A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this live-action comedy was inspired by the classic Newbery Award-winning children's book Mr. Popper's Penguins. Like the book, the movie is fine for early elementary-schoolers, who will giggle at Jim Carrey's slapstick antics and all the messes the penguins make. Language is tame -- with the occasional "butt," "poo," "pee," and "stupid" thrown into the dialogue -- and there's some flirting/kissing, as well as one joke with a Viagra reference. Kids may pick up a thing or two about how to care for penguins, but this movie is ultimately about learning to put family first ... and laughing at sight gags.
What's the story?
One day, incredibly successful New York City commercial real-estate developer Tom Popper (Jim Carrey) gets an unexpected inheritance from his deceased father -- a penguin. Later in the week, the divorced father of two receives five more penguins, and just as he's about to hand them over the Central Park Zoo, his own young son arrives, believing they're a birthday present for him. To appease his son and teen daughter, Popper promises to keep the flightless birds in his Manhattan duplex. Although he's supposed to be wooing the elderly Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury) of Central Park's Tavern on the Green restaurant to sell him the property, Popper finds himself more and more immersed in the life of a penguin caretaker -- first for the sake of his two kids, and later because he finds himself attached to them.
Is it any good?
MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS is a surprisingly entertaining family comedy. Like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, this isn't a faithful adaptation of the original kids' book -- but considering that the original book was written in the 1930s, it's somewhat understandable to update the story. And since any movie dealing with animals is almost by definition sugary sweet, we can excuse some of the plot's predictably sentimental aspects, like the "all work, no family time" dad who realizes that "less work, more play" is a better way to parent. Once you're aware that the movie is more of an homage than a pure adaptation and that you pretty much know what's going to happen from the first moment you lay eyes on Carrey's malleable face, you just sit back and enjoy.
No, this isn't the kind of kid-friendly movie you immediately pre-order the DVD for after seeing, but between the penguin choreography (expect kids to do the shuffle-hop-step/"Word" tap dance for a few days), the slapsticky shenanigans, and Carrey's comedic gifts, there are enough laughs to keep parents awake and interested. One of the best parts of the movie is the fact that the penguins are pacified by watching Charlie Chaplin movies on TV; they just can't get enough of the legendary comedian. Then there's the adorable supporting character Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), who speaks solely in alliterations beginning with the letter P. Just when you expect the gimmick to grow old, it keeps making you smile -- like the movie itself.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of animal movies. Why are we so entertained by human-acting animals who are lovable but wreak comedic havoc?
How is the movie different than the book? Is it important for movies to be faithful to their source stories, or is OK for them be "loosely adapted" or "inspired by," like this movie? What are your favorite books-turned-movies?
How does taking care of the penguins change Mr. Popper? Kids: How have your pets changed you?
Parents, talk to your kids about the way Mr. Popper reacts to his father's death. Do they understand why Mr. Popper was mad at his dad? How does the movie demonstrate that there are better ways for families to behave?
- In theaters: June 17, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: December 6, 2011
- Cast: Angela Lansbury, Carla Gugino, Jim Carrey
- Director: Mark Waters
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Book characters, Wild animals
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild rude humor and some language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.