Making the Grades
Of all the beasts in the animal kingdom, penguins seem to have secured the best marketing department. Since their notable appearance in a song and dance routine with actor Dick Van Dyck in the 1964 film Mary Poppins, these little black and white creatures have scored numerous screen roles in films like Madagascar, Cat’s Don’t Dance, Surf’s Up, Happy Feet and this fall’s sequel Happy Feet 2.
It should come as no surprise then that an adaptation of the 1938 children’s book Mr. Popper’s Penguins would come to theaters. It is after all about penguins. However, children who read the book in elementary school will find this movie deviates widely from the novel.
The Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey) in this case is a slick New York property purchaser who buys up iconic buildings around the city and demolishes them to make way for something bigger and better. After work, he comes home to a pristine but lonely penthouse. His former wife (Carla Gugino) and children have moved on. Janey (Madeline Carroll) and Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton) visit every other weekend but only if they have to. Then Popper receives a special delivery package from his recently deceased father, an adventurer who managed to be absent from his own son’s life for most of his childhood.
Popper’s inheritance? A passel of penguins!
While a New York City skyscraper is hardly an appropriate home for these cold loving birds, Popper’s children are thrilled with the new arrivals. So like any father desperate to rekindle a relationship with his disinterested offspring, Popper decides to keep the birds and turns his expensive apartment into a winter wonderland complete with ice and snow.
His efforts are charming at first. After all, it’s not everyday you can have a snowball fight inside the house. But as Popper becomes more and more involved with his little houseguests, he frankly starts to get a little weird, especially when he becomes obsessed with an egg that has not hatched. For many young viewers, this section of the film will lose their attention if it doesn’t disturb them.
Fortunately the script is salvaged by some of the secondary characters including Popper’s perky personal assistant Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond) who has a penchant for putting a preponderance of p’s into every pronouncement she produces. The animation of the lively little creatures is also visually captivating.
Because this story is pure fantasy, everything works out—so well in fact that the ending almost feels like a saccharine overdose. Still for audiences paying for a break from reality, I guess it’s nice to have one that is pleasantly positive.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
What impact does Popper’s absentee father seem to have on him? How has that apparently affected his ability to parent his own children? How might children of divorced parents view this movie’s ending?
What does this script say about using television as a babysitter?
Should filmmakers have the right to change a story significantly when they adapt a book to a film? Which story do you prefer?