a penguin.  That happens in this movie.  Popper picks up a penguin, holds him over the toilet, squeezes the penguin, and a bunch of shit falls into the bowl.  You know, for kids.

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You get the sense that Carrey couldn’t care less.  It’s almost as if he understands that he’s going to be upstaged by adorable penguins so rather than put in his usual manic-comic performance, he just sits back, let’s the energy drain from the scene, and waits for the next time he can use his character’s forced catchphrase, “Yeabsolutely.”  Kids won’t care, but I can hear Carrey telling someone “I got to say ‘Alrighty then’ in Ace Ventura, and ‘B-e-a-utiful’ in Bruce Almighty and both of those movies were hits.  Give me a new affirmative catchphrase.”

Kids won’t notice that, their parents probably won’t notice that, but I’m a critic so I notice that.  I can’t shoot myself with a memory bullet and make this movie a fresh and exciting experience.  What I can do is notice is its depressing subtext.

One of the film’s villains is a zookeeper played by Clark Gregg (the other villain is a tenant who hates Popper and who could have been excised from the film completely; he adds nothing to the movie) .  The zookeeper tells Popper that it takes expertise and the proper environment to take care of Penguins.  Popper is initially ecstatic that someone is coming to take the penguins off his hands, but then his kids see the penguins, his son assumes they’re a birthday present, Popper is so desperate for his kids’ affection that he lies and says they’re presents, and now he can’t hand them over to the zookeeper because if he does, his kids won’t like him.  Parenting lesson 1: Buy off your kids.  It will in no way backfire and turn them into spoiled, entitled brats.

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So rather than having Popper lay his foot down and explain that the responsible thing to do is to turn the penguins over to someone who knows how to care for them, Popper makes his luxury apartment really cold, brings in some snow, uses the Google and the YouTubes to learn about penguin care, and voila!  Now the penguins will be cared for.  When one of their eggs doesn’t hatch, Potter feels like a failure and decides to give the penguins up to Clark Gregg.  But then his kids don’t like him!  And his ex-wife stops falling for him!  Time to suit up and get those penguins back!

The film then tries to explain that Clark Gregg was really up to no good.  Was he planning to sell the penguins to a private collector?  Was he going to turn them into food for eccentric rich people?  Nope.  He was going to split them up and send them to different zoos so his zoo, the New York Zoo (not a fly-by night fake zoo, but one of the world’s most famous zoos), could get other animals in return.  That is his unforgivable crime and it is better that the penguins go and live with amateur penguin enthusiast Tom Popper because they wuv him.

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What’s interesting about Mr. Popper’s Penguins is that usually in this protect-the-animal sub-genre, the villain tends to be a giant corporation, a hunter, or a selfish, wealthy individual who wants the animal for his own personal amusement, and it’s up to the heroes to protect the animals and put them in the wild or a place where they’ll be cared for properly.  The hero of Mr. Popper’s Penguins is the selfish, wealthy individual who needs these penguins to get over his daddy issues and win his kids’ affections.

I think the values the film promotes are perverse.  It says as long as you’re wealthy and have an Internet connection, you’re the best caretaker for anything and people with expertise can go screw and those sneaky bastards probably have their own agenda anyway.  It says “Hey kids!  If your parents really loved you, they would always give into your demands.  If they don’t, pout and be bratty, and that should do the trick.”  It says to children of divorce that dad needs to stop being a workaholic and just take mom on a date and the marriage will be fixed.  And maybe kids will pick up on that.

Rating: F

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  • Wilson

    Sadly, I will probably be giving in to my children’s demands and seeing this turd. God help me…

  • TheDuke

    I would rather allow an alien to probe me infront of my friends and family than watch this. Real talk

  • Nick

    damn, harsh.

  • dpolo27

    totally agree with your review…bad parenting/sick society 101 movie.. in the other hand…any Carla Gugino awesome cleavage???

  • cait

    I actually thought the movie was pretty good and I don’t think you gave it enough credit. It is a quite adorable film, it may be simple and pretty generic but it gives you a warm feeling inside and leaves you happy. It is a cute film and I think almost anyone could enjoy it if they are open minded.

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  • An_onny

    Thanks for the review. I was thinking about taking my son (who just read the book) to see this this week. Sounds like it has been badly mangled and nothing like the original classic? I guess we’ll pass on it. Or at least save $20 and wait for it on Netflix!

  • Tommy M

    After that last paragraph, I am convinced this movie was written and directed by well meaning Democrats, it oooooozes their mindsets!

    “I think the values the film promotes are perverse. It says as long as you’re wealthy and have an Internet connection, you’re the best caretaker for anything and people with expertise can go screw and those sneaky bastards probably have their own agenda anyway. It says “Hey kids! If your parents really loved you, they would always give into your demands. If they don’t, pout and be bratty, and that should do the trick.” It says to children of divorce that dad needs to stop being a workaholic and just take mom on a date and the marriage will be fixed. And maybe kids will pick up on that.”

  • Yates

    It’s not hard to diagnose some SERIOUS wealth envy going on here. If you’re an angry, obsessed, individual with an agenda you’ll hate this move. However if you have a good family life you and your kids will enjoy it. I know my wife, my kids and I, myself found quite entertaining.

    • Clay

      ^ SERIOUS critical-thought envy

      I unfortunately saw this awful, bankrupt film. This review is accurate.

  • Donna

    I didn’t like it. It was cute, it had some funny moments but it could have been SOOOOO much better. The book was a favorite as a kid, and this just was stupid compared to the very entertaining and funny book. I am so sick of the overused poor divorced dad and obnoxious kids theme. It would have been an excellent movie had they followed the book but it’s not even close. Kids, read the book…don’t waste your money on this silly retarded movie. Only the penguins deserve 4 stars.

  • Donna

    I didn’t like it. It was cute, it had some funny moments but it could have been SOOOOO much better. The book was a favorite as a kid, and this just was stupid compared to the very entertaining and funny book. I am so sick of the overused poor divorced dad and obnoxious kids theme. It would have been an excellent movie had they followed the book but it’s not even close. Kids, read the book…don’t waste your money on this silly retarded movie. Only the penguins deserve 4 stars. The review is totally accurate.

  • Charlotte

    Matt – I do not know what planet you are from but that is possibly the WORST review I have ever read about a movie. I guess someone who has a passion for something that brings back all the things forgotten from long ago – feelings, importance of love, etc. – is no longer a good thing. And neither are families getting back together or sharing quality time together at the top of your list either. This was a great family movie with an uplifting tone throughout. This was a horrible review from you who 1) must either have not seen the movie or 2) is so bitter anything good is tarnished through your broken lenses.

  • Chris

    POSSIBLY THE BEST MOVIE I HAVE SEEN IN A LONG LONG TIME! The director has gone to such lengths to make this movie so loving, caring and touching the heart. I had the best time in my life when i went with my family! I have not laughed so much for a very long time! It is truely shocking to see what people have come to like these days! How on earth can you NOT like the movie? What do you like then? Blood killing rape, sex, violence? what? Clearly the world a becoming a bad place to life and goodness going down. Briten was never what its like today. Everyone blaming the parents who havnt put any culture in their children, looting, stealing, burning houses! Jesus! Crazy world out there….Are we getting worse as time is progressing?

  • Sam

    I disagree with this review in so many ways. First of all, you were probably one of those loners who went to watch this by yourself with a stern face and your little box of popcorn. Lighten up, this is a family movie, and a pretty decent one at that. I watched this with my family and they absolutely loved it, and thats why “grown ups” should love this movie aswell. The joy it brings to our kids is priceless. The fart noises, the screaming, the pooping and the adorable hugging from these penguins brought smiles throughtout the theater. I would admit however, i do agree on some of the points you covered about the movie but i would, in no way, give this movie an F rating. I know my kids certainly would not. Seeing my kids enjoying themselves and to see how happy they were going in to and out of the movie were all the reasons i needed to give this movie praise. It was a cute, heartwarming movie that would make a great family movie night choice. The ideal audience would be kids, the only reviews that anyone should take into consideration, should be theirs. Seriously, lighten up.

  • rav3n

    Jim is getting old and he is not funny anymore , by far the worst movie of 2011 gimme a break i especialy hated the scene where he hangs on the staircase and the penguin craps on his head

  • lynn

    Yes- But NO!

    A cute disney type movie, darling penguins…………..BUT,

    THEY ENDED THE MOVIE WITH THE PEOPLE WEARING COATS MADE WITH REAL ANIMAL FUR!!!!!!!!!!

    So guess they didnt give any thought to animal rights at all when filming.

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  • J.Aydin

    Any movie promotes family values is my favourite. Father gets back to family and they are happy. If you are looking something more then this there is something wrong with you. That is final. It is never waste of time. And I don’t need your opinion.

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