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Mr. Popper's Penguins: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011) movie poster Mr. Popper's Penguins

Theatrical Release: June 17, 2011 / Running Time: 94 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Mark Waters / Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris, Jared Stern (screenplay); Richard Atwater, Florence Atwater (novel)

Cast: Jim Carrey (Mr. Tom Popper), Carla Gugino (Amanda Popper), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Selma Van Gundy), Ophelia Lovibond (Pippi Peponopolis), Madeline Carroll (Janie Popper), Clark Gregg (Nat Jones), Jeffrey Tambor (Mr. Gremmins), David Krumholtz (Kent), Philip Baker Hall (Mr. Franklin), Maxwell Perry Cotton (Billy Popper), James Tupper (Rick), Dominic Chianese (Mr. Reader), William C. Mitchell (Mr. Yates)

Buy Mr. Popper's Penguins from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy DVD Limited Edition DVD + Plush Toy Gift Set Instant Video

Mr. Popper's Penguins is loosely based on Richard and Florence Atwater's 1938 children's book of the same name. Had an adaptation come in the 1960s, it would have needed to either be a cartoon or make use of puppets or costumed performers; it also might very well have sparked memories of the animated waiters at the fantastic center of Mary Poppins.
Had the filming occurred five or six years ago, when the technology was certainly in place for realistic CG-animated characters, Popper's no doubt would have been perceived as part of the public's penguin craze that made huge hits out of March of the Penguins and Happy Feet.

Coming as it does in 2011, the movie invites comparisons to Alvin and the Chipmunks, the model of commercial success to which all present-day live-action family comedies apparently must aspire. There are three key differences, though. Firstly, the eponymous penguins don't sing or even talk in English. Secondly, the live actor here -- Jim Carrey -- is a bigger star than the cute and cuddly counterparts. And thirdly, Carrey and his cast mates weren't only acting across from ping-pong balls and placeholders; real penguins were filmed on climate-controlled sets, to be enhanced by CGI in post-production.

Persuasive New York City businessman Tom Popper (Jim Carrey) is not prepared to take care of one penguin, let alone six. Six inherited Gentoo penguins imprint on Mr. Popper and stay close to him in a snowy Central Park outing.

Carrey plays Tom Popper, a Manhattan real estate developer who is known for making deals happen. His business prowess does come at a cost; he's been less than reliable to his family. After fifteen years of marriage, his wife Amanda (Carla Gugino) has divorced him, and his two kids, especially teenaged daughter Janie (Madeline Carroll), have come to expect disappointment from him. Tom has not done much better by his family than the prologue shows his own father, a globe-trotting workaholic adventurer, did by him.

Seemingly out of left field and into this common family film backdrop comes a Gentoo penguin. Tom's father has died and evidently bequeathed him an Arctic bird, which arrives in an unsuspecting wooden crate. When Tom tries to arrange for the creature's return, he somehow winds up with five more. Naturally, that brings chaos to Tom's palatial penthouse apartment, with lots of slipping, sliding, and sardines. It also makes Tom immediately more appealing to his children in his limited time with them. Passing the penguins off as son Billy's (Maxwell Perry Cotton) birthday present, Tom suddenly seems cool. As does his home, for he turns off the heat and opens the door to let the chill of an unusually snowy Manhattan winter provide comfort for his new companions, whom he spontaneously names things like Stinky, Loudy, and Bitey.

Caring for half a dozen penguins somehow makes Tom a better person, one the kids and ex-wife warm to. But it also causes him to slip up at work, where he is assigned to getting a picky old heiress (Angela Lansbury, looking old but remaining game) to part with her ownership of Central Park's famed Tavern on the Green. With his job on the line and his custody of the penguins questioned by an exacting zoo ranger (S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Clark Gregg, effective as a down-to-earth, reasonable villain), Tom tries to get his priorities in order.

Penguins improve the life of Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey) and his ex-wife's (Carla Gugino) estimations of him. Legendary Angela Lansbury has a sizable role as careful Tavern on the Green owner Mrs. Van Gundy.

The trailer for Mr. Popper's Penguins made it look like the Chipmunks movies, a design no doubt intentional by the studio behind those mixed-medium blockbusters. In fact, its techniques and dynamics aside, Popper's is more like a traditional family comedy,
the kind that used to be the specialty of Robin Williams and Tim Allen. Though the film doesn't approach the heights of those comedians' best efforts, it does contain a touch more class and polish than Alvin, its sequel, and direct emulators (e.g. The Smurfs).

Whether or not you're a fan, you've got to acknowledge that Carrey is an old pro. His status as solo star of high-profile comedy films extends longer than anyone but Eddie Murphy and has been enforced more strongly than perhaps anyone but Adam Sandler. Carrey's transition to family fare isn't the leap that it's been for those two entertainers; the rubber-faced funnyman has always been fairly kid-friendly even if his breakout fare and comfort zone have been deservedly PG-13. Popper's is the actor's first clear-cut family comedy that doesn't involve motion capture, voiceover, or heavy make-up. It may require working with both kids and animals, but this is an easy job for the 49-year-old entertainer and one he thankfully imbues with restraint but not laziness or too much stupidity.

It seems like a requisite that this film would contain farts, excrement, and a ball hitting a crotch. It does, unfortunately, include all these things. When did such gags become a staple of family comedies? At least one of the lowbrow bits does provide some amusement and none of them undermines the heart and moral the movie tries its best to make genuine alongside the absurd premise. There are also some good ideas, like having the penguins be Charlie Chaplin fans and making Popper's plucky personal assistant Pippi Pepenopolis (Ophelia Lovibond) a non-stop practicer of alliteration. While one can't in good faith celebrate Mr. Popper's Penguins as meeting any definition of high quality entertainment, it shouldn't be dismissed as harshly as the many feebler family comedies that have always held significance to studio business.

Though Mr. Popper's Penguins is a little better than the really rank family fare, it performed a little worse at the box office, grossing just $68 million domestically (and almost twice as much overseas). That is one of Carrey's worst-performing wide releases in his nearly twenty years of movie stardom. You can blame part of that on the industry's slump this year, but with The Smurfs making more than twice as much domestically and more than three times as much worldwide just a month later, some of the shortcoming must be chalked up to audience aversion unique to Popper's.

After failing to connect with the public in the biggest moviegoing season, Mr. Popper tries again in the busiest retail season with last week's DVD, limited edition DVD + Penguin Plush Toy gift set, and Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy releases from Fox.

Mr. Popper's Penguins Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: DTS-HD 5.1 MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, French)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (Spanish, French)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
Release Date: December 6, 2011
Three single-sided discs (BD-50, DVD-9 & DVD 5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Eco-Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP), Limited Edition DVD +
Plush Penguin Toy Gift Set
($34.98 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Mr. Popper's Penguins looks terrific on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 picture is immaculately clean, razor sharp, and beautifully defined. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is equally commendable, delivering penguin honks and human dialogue from all channels with the utmost crispness and clarity.

The DVD's presentation is adequate, lacking the detail and vibrancy of Blu-ray but satisfying the vast majority of viewers all the same. Likewise, its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack suffices but provides less immediacy.

Nat Jones (voiced by Clark Gregg) tries to lure Popper's penguins back to the States with fish in the animated short "Nimrod & Stinky's Antarctic Adventure." Neighbor Kent (David Krumholtz) drops by envious of Tom's apartment in this deleted scene. Alec and Kate Bishop, the grandchildren of authors Richard and Florence Atwater, discuss their family's literary legacy.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Being a Fox Blu-ray, playback of the movie and bonus features promises to be choppy on at least some Sony players, until you remove the memory stick that's otherwise always being used to download something from the Internet. I look forward to a future when one doesn't have to take that step to enjoy a Fox BD.

Top-billed among bonus features is Nimrod & Stinky's Antarctic Adventure (6:11).
As you might guess and fear, this is just a Flash-animated short film. It catches up with Popper's penguins. Cast members reprise their roles vocally, including Clark Gregg as Nat, who journeys down there to retrieve the penguins. It means well, but it's not so good and fails to even recreate the film's modest charms.

Twelve deleted scenes are presented (14:32) with optional audio commentary by director Mark Waters, editor Bruce Green, and visual effects supervisor Richard Hollander. Neither monumental nor awful, they include an additional episode from Mr. Popper's childhood, two other appearances by his apartment neighbor (David Krumholtz), and some extensions.

A two-minute gag reel runs shorter than expected and features fewer penguin hijinks than you'd like.

"Mr. Popper's Penguins: The Legacy" (4:04) acknowledges the book the film is loosely based on, with comments from kidlit experts and the authors' grown grandchildren. We learn about the Atwaters and how their famous novel took shape. Though it's really brief, this is one of the best things on the set.

An inky-handed Jim Carrey reveals how he remembers the names of all of Mr. Popper's penguins in "Ready for Their Closeup." San Diego SeaWorld aviculturist Jessica Perry talks penguins with a friend in "Ladies and GentooMen."

Fun yet informative, the making-of featurette "Ready for Their Closeup" (8:28) talks about working with real penguins on refrigerated sets with training, green screen, and CGI. "Ladies and GentooMen" (5:55) gathers thoughts on different penguin species from SeaWorld San Diego aviculturist Jessica Perry. "Stuffy Penguin Theater" (4:20) shares with us some footage of the stuffed penguin doll stand-ins used to map out and shoot scenes with visual effects. "Penguin Pandemonium" demonstrates the progress of a single sequence, from mapping out shots to lighting reference pass to different stages of animation, with commentary from Waters, Green, and Hollander.

A feature audio commentary, proudly proclaimed "the geekiest commentary possible", is also supplied by director Waters, editor Green, and visual effects supervisor Hollander (you didn't think you'd get Jim Carrey here, did you?). Dry and detail-driven, it repeats much of the featurettes' information and elaborates on topics as they pertain to what's onscreen. There are a lot of technical observations -- pointing out real penguins vs. CGI, different types of fake snow, discussing the digital video cameras used, recalling filming weather conditions and times -- that most viewers won't care to hear about, at least not for 94 minutes.

Three chapters of a much different "Mr. Popper's Penguins" come to life in this sampler of the Atwaters' original novel. Popper's penguins watch one of them getting acquainted with a toilet on the DVD main menu.

"Original Story Sampler" lets you read the short first three chapters of the Atwaters' novel, with their illustrations animated. All it takes is a few sentences to recognize how far the film departs from it, which introduces Mr. Popper as a house decorator with adventure ambitions in a town called Stillwater.

The short, unpromising theatrical trailer for Mr. Popper's Penguins (1:13) is kindly preserved here as a lesson in insufficient marketing. Last and least is Fox's overly detailed, overly serious digital copy how-to (3:35).
The Blu-ray opens with Fox's digital copy family promo and trailers for Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Marley & Me: The Puppy Years, and the atrocious-looking Tooth Fairy 2 starring Larry the Cable Guy. The Sneak Peek menu holds that Tooth Fairy 2 ad and the latest bit of Weinstein/Fox cross-promotion, a 30-second home video spot for Spy Kids: All the Time in the World.

Hidden among the disc's files, for whatever reason, is a 4-minute Tooth Fairy 2 making-of short.

Finally, there are Live Extras, the reason for the choppiness on certain Internet-connected players. These include Live Lookup, which supplies some actor, crew, and film info from IMDb while the movie plays. You might get more ads and less screen-specificity, but the information is more easily absorbed on a computer. The other BD-Live item is "What's New", which connects you to Fox's promotional network. There, you can stream or download exclusive video clips and Blu-ray bonus feature excerpts. Both viewing methods have their drawbacks and difficulties, but fortunately, you shouldn't feel compelled to watch any of it and there are no Live exclusives for Popper's anyway.

The set is conspicuously without Fox Movie Channel Presents specials, normally a fixture of the studio's major movies. There definitely were a few shows created for Popper's, so it's odd they're not included here, but it's not like you're left wanting more insight into the film's creation.

Typical for a Fox combo pack, Disc 2 is the same DVD sold on its own, having some but not all of the Blu-ray's bonus features. Included on it are: the short, the gag reel, "Ready for Their Closeup", "Ladies and Gentoomen", the audio commentary, the original story sampler, the trailer, and the sneak peeks. Missing from that disc are "Stuffy Penguin Theater", "Penguin Pandemonium", book featurette "The Legacy", ten of the twelve deleted scenes, and, of course, the BD-Live stuff. That still leaves more supplemental content than other studios' combo pack DVDs, but with space and technology not really issues, exclusives strike as an annoying ploy.

Disc 3 is simply the digital copies, offered in four different formats. Unless your computer doesn't play DVDs or you don't consider a disc sufficiently portable, this disc will be of no use for you. And without the former, this disc will be of no use to you.

On both formats, the main menu drops a carton of penguins who waddle around a montage of clips while score plays and snowflakes fall. The disc takes a very long time to load, but it resumes playback and also supports bookmarks.

The three discs fit into a standard Blu-ray case, topped by a slipcover and joined by a single-sided insert of digital copy code and directions.

Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey) and his penguins show off some unlikely synchronized dance moves in one of the movie's most marketed gags.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Mr. Popper's Penguins is not as bad as it looks, not as good as you'll want it to be, and almost nothing like the old children's book whose name it shares. As far as contemporary family comedies go, you could do worse and a lot better than this routine divorced dad tale, which a decidedly not over-the-top Carrey keeps watchable.

Fox's Blu-ray combo pack delivers a first-rate feature presentation and plenty of bonus material. If you liked the movie, you shouldn't be let down by this release (especially if you've gone Blu), but the movie has earned enough detractors to advise a healthy amount of skepticism.

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Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / DVD / DVD + Penguin Plush Toy Gift Set / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: The Smurfs Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Special The Rocketeer (Blu-ray) The Help
Jim Carrey: A Christmas Carol Yes Man Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! | Carla Gugino: Night at the Museum Race to Witch Mountain
Angela Lansbury: Bedknobs and Broomsticks Beauty and the Beast | Madeline Carroll: The Spy Next Door Flipped Swing Vote
Directed by Mark Waters: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past The Spiderwick Chronicles Freaky Friday (2003)
New York City: Eloise at the Plaza Elf Old Dogs Enchanted Gulliver's Travels
Animals: Zookeeper Alvin and the Chipmunks The Shaggy Dog (2006) Yogi Bear
Penguins: The Penguins of Madagascar: I Was a Penguin Zombie Surf's Up In Search of Santa Mary Poppins

Mr. Popper's Penguins Songs List: Jim Carrey - "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"; Charlie Chaplin - Cues from The Circus, The Gold Rush, Shoulder Arms, and Modern Times; "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"; "Sweet N' Lo"; Sydney Dale - "Doo Wah Dooh Wah"; "Set 'em Up Joe"; "Spin Spin"; Jeff Cardoni - "Go Get It"; "Piano Lounge"; Vanilla Ice - "Ice Ice Baby"

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Reviewed December 12, 2011.



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