The following review of Mr. Popper’s Penguins will undoubtedly not matter when choosing to see or not see this movie. What will matter is what your children want to do, and if you have witnessed them giggling to the trailer for this film, especially the moments involving penguin flatulence, consider yourself doomed. May the movie gods have mercy on your soul, and just think about this way: at least your kids will laugh, and isn’t the laughter of your children worth the absolute torture this guarantees to be? Really? It is? Well I’m not having kids then.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the nitty gritty: Mr. Popper’s Penguins is absolute torture of the highest degree, a movie that encases little to no redeeming value. If you’re above the age of 8, there’s nothing for you here; instead, there’s CGI penguins doing CGI things like CGI pooping and CGI bumbling, while Jim Carrey tries every trick he can think of to somehow salvage the trainwreck. But outside of a couple of funny one-liners and an ounce of cuteness, it doesn’t work and instead by the end of the credits you’ll either make a B-line for the exit as quick as you can or sit there drooling at the screen as your brain does its damndest to repair the damage it has incurred.
Carrey stars as Thomas Popper, a real estate mogul in New York who has an estranged ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and two annoying generic kids that he apparently spends his time neglecting in favor of buying famous buildings and moving up the firm he’s employed by. The next on his hit list? The famous Tavern on the Green, the only privately owned property in Central Park which every real estate firm salivates to buy up and tear down because culture is for suckers. The Tavern on the Green is owned by Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury, who is still alive and apparently has bills that her Murder, She Wrote royalty checks can’t cover), who won’t sell to anyone who lacks character. Thomas, unfortunately, lacks said character but things are about to take a turn for the better…and absolute absurd.
It turns out that Popper’s Dad, a world explorer whom spent all his time away from his son leading to some unresolved issues, has kicked the bucket. In his will, he has left Popper a special gift: a live penguin. Live penguins can apparently be pets. Popper is initially against this and tries to send it back but thanks to an over the top phone miscommunication that wouldn’t happen in a million years, five more penguins arrive. Before he can get rid of them, his generic son and daughter take a liking to them so he’s forced to have a bunch of penguins he’s ill equipped to take care live in his apartment and cause all sorts of ruckus. Soon enough though, these rascallions eventually grow on Popper and teach him to be a better father and husband, but also do funny things like poop, fart, and wreck havoc at the Guggenheim.
I understand that cute animals are the go to when making a children’s movie because then you don’t have to work hard to make anything meaningful, but shouldn’t you at least make them funny? The penguins in Mr. Popper’s Penguins are not funny whatsoever; in fact, they are the worst part of the movie which is pretty ironic. They go through the same motions, the goofy one runs into things all the time, the one that farts continually does so, and so on and so forth. It may be funny once, but done over and over and over and it equals diminishing returns. Now this reviewer may not be the target demographic for this kind of movie, but the kids in the theater I saw it in laughed a lot, but we’re talking about adults now; adults who will be dragged to this. Adults who will groan to themselves, look away, and mutter “are you kidding me?” whenever the penguins show up. And that will happen too.
Being a fan of Jim Carrey can be a miserable venture; for every good piece of work he does, there is another one that is so bad, it almost makes you forget about it. I’ll give it credit though; I think he realized how terrible this was and tried to throw in a few funny jokes for the adults and let out shades of the manic side that we all fell in love with in the 90′s but it’s not enough. Not enough when you spend the majority of your time interacting with CGI penguins and not acting like a real human being. Gugino, who plays his estranged wife who eventually falls back in love with him (remember kids: if your parents are divorced, cute animals will bring them back together!), is completely wasted as is the rest of the adult cast. And the two generic kids…they are two generic kids. Simple as that.
There also happens to be a villain sort of in a desperate bid to add some tension; his name is Nat Jones (Clark Gregg) and he happens to be the Penguin expert at the New York Zoo. He repeatedly tells Popper that he is ill equipped to handle them, which is completely true but also makes him really diabolical. That and a twist that happens in the last twenty minutes that is so forced it’s almost insulting. So it’s Popper against Jones, sort of but not really. Having this character is a gigantic waste of time and leads Mr. Popper’s Penguins to get even dumber as it reaches its climax.
There is very little, if anything, an adult will be able to get out of Mr. Popper’s Penguins unless all you want is to look at “cute animals” and don’t care about being entertained or not tortured. The story is completely insane, the jokes don’t hit, and the whole attraction in the first place (the penguins) make the movie even worse than it would have been without them. Carrey does his best to work above the material to raise it, but there’s just simply too much bad here to salvage. Your kids may laugh and giggle and make a giant mess for the underpaid usher staff to clean up (woop, too personal there), but you’ll be wishing for sweet sweet death. And for someone to just shoot those goddamn penguins.