It’s probably not the best thing for Mr. Popper’s Penguins when the villain is the most sensible thing in the movie. He’s a zoo keeper, coming to claim the penguins unexpectedly shipped to one Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey). The keeper offers veterinary care, proper environments, and knowledgeable attention.
Popper offers them a New York apartment and Wikipedia.
Even the kids are unlikable, using their father to hang with the birds, and the boy rebelling once the zoo takes legal action because his dad let the zoo, “put them in a cage.” And the apartment was what exactly? His sister, text-speak addicted to the hilt, does much the same. It’s amazing how quick these emotions turn when penguins are involved.
When there’s no battling against common sense and logic, the film degrades the original material to fart and pooping jokes. One can imagine kids going to the zoo and wondering why the caretakers don’t squeeze the penguins to make them let loose a steady stream like Popper, because surely that’s how birds function. That, or trying it on their own pet birds. Eww.
The overworked father angle is played up, mostly because child’s fare these days doesn’t have any other means of creating parental dysfunction. When the artificial and real penguins aren’t in play, Mr. Popper just dies under the strain of its familiarity. Even when the title critters are at work, they’re addicted to Charlie Chaplin films or dancing. You know, because that other studio made millions making penguins dance. Why shouldn’t Fox?
Popper doesn’t go anywhere new, take any chances, or deviate from the norm, probably its greatest sin. There’s little energy aside from Carrey who delves into his own specific territory for a few laughs. It ends up warming the heart with a routine outcome, at least if you fall for the substandard material.
Mr. Popper was brought to life digitally, the Arri Alexa performing its duties with limited results. It’s not all down to the fine details, or lack thereof. The digital intermediate churns out a plain, dull looking film that is as pasty as they come. Locations are sterile with white walls, offices have white walls, and other locations are seemingly picked for their white walls. No white, no sale apparently.
Flesh tones take on a similar drabness, the lack of any sizzle offering zero energy to the piece visually. Black levels can’t pick up on much of anything, wheezing under the slightest bit of pressure. At the least, they’re consistently flat, and so is the image.
Fox’s generous AVC encode isn’t to blame here, at least not in any obvious form. It keeps a few moments of noise at bay, ensuring the fault is kept from clear view, and produces no visual anomalies. The pervasive softness is certainly the source, unconcerned with any definition or crispness. Were it not for some of the New York aerials, Popper could easily be declared DOA.
When the camera does pursue a close up or two, the results find an acceptable compromise. There’s at least a sense of texture rather than the dull smoothness that permeates the medium range views. Winter clothing offers plenty of thick cotton that is sharply reproduced, and there’s a lot of winter clothing to be had. It’s a shame that’s what impresses overall though.
There’s quite a bit to track for Popper’s DTS-HD mix. Penguins are in constant motion, their feet against the bare apartment floor replicated in each channel. The movie even makes reference at one point to surround sound, based on a penguin traversing around the actors. The design is kept up.
The best sequence comes during an upscale social, the birds infiltrating and gliding down the architecture of the Guggenheim. The spiraling is maintained even when the focus is off the penguins, the sliding scraping just enough to keep itself involved.
Dialogue doesn’t carry anything unwanted fidelity wise, as if it would. New York is somewhat sparse in terms of ambiance, although there’s a constant city noise draped over the background. There is however an audio fault at 56:30, a high-pitched pop. It’s nothing to be concerned with, but it still shouldn’t be there.
There are more extras here than this dud deserves, beginning with a commentary from director Mark Waters, editor Bruce Green, and visual effects supervisor Richard Hollander. Nimrod and Stinky’s Antarctic Adventure is a terribly done, cheap animated short that follows up on the penguins after the film. A dozen deleted scenes run nearly 15-minutes, joined by an optional commentary.
The Legacy of Mr. Popper’s Penguins chats about the original book and its authors. A gag reel is enjoyable for the animal quirks, and Ready for their Close-ups is a featurette about the animals on set, always kept a frigid 32 degrees. Ladies and Gentoomen discusses the species used in the movie and their life in the wild.
Stuffy Penguin Theater shows one of the earliest steps in the effects process, used to let the actors know where the computer generated birds will be. Penguin Pandemonium is an extension of the latter where a complex shot is laid out with commentary to explain the progression towards a finished product. You can read some of the original book if you choose, and cruise through some trailers and BD-Live access.