In Which a Long-Beloved Children’s Book Is Deemed Not Relateable Enough

06/16/2011 4:00 AM |

Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Directed by Mark Waters

The 70-year-old children’s book about a housepainter who inherits a colony of penguins, apparently wasn’t sufficiently “relatable” for Fox executives, who transformed it into another story of a father learning to re-connect with his family. The 2011-model Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey, toning down the mania but still not enough to be emotionally convincing) is a high-powered, designer-clad lawyer who lives to make deals and buy up most of Manhattan (there’s something the kids can relate to). Adding to the stock characters checklist: his ex (Carla Gugino), who still harbors a soft spot for him; his sullen teenage daughter; his globe-trotting absent father, etc. Kids who’ve never read the book may enjoy some of what’s here but it’s pretty familiar, and director Mark Waters and the screenwriters (including the duo responsible for comedy classic Hot Tub Time Machine) never fully exploit the penguins’ comic possibilities beyond the flatulence-and-poop-jokes stage —each bird is given one trait: clumsy, loud, stinky, and that’s about it.

While not a horrible film, Popper represents a real blown opportunity. The novel includes plenty of screen-ready slapstick for the kids, and the plot, in which Popper and family devise a stage act for the birds, who then become national stars, would have been easily adaptable in this age of YouTube and televised talent competitions. If you have a child under 11 or so, skip the theater, stay home and read them the book.

Opens June 17