In the wake of Yogi Bear 3D and Hop, two of 2011's earlier and unimpressive entrants in the mixed live action-animation genre, one could reasonably expect Mr. Popper's Penguins to be a similarly tedious viewing experience. But much to my surprise, Popper's proved to be perfectly passable entertainment, thanks in no small part to Jim Carrey who's not about to play second fiddle to a penguin - or six.
Granted the comedic actor is not in full-on manic mode here, but Carrey, as the eponymous Mr. Popper, corporate real estate barracuda, is just as much the star of this family film (adapted from the bestselling children's book by Richard and Florence Atwater) as the six penguins which move in to his expansive New York apartment, sent as a gift from his recently deceased father.
The penguins are designed to teach Popper the importance of love and holding close those whom we hold dear, something which Antarctic penguins are known for (see French doco March of the Penguins), and a lesson the career-oriented, alternate weekend father-of-two could well heed (though it's a bit rich coming from a man who abandoned the young Popper to pursue his own research career in far-off lands!).
Converting his apartment into a winter wonderland after deciding to keep the penguins which his kids have come to love (and, well, it'd be a much shorter film if he didn't!), Popper's career goes into free fall. His best chance of recovery is to convince a stubborn New York dowager (Angela Lansbury) to sell her landmark hotel, The Tavern on the Green, to his employers, an objective those pesky penguins don't make any easier.
One reason Mr. Popper's Penguins doesn't become as annoying or loud as Yogi Bear or Hop is that the penguins, apart from some squawking, remain voiceless (something the Russell Brand-voiced Easter Bunny should have been). Using an almost seamless blend of CG and real birds, the penguins behave, for the most part, like actual penguins; the only time their artificiality is betrayed is when they adopt more human characteristics. But they don't dominate proceedings; it's Carrey who remains the big bird throughout.
Mr. Popper's Penguins is amiable if innocuous family entertainment; surprisingly better than it promises to be and, consequently, far less disappointing than the the two animated sequels also vying for the family dollar this week. And refreshingly, the film is not in 3D, making the decision of which film to see these school holidays slightly less black and white.