During the trailer for “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” pay attention to how Jim Carrey reacts when one of them hugs his leg. Despite the trouble they’ve caused, nobody can stay mad at penguins very long, particularly ones that play dirty. “Not fair,” he says.
The movie has a charm to it that’s just as effective. Although a film this brainless doesn’t have a lot going for it, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” makes up for its shortcomings by being so darn lovable, even when it isn’t preoccupied with stupid pet tricks. Not that swimming in a toilet is necessarily a trick.
The penguins show up outside Popper’s (Carrey) penthouse apartment after his father leaves them to him in his will, and while he’s not keen on the idea of looking after them, they’re a hit with his children, Janie (Madeline Carroll) and Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton). He’d rather spend time with them instead of a bunch of penguins, but since they went with his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino) after they separated, alternating weekends are pretty much all he gets.
The rest of the time, he works as a real-estate developer so persuasive he even got a deal on the Flatiron Building. After a coup like that, talking Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury) into handing over Tavern on the Green should be a piece of cake. He thinks he’ll be able to sweet talk her during a fundraiser at the Guggenheim, for which he enlists a babysitter to take care of the penguins. It figures that they aren’t clever enough to, say, hail a taxicab to the Guggenheim and waddle right in, since it wouldn’t interest them anyway. Sure, the spiral would make a great waterslide, but it’s not as if a janitor would accidentally dump that much water on it, right?
It’s hard to take any of this seriously, or, for that matter, the zookeeper (Clark Gregg) who warns Popper he’ll do whatever he can to get those penguins…you know, as soon as he’s ready to turn them over to him. You may ask why he doesn’t report Popper to the police, but apart from the fact that this would’ve put an end to the movie, he finds out during its last few minutes that they wouldn’t have done any good – they’re too nice. “Come on, guy,” one cop tells him. “Have a heart.”
“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” has other bad laughs, but in light of the good laughs that accompany them, giving it a pass wouldn’t be all that terrible. Plus, it doesn’t feel right to crucify a movie this sweet. It’s not my fault for giving it a favorable review. The penguins made me do it.
This article originally appeared on AllMediaNY.com