‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins,’ a modern adaptation of a children’s classic

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Twentieth Century Fox/Courtesy

Based on the 1938 children’s book of the same name, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” resembles little of the classic many of us read as elementary school students. Screenwriters Sean Anders and John Morris transform Tom Popper, the small town house painter that authors Richard and Florence Atwater created, into a highly motivated businessman in New York City. Whereas, in the original novel, Mr. Popper dreams of traveling the world and wins a penguin on the radio, in the film directed by Mark Waters, Mr. Popper (played by Jim Carrey) inherits penguins from his well-traveled and distant father. Though the plot is changed dramatically, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” maintains the comical absurdity that is rooted in the original book and even embellishes it.

The consistencies between the novel and the film are few and far between, which may disappoint anyone expecting an accurate retelling of the story they read in school. While the novel tells the amusing story of the Poppers, a wholesome family who turns their twelve penguins into a circus, the film tells the heart-warming story of a man who has no time to mend his broken family until they bond together through their mutual love for the penguins.

Though Jim Carrey acts as his trademark character driven by quirks, the acting by Carla Gugino (Mr. Popper’s ex-wife Amanda), Madeline Carrol (his daughter Janie), and Maxwell Perry Cotton (his son Billy) is less spectacular and somewhat cheesy. Ophelia Lovibond, who plays Mr. Popper’s assistant Pippi, however, put on an amusingly eccentric performance as a character who consistently alliterates the letter “P” in her every day speech. Carrey added extra jest through his interactions with his waddling friends, like when he asks his penguins to pass him the salt at the dinner table.

Despite resembling little of the original children’s book, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” maintains a cute, humorous plot, which can be enjoyed by both children and parents. The humor, however, was not consistent throughout. At times, jokes were witty and genuine, but at other times, they was far too childish and repetitive; the petty, getting-hit-in-the-groin and pooping-penguin jokes got old fast.

Much like the book, the film features many events that are far-fetched for a silly, humorous effect. At times, it seems that the film is too far-fetched though, and the character’s motives seem unclear, like when Mr. Popper tells his son the penguins are his birthday gift when animal control is already on the way.

Beyond the ridiculous plot twists and potty humor, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” details the heartfelt transformation of a business-oriented man into a family-oriented father, constructing a story with deep moral undertones of family connections. As Mr. Popper begins to place his family before his job, the process becomes heartwarming to observe, leaving the audience with that certain warm fuzzy feeling everyone is hoping for.
Though the plot may be a bit too absurd and the humor a bit too childish for adult or even teenage audiences to enjoy, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is a fun film for children who enjoy some Saturday-morning-cartoon humor. Viewers who are seeking some childhood nostalgia with this trip to the movie theater will be sorely disappointed by the film’s consistency to the book’s plot, as the movie completely alters the dynamic of the story. Thus, moviegoers older than twelve-years-old, stay away from Mr. Popper and his penguins. That is, unless you find gaseous penguins with diarrhea hysterical.