By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
Penguins in movies are undeniably adorable, whether they're animated and pratfalling on happy feet, or live and laying eggs during a survival march.
Put them together with Jim Carrey — who knows something about pratfalls and laying eggs of a different sort — and Mr. Popper's Penguins becomes a goofily endearing family flick. It's nothing that won't be just as much fun on home video, but a pleasant enough time waster while kids are out of school.
Based on the 1938 book by Richard and Florence Atwater, Mr. Popper's Penguins updates the situation with family issues and Wall Street schemes. None of these modern embellishments upstage penguins who flop, squawk and poop with computer-generated precision. This isn't Ace Ventura III, but Carrey's easy reactions to critters who aren't there makes this more than just another chipmunk movie (or what Zookeeper threatens to be).
Carrey plays Tom Popper, who's successful at buying ritzy Big Apple properties, then dismantling them. His latest target is the famed Tavern on the Green restaurant, the only privately owned property in Central Park. Of course, such an institution shouldn't be torn down. But Tom is all about making the deal, an attitude that his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and distanced children (Madeline Carroll, Maxwell Perry Cotton) know too well.
Tom's lack of family spirit stems from his father, a globe-trotting adventurer who mostly bonded with his son over ham radio transmissions. The adult Tom doesn't grieve when his father dies in Antarctica or care that his only inheritance is a package to be delivered soon. Then it arrives, and the penguins waddle to center stage, kicking off calamities that will settle everything before the fade-out.
Mr. Popper's Penguins is a cute movie, perhaps a bit heavy on the penguin poop and accidental crotch bashing, but cute. It certainly displays more respect for the intelligence of 10-year-olds than the Judy Moody movie. But anyone of any age can get a kick out of watching penguins slide down the spiraled interior of the Guggenheim Museum, or seeing how one of these flightless birds manages to buck nature.
A final note to Twentieth Century Fox: Mr. Popper's Penguins marks at least three times that you've attached the short subject Scrat's Continental Crack-Up to a new release. It's a clever cartoon that was funny the first time, interesting the second and a time waster now. Either produce a new 'toon or find another way to plug the next Ice Age movie.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.