15 June 2011

Movie Review: Mr. Popper's Penguins

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a film adaptation of a beloved 1938 children’s classic which stars Jim Carrey and Angela Lansbury.   Some cineastes complain when a script embellishes on an original storyline, but this treatment honors the original’s love of language arts while presenting a plausible plot for a modern family.

Popper (Carrey)  is an elite, seemingly cold blooded city slicker realty salesman who forgoes all feeling for the thrill of success.  But an inheritance from Antarctica puts Popper’s fast track plans on ice.  His Gentoo Penguin wards warm his heart and helps Popper rediscover what he is worth.

Despite South Park’s bawdy parody, Mr. Popper’s Penguins manages to keep the scatological comedic scenes to a minimum, which is amazing in an age when Nickelodeon sliming substitutes for childrens’ comedy.  There certainly was quite a bit of physical comedy which is a natural for a Jim Carrey comedy and a screwball kiddie flick. The mayham at the museum was iconic. Yet  there was only one scene when Carrey employed his over the top manic comedic personal.  Carrey’s governed acting enhanced the integrity of the screenplay rather than being a virtuoso star vehicle held together with a gossamer plot.

The verbal comedy was epitomized by Popper’s alliterative assistant Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond).  Popper’s monetarily myopic doorman (Desmin Borges) stole the show with his smarmy sensibilities.

Much like a romantic comedy, those who have been around the block can accurately anticipate the denouement, the trick is how the film makers get there.   Director Mark Waters successfully combines a screwball/fish out of water comedy with elements of romance, coming of age and heartwarming family elements without being treacly or having things feeling forced.  While no one wants to see reality in a fantasy comedy, not all plot elements are idyllic.  The “villains”, such as the nosey neighbor, the over-eager Animal Control Agent (Clark Gregg), the partners and the hard to please client (Lansbury) serve more as boundaries than scary hurdles for the protagonist.

Cinematographer Florian Ballhaus shot Mr. Popper’s Penguins as a visual love letter to mid-town Manhattan.  The backdrops of architectural gems like the Flatiron Building, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Tavern On The Green and the Guggenheim Museum contribute to the feeling of a fantasy cityscape. Turning a penthouse into a winter wonderland was wonderful. Composer Rolfe Kent provided a playful, upbeat which also gave the right emotional cue with remaining understated.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins did not have obvious product placement or corporate tie ins.  The dialogue was playful, particularly with the alliteration but there were not notable quotable scenes.  In many respects,  Mr. Popper’s Penguins is reminiscent of a 1960s Disney screwball comedy which surreal circumstances collide with conventionality but in the end affirm the individual.  Perhaps the casting of Angela Lansbury contributed to this amiable aura.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins was a charming comedy that was a perfectly pleasant family film.  Yapsolutely (sic). However, it would be surprising if this is a movie blockbuster and not at Blockbuster in short order.

If you want a true taste of Antarctica, then check out the exhibit at the National Geographics Museum in Washington, DC (thru August 21st) that celebrates the Centenary of Conquering the South Pole.  A team of British explorers led by Robert Scott raced a group of Norweigian explorers headed by Roald Amuldsen for the arduous south end of the Earth.  Amuldsen had a one track mind to get to the terrestrial South Pole first while Scott’s team stopped to befriend the penguins and conduct scientific experiments.  Alas, only Amuldsen’s team was successful and brought them back alive.

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