"Mr. Popper’s Penguins" packs a peppy punch, proffering people a package that’s positive and perfectly pleasant, yet also preposterous and predictable.
Say that five times fast.
Seriously though, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is a serviceable selection for summer on the silver screen.
Wait, I’m doing it with “S” now. Hm. OK, let’s just say...state...DECLARE that your kids will love it, and as an adult it is more than tolerable, although I couldn’t shake the feeling that we’ve all seen this movie before.
Probably because we have. It’s called “Liar, Liar.” Also, “The Santa Clause.” And “Mrs. Doubtfire,” etc., etc.
The formula: Work-a-holic Dad finds redemption and forges new bonds with children through (insert plot device here).
I would apologize for ruining the entire movie for you, but within the first five minutes of the film we meet Tom Popper Jr., see him close on a crazy real estate deal (New York’s famous Flatiron Building), and then head across the bridge to pick up his reluctant children from his ex-wife.
Everyone can see what will happen over the next 90 minutes.
The film is very loosely based on the children’s book, written by Richard and Florence Atwater and published in 1938. I remember loving the book as a child--although for the life of me I couldn’t remember the plot. I just remembered that Mr. Popper wore a tux and had lots of penguins. In book form, Mr. Popper is a poor painter (clearly the Atwaters were pro-alliteration) who writes to an explorer in Antarctica. The explorer answers Popper’s letter and promises a gift in return. Shortly thereafter, a penguin arrives at his door.
In our present-day, revised edition, the adventure-seeker is Tom Popper Sr., the original absentee dad, radioing Tom Jr. from far reaches of the globe. He always sends presents, but he never stays home long enough for the pair to develop a lasting relationship, setting the stage for Tom Jr.’s own inadequacies in adulthood.
Naturally the arrival of the penguins (one last gift from dear old dad) comes as a shock to Tom Jr., but eventually, they burrow their way into his heart and teach him about unconditional love.
The fact that his ex-wife and children think it’s completely normal for him to turn his home into an icy playground for a family of waterfowl...well, we’ll just suspend belief and enjoy the ride.
One last mention: Angela Lansbury, as the polished and picky proprietress of the popular Tavern on the Green, the acquisition of which is Mr. Popper’s primary project, is perfectly priceless.
I could do this all day.