Fox has released the 2011 film adaptation of the classic children's tale Mr. Popper's Penguins as a Blu-ray special edition that also contains a standard DVD version. The original 1938 book by Richard and Florence Atwater has been updated to contemporary times and is set in New York City. Jim Carrey, who has regained his comedy mojo, is in top form as the titular character. As a boy, young Tom Popper idolized his father, who was an intrepid explorer. Although the two rarely saw each other, Poppa Popper used to stay in touch every night on ham radio from exotic ports of call and transfix his young son with tales of his adventures. Cut to decades later. Young Popper is now a middle-aged real estate hot shot living in a posh Manhattan penthouse. His obsession with his career has led to his wife Amanda (Carla Gugino) leaving him and taking custody of their teenage daughter Janie (Madeline Carroll) and young son Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton). Although Tom is lovable and possesses a goofy sense of humor, his relationship with his children is strained because he is irresponsible and unreliable when it comes to promises he's made to them. Shortly after the death of his beloved father, Tom receives an unusual inheritance: six live penguins, a token of his father's esteem. At first, Popper is understandably frazzled, as coping with penguins in a Manhattan apartment, no matter how spacious, is a recipe for disaster. Through a misunderstanding, his children believe the penguins are pets for them. Having finally earned the gratitude of his children, Popper can't bring himself to donate the animals to a zoo so he concocts elaborate schemes to house them and care for them secretly, 'lest the board of the apartment building evicts all the inhabitants of Popper's penthouse.
Much of the fun from this smartly written and well-directed film is the sheer joyfulness of watching the penguins "perform". Although CGI was indeed used in key sequences, amazingly, most of the sequences relied upon trained penguins to perform some astonishing stunts. Director Mark Waters deftly weaves the human elements of the story in with the mayhem caused by the animals. Tom Popper's career nosedives when he becomes obsessed with caring for his frisky pets. Consequently, he seems unable to land a deal to convince a wealthy woman (Angela Lansbury) to allow him to broker a deal to buy the legendary Tavern on the Green in Central Park. (Tragically, the happy ending in the film was not mirrored in real life: the restaurant closed.) Popper keeps up a maddening pace, trying to keep his hard-nosed, demanding bosses happy as well as attempting to win back the affection of his wife and kids. The film is delightful throughout and Carrey has never been funnier. There are many memorable sequences, one of which involves the penguins disrupting a posh black tie gathering at the Guggenheim in much the same way the Three Stooges used to upstage champagne-drinking snobs. The supporting cast is also very winning, with both Carroll and Cotton giving admirable performances as Popper's kids, Gugino both sexy and sympathetic as his long-suffering wife and Lansbury, impressive in her most memorable role in years. There are also gems of cameos by Philip Baker Hall as Popper's grumpy boss and the always impressive Lee Moore in a fine bit as Popper's attorney.
The Blu-ray/DVD package is loaded with extras including some very interesting "making of" featurettes, a gag reel and deleted scenes (some of which should have remained in the film).
Mr. Popper's Penguins wasn't a blockbuster at the box-office, but it will undoubtedly become a family favorite that will perennially delighted generations to come.