Wednesday, June 22, 2011

summer movie catch-up — Mr. Popper's Penguins

Considering how our summer has gotten off to such a strange start, it is amazing to me that we have been able to see most of the new summer movies — at least the ones I can take the kid to. I still have to do some catching up with some more grown-up fare. I've also been intending to catch-up with writing about the movies we've seen recently, so here is a quick take:

Mr. Popper's Penguins wasn't as different from the original book as reported. The bare bones of the Atwaters' wonderful book were there — a penguin sent as a gift to Mr. Popper in a box from an explorer, more penguins joining the first, the penguins having babies and wreaking (funny) havoc. The movie updates Mr. Popper from a house painter to a (sort of) ruthless New York businessman, from a family man to a divorced dad who needs to reconnect with his kids and ex. This plot device is very of-the-moment for family comedies, but the updated story isn't the thing. Mr. Popper's Penguins is primarily an opportunity for Jim Carrey to have a blast and take the audience along with him.

Carrey has more than proved that he is a serious actor, in such films as The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but his real gifts as a performer have always been how he uses his face and body. He's a brilliant physical comedian and it's a blast to watch his tall and lanky form in contrast to the waddling penguins, or trying to spin Angela Lansbury in a diversionary dance move. There is a sequence filmed at the Guggenheim Museum that makes more of that crazy architectural space than any exhibition ever did.

Once he accepts that he might actually want to keep his unexpected penguin pets, Popper turns his sleek and stark divorced-dad millian dollar Manhattan bachelor pad (because this is a movie and everyone in the movies in New York live in million dollar apartments) into a snow-filled playground for himself, his kids and the penguins. The movie was reportedly filmed on a refrigerated soundstage and the results are the best part of the movie, as Carrey & Co. frolic with real and CGI birds and for a while make it seem viable to have a bunch of crazy birds living in his ice-covered living room.

One aspect of the book that wasn't included in the movie was Mr. Popper deciding to train the penguins to be in a circus act. This might have been a really funny thing for Jim Carrey to do, but Mr. Popper's Penguins wants to stay squarely in the area of family reunion flick. It keeps things nice, and it makes it a fun movie to take the kids to. But now that Carrey seems to want to mug again, don't rein him in, let him mug. When he does, even penguins fly.
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