After businessman Mr. Popper (Carrey) receives a penguin as a gift, he soon finds himself the caretaker of five more of the seabirds, and he subsequently changes his life and home to accommodate his new charges.
Jim Carrey plays Tom Popper, a divorced workaholic businessman who buries his feelings for his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino) and fumbles for the right words whenever he tries talking to his children.
Since there is no explanation as to what ended their fifteen-year-long marriage, we can only assume that it was Mr. Popper’s inability to prioritize his home life over his professional one.
His daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) hints at some long-term emotional neglect, while her younger brother Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton) simply wonders about his birthday present. But overall, the kids seem to be just fine with the divorce situation. Instead of an abusive stepfather, they have to contend with Rick (James Tupper), Amanda’s pleasant and underdeveloped boyfriend.
Is Mr. Popper bothered by this personal loss and the destruction of his family life? It’s hard to tell because he is wholly consumed by the high-octane nature of his white-collar career. But everything in his life is about to change due to an extraordinary altercation in his anal-retentive lifestyle.
If this sounds an awful lot like “Liar, Liar”, that is because it is the exact same set-up, complete with his wife’s corny boyfriend (although Cary Elwes was much more entertaining as the Magoo-like Jerry). The major difference is that Popper has penguins instead of a birthday honesty curse.
So, instead of watching Jim Carrey struggle in order to tell a lie, we get to watch him struggle while handling flightless waterfowl in his super-chic Manhattan apartment.
The kids will go crazy for the adorably loyal nature of the Gentoo penguins. Their parents will be forced to silently repeat that age-old adult mantra whenever faced with the saccharine horrors of family adventure: “Remember, it’s a movie for kids.”
And that raises a question I have been asking for years regarding children’s entertainment. Why does this all need to be so goddamn stupid? Granted, most children of today are not interested in anything ironic, political, or topical. But does this mean that we, the ticket-buying audience members, need to be inundated by sophomoric fart and penguin poop jokes?
Why are the talented folks at Pixar the only ones who seem to be able to craft a storyline that appeals to younger and older audiences together?
Certainly Mr. Carrey, a twenty-plus-year veteran of cinematic comedy, can offer the adults something worthwhile while entertaining our children with goofball expressions and silly dance moves. Alas, no. This is yet another sufferable experience for the car drivers and chaperones as we wait for a penguin to finish defecating in Mr. Potter’s toilet.
Ordinarily, the Hollywood screenwriters would have the good sense to add in some colorful supporting characters to appease the parents’ inevitable boredom. The best that Sean Anders, John Morris, and Jared Stern could do while adaptating Richard and Florence Atwater’s 1938 children’s novel was to give Mr. Poppers an eccentric personal assistant named Pippy (Ophelia Lovibund). The London-born Pippy has an amusing speech impediment that limits her proper English vocabulary to all words beginning with the letter “P”.
Beyond that, she is pretty much useless to the feather-thin plotline. Her character does manage to perform a laugh-out-loud pratfall towards the end. But it is botched by bad editing. Lesson to all physical comedy filmmakers out there: it is much more funny when we actually see them hit the ground.
As for Mr. Popper’s family members, they are likable enough to be spared critical onslaught . . . with the exception of his ex-wife Amanda, who is crafted with the bare minimal character definition. She might as well be a doddering penguin herself. We don’t speculate if she and Mr. Popper will rekindle their love for one another because we don’t know what sparked it in the first place. Their chemistry is as cold and lifeless as the dead fish fed to Mr. Popper’s six penguins.
And speaking of cold fish, did anyone else find it disloyal that Popper aspires for a partnership among the most ungrateful and spiteful corporate executives in New York City?
Like Mitchell Ryan’s character Mr. Allan in “Liar, Liar”, Phillip Baker Hall dangles a promotion in Popper’s face in order to stimulate ulterior motivation in the direction of his career. But instead of doing the respectable thing and asserting his priorities of family over profession, he merely caves in to their authoritative demands and jumps through their hoops. It reminds me of that Jim Carrey continues to jump through hoops whenever his agent tosses him another Hollywood script based upon another revered work of children’s literature.
Do us all a favor, Mr. Carrey. Get back to character-driven screenplays that utilize your abilities in performing despair and shock exuberance. We need more engaging films like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “I Love You Phillip Morris.” Stop being a “Yes Man”.