Penguins are all the rage these days, so it was only a matter of time before Richard and Florence Atwater's classic children's novel about a man and his penguins was adapted for the big screen. Now, Mr. Popper's Penguins is available for viewing on your small(er) screen and with the holiday season upon us, it's only a matter of time before your local discount retailer is offering you copies of this film on DVD or Blu-ray (or perhaps a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack). Is it worth buying? That's what we're here to discuss.
Diverging quite a bit from the original novel (which admittedly, I have never read, but did look up on Wikipedia before writing this), the film features Jim Carrey as a cutthroat realtor who tends to be a bit too focused on his job and not focused nearly enough on his life. You know the type, as you've undoubtedly seen it in so many movies before: obsessed with work to the point that he leaps out of bed on a Monday morning, glad that the weekend is over, connected to his smart phone and hyper-organized to the point that it's driven a wedge between him and his kids (and ex-wife, played by Carla Gugino). It's not that Thomas Popper is a bad guy; he's just lacking in people skills. No doubt this is due to the fact that his father was always off on one globe-trotting adventure after another, rarely home to spend any quality time with his son.
Shortly after Popper's father passes away, a crate arrives at his doorstep containing a troublemaking penguin. A miscommunication leads to another crate, and five more penguins, arriving to stir up more trouble. You can probably guess where it goes from here: Popper wants to donate the flightless avians to the local zoo, but his kids fall in love with the lovable little guys and before you know it, the kids start to fall in love with their dad again too. As the penguins begin to lay eggs, Mr. Popper begins to relearn what's truly important in life and in the process, begins to see how much he takes for granted - including his ex-wife, and the two begin to reconcile.
Now, there's more, but I won't get too into it for fear of spoiling - - actually, you know what? It's impossible to spoil anything in this movie. You already know exactly what happens next, don't you? I don't even have to bring up the underhanded penguin expert from the New York Zoo who only sees dollar signs when he looks at the penguins, do I? How about the elderly owner of the Tavern on the Green restaurant, who will only sell to a person of value and never to someone as greedy as Mr. Popper? No, you already knew about her too. And I certainly don't need to mention Thomas Popper's eventual redemption because if you read the first two paragraphs of this review, you likely knew every step this cookie cutter script was going to take, including the fact that the penguins have adorably charming (or cringe inducing) personality based names like Bitey, Stinky and Nimrod.
So is Mr. Popper's Penguins perfect for purchase? Possibly. As predictable as the movie is, it's absolutely harmless and even borderlines on charming more than a few times. Jim Carrey and Carla Gugino are quite likable, as are the children, whose names I'm not bothering to look up right now, despite having the internet close at hand. Clark Gregg (better known as Agent Coulson in the current crop of Marvel Comics-based films) is a suitable, if bland villain and honestly - who doesn't like penguins? Whether they're real or CGI, these little guys are adorable. They dance, they fart, they poop, they break stuff - it's all good fun and I couldn't get enough of the little guys.
At the end of the day, what Mr. Popper's Penguins lacks is the ability to form any real connection with the audience. Despite a talented cast, excellent special effects and a bunch of super-cute tuxedo-wearing birds, the film just falls flat when it tries to pull on your heartstrings or even make you care at all. The script, despite being cliché beyond belief and predictable to the Nth degree, isn't terrible; it's just something you've seen a million times before. Your kids probably haven't though, and ultimately, that's who the movie is for.
And just because a story isn't 100% original doesn't meant it has to be bad. Star Wars was by no means an original tale, but we all love it, don't we? Unfortunately, Mr. Popper's Penguins is no Star Wars. Five minutes into the film, you've figured out the formula and begin to simply go through the motions of watching it. I got the feeling the cast and crew felt the same way and just did what they could to make the best of a boring situation. I'll be honest - I spent most of the movie admiring Carla Gugino and wishing that the penguins would just break more stuff.
Mr. Popper's Penguins is by no means a bad movie though, and it's absolutely something you can sit down and watch with your children. After seeing the trailer a few months back, I was relieved to find that the film didn't simply consist of 93 minutes of Jim Carrey getting hit in the groin or the head with soccer balls, revolving doors, and 2x4s. There are a few fart and poop jokes (inevitable with a character named Stinky) but all-in-all, the movie doesn't take the lowbrow approach any more than it needs to. It's got a nice message for the holidays and you could do a whole lot worse. I'd be a liar if I said you couldn't do a whole lot better though. But even though you might not fall in love, there's probably a decent chance your kids will and you certainly won't hate this movie or the experience of watching it with them.
There are a variety of extras on the Blu-ray, each of them just as predictable as the movie itself. A few deleted scenes, a gag reel and a short documentary or four about creating CGI penguins and the troubles a crew has to go through to make a set palatable for the real ones. Actually, that last one was pretty interesting, and a whole lot more entertaining than "Nimrod & Stinky's Antarctic Adventure," an animated short that appears to have been animated by the folks at Jib-Jab and written by a seven-year-old.
The Blu-ray is presented in widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio with 5.1 DTS-HD Audio and uh... a whole lot more technical stuff that I'm not too hip on. All I know is that it looked a whole lot better than it had a right to. Seriously, you probably wouldn't pick this movie up thinking that it's going to be a delightful extravaganza for the eyes or any sort of visual feast, but I've got a big ol' high def TV and surround sound and I kept remarking about how amazing it looked and sounded throughout the entire film. The colors, blacks and shadows look amazing and the audio picks up every little peep and squawk the penguins utter. It's really impressive.
This review is based on the three-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack. The second disc contains a standard definition DVD and the third disc is the digital copy for iTunes or Windows.