Jun 17 2011
Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Based very loosely on the beloved 1938 book of the same name, ‘Mr. Popper’s
Penguins’ seems like a natural choice for parents looking to take young kids out
for some nice, clean family fun. After all, it has penguins, the adorable,
tuxedoed clowns of the animal kingdom, and stars Jim Carrey, the clown king of
Hollywood, whose silliness and over-the-top physicality have been a hit with
kids and immature adults for years.
And judging from the laughs of the kids and adults during the screening I
attended, the filmmakers got the formula right. But I couldn’t help feeling that
if I was a single, divorced, or remarried parent taking my child to ‘Mr.
Popper’s Penguins’, it might lead to some uncomfortable questions and perhaps an
awkward ride home. But I’ll get to that in a second.
Carrey plays Mr. Popper, a budding New York real estate mogul whose habit of
putting his job before his family has led to a divorce from his wife, Amanda,
played by Carla Gugino, and resentment from his teenage daughter, played by
Madeline Carroll, and younger son, played by Maxwell Perry Cotton. But that
starts to change when Popper’s absent explorer father sends Popper a crate
containing a live penguin, surely violating dozens of international laws on
Soon, more penguins arrive, making six in all, and are assigned names like
Bitey, Stinky and Nimrod. But Popper’s kids fall in love with the birds before
he can get rid of them, so to keep his kids coming back, Popper decides to keep
the penguins and turn his luxurious apartment into their habitat by opening his
windows to the winter snow. That is, unless the birds are taken by an evil zoo
official played by Clark Gregg, who doesn’t seem to like animals and has the
despicable notion that exotic animals should be kept in a zoo and cared for by
professionals. In the meantime, Popper is also trying to make partner at his
real estate firm by negotiating to buy Central Park’s famous Tavern on the Green
from its owner, played by Angela Lansbury.
As a kids movie, ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’ is passable fare, though I can’t
imagine many children caring much about whether the Tavern will continue to
retain its old school charm. The penguins, a mix of real, animatronic and CG
birds, are cute, and unless you find penguin poop and fart jokes offensive, the
film’s humor is kid friendly, with a few jokes for parents sprinkled in. The
supporting cast does a decent job, and Carrey’s exaggerated performance is
entertaining and similar to the role he played in the superior kids movie, ‘Liar
But what stood out for me is the film’s message that divorced parents need to be
reunited to achieve familial happiness. This is a common fantasy for children
from broken families and has been around in movies at least since 1961’s ‘The
Parent Trap’. But with divorce and single-parent households increasingly common,
it’s a sentiment that strikes me as outdated, as well as unfair to divorced or
single parents who don’t want to rehash the difficult conversation about why
mommy and daddy aren’t together anymore. It’s also potentially cruel to
impressionable, perhaps emotionally fragile young children from broken families
who will have to be reminded that their parents will, most likely, never get
So be warned, single/divorced parents, especially single or remarried dads who
might think an afternoon at the movies with the kids might be a nice way to
spend Father’s Day. However, in a rare move, ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’ is only
being offered in 2D, so cash-strapped parents tired of inflated 3D ticket prices
might take their chances anyway.
‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’ is rated PG and is in theaters now.