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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mr. Popper's Penguins
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Fox // PG // December 6, 2011
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Rich Rosell | posted December 3, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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Those of you fondly familiar with the original 1938 children's book Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater will probably go into this Jim Carrey re-imagining with some trepidation. And you would be right to do so. As an adaptation of a much loved children's book this one fails miserably, trampling on all of those wonderful memories of the Atwater's tale that made it so charming and simple, with director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, The Spiderwick Chronicles) rendering up a trite "broken-family" family film peppered with the obligatory poop and fart jokes that seem requisite in any film made for children these days. Not that there's anything wrong with poop and fart gags - but when presented under the banner of something revered like the Atwater book then onscreen it just seems horribly wrong somehow.

Carrey is the titular character, a divorced workaholic too busy for his kids, with long suffering daddy issues because his own father was always off exploring the world instead of, well, being a dad. After the death of the elder Popper Carrey's Tom Popper receives six frozen penguins - who quickly thaw out and exhibit the sort of colorful CG-rendered personality quirks designed to make them easily identifiable. This final gift from the old man naturally forces the me-centered Tom to become the dad he never was to his kids, a caretaker for some mischievous penguins and to maybe, just maybe, learn a little bit more about what's important in life. I suppose that's all well and good, but it is all pretty ham-handed and far removed from the original Atwater book, to the point where seemingly the only tethers to the source material are the penguins themselves.

If I were to get off my kid lit high horse for moment and look at the film version as an unrelated standalone it might be possible to see this as something much more rudimentary. And let's be honest: I know I'm not the target audience for this one. Penguins. Mischief. Poop. Antics. It's essentially a family film, though why one of the parents in these type of films generally have to be a divorced workaholic is beyond me. Carrey does a softer version of the Ace Ventura-era manic Carrey, but it seems to tough for him to fully corral that muggy persona. All of the human characters here - even Philip Baker Hall or Jeffrey Tambor - are really just positional filler until the next penguin scene, which makes moments like a genuinely madcap Guggenheim Museum sequence so absurdly silly and fun, something that the rest of the film never really achieves again. Yes, the penguins are funny throughout - boy, do they love Charlie Chaplin - but the underlying "redemptive parent" storyline is schmaltzy, tired and cliched, even for a family film.

My dislike of this vague, in-name-only adaptation probably won't discourage anyone with a kid under the age of 10 or 11 from wanting to see this. I'm good with that. Kids will probably chuckle like baboons at the poop/fart jokes and at the general shenanigans of the penguins, which is basically the selling point of this film. I'm just glad Richard and Florence Atwater aren't around to see this sloppy, lowest-common-denominator bastardization of their book.

Video
Though my review copy was a screener - and I have no clue how this will compare to the final street version - the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer provided is quite good. While much of the film does have a dominant woodsy brown color palette, the moments with purposeful bursts of colors seem to then stand out all the more. Flesh (and feather) tones come off natural and lifelike, and the presence of any measurable EE will no doubt be overlooked by this film's target demographic. And if you're reading this, it ain't you.

Audio
There are four audio tracks provided, available in your choice of English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 5.1 Descriptive Audio, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Surround or French 2.0 Dolby Surround. The primary English 5.1 is moderately active, making fair use of the rear channels during the film's wackier bits. The remainder of the time the track carries dialogue clearly balanced by a pleasant sense of spatial movement across the front three channels. Optional subtitles are offered in English SDH and Spanish.

Extras
Extras include a commentary track from director Mark Waters, editor Bruce Green and visual effects supervisor Richard Hollander. This is a pretty low-key track, led by much discussion of the differences between real and CG penguins, which is probably the primary element most folks compelled to listen to a commentary for this film would actually want to hear about.

The rest of the material is rather frothy, including the atrociously animated Nimrod & Stinky's Antarctic Adventure (06m:10s), a pair of deleted scenes (02m:11s) available with optional commentary from Waters, Green and Hollander, a dreaded Gag Reel (02m:07s), and a brief Sea World-sanctioned educational piece on penguins entitled Ladies and Gentoomen (05m:56s). Also included are a few text screens of the first few pages of the original book, the film's theatrical trailer and an advanced peek at Spy Kids: All The Time In The World and Tooth Fairy 2.

Final Thoughts
This isn't the greatest live-action family film to ever come down the pike, but those are in pretty short supply so one takes what one can get. And with Jim Carrey mugging alongside a half dozen silly mostly-CG penguins this will likely find a suitable audience on DVD, for better or worse.

For anyone over the age of 11 this will be an eyeroller, but as a family night rental it might work out. My suggestion: get the book and give your kids a real treat.
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