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March Hare of the Penguins

Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011)

Barry Wetcher/20th Century Fox

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is one of the rather regrettable updated adaptations of classic children’s books that come around every so often. “Stuart Little” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” are among those that come to mind.

Richard and Florence Atwater, authors of the Newbery Honor-winning 1938 book upon which this film is based, would doubtfully be pleased with this standard-issue slapstick-with-sentimentality family production.

Jim Carrey stars as Mr. Popper, the sort of self-regarding, slicked-back, hyperactive jerk that’s a routine character for the megastar. Working for real-estate tycoons and dwelling in an expensive Manhattan co-op, Mr. Popper is so entrapped in his enormous ego that he fails to see the degree to which he’s alienated his children Janie (Madeline Carroll) and Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton).

Yet Popper is brought down to earth, so to speak, by an unusual gift bequeathed to him by his late, distant explorer father: a wooden crate containing a live penguin. Soon thereafter, another crate brings more penguins, transforming the incredulous Popper’s swank pad into the world’s lest likely habitat. He’d love to be rid of the squawking, feathered beasts, save for one problem: The kids love them.

The film from director Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”) commences promisingly, with Mr. Carrey mugging his way through the highfalutin upper-crust Manhattan world and grappling with the penguin-promulgated anarchy. But once the kids come into the picture and the movie starts drowning in moral lessons, things come apart.

The children behave with inexplicable entitlement — you’d have to be a monumental jerk to expect your father to live with penguins, and I don’t care if you’re ostensibly cute movie kids. That Mr. Carrey submits to their nonsense out of parental guilt is nauseating; and the movie’s message of valuing family over work feels half-baked given that its definition of doing the right thing is breaking penguins out of a zoo and harboring them in a high-rise condo.


Opens on June 17 in the United States and on Aug. 5 in Britain.

Directed by Mark Waters; written by Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern, based on the novel by Richard and Florence Atwater; director of photography, Florian Ballhaus; edited by Bruce Green; music by Rolfe Kent; production design by Stuart Wurtzel; produced by John Davis; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is rated PG by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Jim Carrey (Mr. Popper), Carla Gugino (Amanda), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Van Gundy), Maxwell Perry Cotton (Billy), Madeline Carroll (Janie), David Krumholtz (Kent), Ophelia Lovibond (Pippi) and Clark Gregg (Nat Jones).


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