Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A Type-A father learns the true value of family (and the complete silliness of overtime) after being confronted by an extraordinary, easily merchandisable, event. Throw in a musical montage and a handful of pop-culture references, and call it good.
Based on the perennial bedtime staple by Richard and Florence Atwater, Mr. Popper’s Penguins struggles mightily to tamp its original elements into the standard kid-movie mold. Save for a few face-pulling flurries by star Jim Carrey and an unusually qualified supporting cast (including Angela Lansbury, Clark Gregg and Phillip Baker Hall), it stays strictly between the lines.
Beginning with a reasonably poignant flashback prologue, the story follows a New York real-estate shark (Carrey) whose climb up the corporate ladder threatens to permanently squelch his relationship with his kids and ex-wife (Carla Gugino). Cue the arrival of a flock of penguins inherited from his late father, as the birds quickly teach him the meaning of family via pratfalls and mass destruction of property. “Ice Ice Baby” plays over the end credits, as was foretold in cave paintings.
Director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) does his best to keep the pace up while also allowing a number of improvisational gaps for his star to fill in loudly. Any such bursts of creativity, however, quickly flag against the flowcharted mandate to hit every demographically favored beat; cute as the penguins are, they begin to lose their allure once the CGI kicks in and the line dancing begins.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins has its moments of liveliness, especially in the byplay between Carrey and his personal assistant, played by the ridiculously cute Ophelia Lovibond, but they flail against the ceaseless wave of saccharine montages, televisions that only emit plot-advancing programming—a documentary on leopard seals? Really?—and a series of fart jokes that put the standard 1980s frat comedy to shame. At least Pixar’s next comes out in a week.
MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS
Jim Carrey, Ophelia Lovibond, Carla Gugino