Movie review: Mr Popper's Penguins

Now I bet you didn't have this much fun with Morgan Freeman.
Now I bet you didn't have this much fun with Morgan Freeman.

Sky+ing Glee. Sausage & egg McMuffins. Sleeping past mid-day at the weekend. Playing Angry Birds on the loo 'til our legs go numb. Just some of our guilty pleasures. Jim Carrey films can also be added to that list.

It's true that no-one has made as much money in Hollywood from gurning than Carrey, but he has on occasion tried to break the face-pulling mould with some interesting films, such as The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, and more recently with I Love You Phillip Morris.

And yet, without going all Cahiers du Cinema, a film like Dumb & Dumber can still be watched again and again with guaranteed laughs. And it's not the only one from Carrey's comic CV that can do that.

But with Carrey turning the big five O next birthday, does his face still have what it takes to be pulled every which way?

When Tom Topper Jr (Carrey) was a child, he had little contact with his father, as he spent most of his life sailing around the world having magnificent adventures. This has manifested itself in grown up Topper as someone being driven to succeed, most notably where his work is concerned. He is a savvy and ruthlessly charming estate agent who has the ability to buy up key properties for the swanky firm he works for.

He may well be a success at buying up property even from those reluctant to sell, but he's been a failure as a husband and a father to his two children. Although he gets on with his ex (Carla Gugino), he struggles to be a good father to his children, just as his dad did.

Popper then gets some sad news; his father has died. Before he did so however, he managed to send his son one last present; when he opens up the delivery, Popper is certainly surprised by his gift: a stuffed penguin. As it turns out, the penguin is far from stuffed, merely a little on the frozen side. When he defrosts he begins to make himself at home in Popper's luxury penthouse apartment.

Obviously Popper can't keep the penguin, particularly as his apartment building has a strict 'no pet's policy, so he attempts to get rid of it. However, there's a problem in communication, and instead of having the penguin picked up, Popper finds five more delivered.

Popper's life gets even more complicated when his kids turn up to his place and fall in love with the penguins. He makes a promise to his son that he won't get rid of them, a promise that not even he can break.

Keeping his hectic work schedule and looking after his waddle of penguins becomes increasingly difficult for Popper, leading him to believe that something eventually has to give.

What he doesn't count on however, is the power of the penguin; could it be that having these cheeky birds in his life reminds Popper of what's really important to him?

This will be a familiar story to Americans, as the story on which it's based (which was published in 1938) is often included in the reading syllabus in their elementary schools. It's been updated of course, with the main protagonist no longer being a poor house painter and becoming a yuppy estate agent. At least the penguins are still penguins.

As you would expect, Carrey gives his face the full Olympic work out, as it appears to defy the laws of gravity with its frequent manic movements. Add to this the slippery slapstick set pieces and you've got yourself a lightweight yet entertaining story that will certainly be enjoyed by younger audiences.

Thankfully it's also one of those family friendly titles that doesn't forget that adults may well be dragged along to see it too, and caters for them accordingly as well.

The problem for director Mark Waters is that he has to rely heavily on CGI for the more action-oriented scenes, and although they're executed with a lot of fun, it's not difficult to tell the real from the pretend penguins.

He's not helped of course by the fact that despite initially looking cute, penguins don't have the greatest ability to emote, particularly on film. Lassie made it look all too easy, and much of the animal kingdom have been struggling with their own personal acting demons ever since. It drove the real life chipmunks chosen for the initial live action film to drink, drugs and abusive relationships before the studio went with the far easier animated route.

Hopefully, with Carrey fast approaching fifty, he may well also have a Mr Popper epiphany, and realise that there's more to life than just pulling faces. He could easily follow in the tracks of someone like Tom Hanks if he wanted to, and do just as good a job too.

If you're looking for something fluffy to watch with the litt'luns though, Mr Popper and his penguins would be the perfect pick.

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