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Good news for dads saddened by divorce and subsequent estrangement from their children: Reconciliation is just a half-dozen penguins away. At least, that's the premise of Mr. Popper's Penguins, a family film whose plot has little to do with the beloved children's classic of the same name.
Jim Carrey plays Mr. Popper, not a house painter as in the book who spends evenings with his family, but a New York real estate tycoon whose children visit every other weekend. His ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino) has started to date again, and his teen daughter Janie (Madeline Carroll) and tween son Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton) would rather not spend alternate weekends with their dad. It all traces back to Mr. Popper's youth, when his own explorer father abandoned him to travel the globe. Although Mr. Popper adores his children and still loves Amanda, he cannot find the key to reconciling with them.
All that changes when, in his last earthly act, Mr. Popper's father sends his son a live penguin. The waddling bird is soon followed by five others. At first exasperated, Mr. Popper finds the birds a potential bridge back to his family.
The movie starts strong, with Carrey lending his one-of-a-kind talents to a witty and amusing Mr. Popper. But once the penguins arrive, it devolves into penguin poop jokes and predictable plot turns. Parents will find the film overstretches belief. Aside from a disapproving neighbor, no one finds it odd that a New York apartment is transformed into an icy winter wonderland or that Mr. Popper learns to care about parenting from his feathered guests. It's supposed to be magical, but adults can't help but fret about water damage.
That said, children at the screening I attended shrieked in delight, and one fine young man declared it his favorite film. Rated PG, the film is clean except for the penguin muck. Apparently enjoyable for children, it looks to be one of those movies parents take for the team. It's what the penguins would want.