When Richard and Florence Atwater wrote “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” in 1938, do you think they expected, one day, it would be a vehicle for an over-the-hill comedian where he teaches the titular creatures to dance to a grating late-twentieth-century pop staple that people only like for ironic reasons? Because that is what the trailer for “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” represents. The book has been turned into a big summer release from Fox, that can serve equally as a merchandising opportunity, because what kid isn’t going to want their own plush penguin after seeing this saccharine clip?
Originally conceived as a story about a poor house painter, ‘Penguins’ has been changed by Hollywood to better relate to today’s moviegoers. So, naturally, he’s now a high-powered businessman who inherits six penguins, because someone out there in Los Angeles seems to think kids love stories about high-powered businessmen. Joining Carrey are Carla Gugino, Olivia Lovibond, Philip Baker Hall and Angela Lansbury, who will all likely contribute many moments of standing idly by and smiling as Carrey does some sort of physical shtick he’s too old for.
What is it with Carrey? Every time he tries something challenging, his next few roles seem like he’s making an effort to distance himself from that more interesting work. And something like this is just a paycheck that sees him acting against real (and, in some cases, probably anamatronic) animals — and by acting, we mean lazy slapstick. When does it stop looking like he’s a performer and start looking like he’s on a permanent playtime vacation?