AWFJ Women On Film – “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” – Susan Granger reviews

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What happened to zany, delightful Jim Carrey who enchanted audiences as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”? He’s paired with penguins now – and they steal the show.

Thomas Popper (Carrey) is a hotshot Manhattan broker who is far more interested in dealing with commercial real estate than his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino), teenage daughter Janie (Madeline Carroll) and young son Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton). Popper’s up for a partnership if he can acquire the prestigious Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park from its longtime owner, Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury).

Meanwhile, Popper receives a posthumous present from his poppa, a peripatetic explorer who sent gifts rather than spending time with his son. It’s an insulated wooden crate containing a live Gentoo penguin, followed by an additional passel of waddling penguins who wreak disorderly poop-squirting havoc in the posh duplex that Popper gradually transforms into a wintry wonderland while Charlie Chaplin cavorts on TV. Predictably, as the birds breed and his penguin-pet relationship progresses (utilizing Carrey’s clowning propensity for physicality), Popper feels parental guilt, prioritizing reconciling with his family.

Loosely based on the 1938 children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater, it’s coyly scripted by Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern and conventionally directed by Mark Walters (“Mean Girls,” “Freaky Friday”). Collectively, they’re responsible for one of the most annoying and perturbing characters ever invented for the screen: Popper’s perky assistant, Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), who peppers every sentence with alliterative p-words.

There’s amusement as the penguins create chaos sliding down the spiral slope at a Guggenheim Museum charity gala and a sad reminiscence for those familiar with the legendary, landmark Tavern on the Green, whose trees were wrapped in twinkling lights. The glorious décor of the glass-enclosed Crystal Room, as pictured, was sold at auction in a bankruptcy wake in December, 2009, and the once-glamorous property is now a visitor’s information center/gift shop, selling t-shirts and hats.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is a flimsy, feathered 5, a blandly formulaic, forgettable film.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.