There was not the slightest doubt about it.
It was a penguin.
Mr. Popper was speechless with delight.
– Richard & Florence Atwater, Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic. The “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” that is slated to arrive in theaters this summer doesn’t ruin the quietly lovely 1938 classic so much as it barely even resembles it.
In short, from what I’ve seen of the trailer, the only way the movie gets away with calling itself “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is
- Jim Carrey plays a man named Mr. Popper, and
- penguins are involved.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins, the Newbery Award Honor Book penned by Richard & Florence Atwater, is a simple story of a simple house painter who dreams of places he has never been. In particular, he is taken with the cold white expanses of the Poles, and follows the stories of the Polar expeditions via National Geographic, the radio, the picture show. He writes a letter to Admiral Drake, far away on an Antarctic expedition, and Admiral Drake sends him a penguin of his very own. As one might guess, the crazy antics start there.
I reread this tonight, I’ve read it aloud to each of my children in their turn from the very copy I read as a child, and I still think it’s funny. Not in-your-face Jim Carrey funny, maybe, but sweetly funny and easily imaginable to a child. How would your household be turned upside down to accommodate such a guest?
The solutions are practical; the concerns realistic. Where will the Poppers find the money to support an exotic animal with specific needs, when money is tight already? Yet there is no squabbling, no question that the family will support Mr. Popper and his passion; and Mr. Popper himself attends with great patience to the needs of the animal entrusted to his care; “nothing was ever too much trouble for him.” Until one day, he is greatly rewarded for his patience, his dreaming, his simple passions, his love and his stewardship.
I had always thought Mr. Popper’s Penguins was one of those books EVERY kid reads, like Ramona the Pest and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (please tell me all kids read those). Until I was lucky enough to be invited to a sneak peak of a feature at the Camden Adventure Aquarium, and got to actually pet a penguin and talk to his trainer.
“Do they really say ‘Ork‘?” I asked him.
He looked confused, so I helped him out. “Like in Mr. Popper’s Penguins. The book?”
He shook his head. “Never read that one,” he said.
He. Was. A. Penguin. Trainer. and he’d never read the book. I expressed my shock to the friend who had come with me, and she’d never read it either.
So when I heard they were making a movie of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, I thought GOOD. Maybe now kids will go and discover this sweet book and its gentle humor and love. I thought about who I wanted to play Mr. Popper, the house painter, an untidy man splattered with paint and with bits of wallpaper clinging to his hair and whiskers. Sitting in his armchair with his pipe, his book and his globe.
I thought Hugh Laurie. I thought, maybe Matthew Broderick.
UGH. Jim freaking Carrey, the ruiner of childhood classics. Horton Hears a Who, the Lemony Snicket series, How the Grinch Stole Christmas AND A Christmas Carol weren’t enough for him, oh no. He’s like the Grinch who stole children’s lit.
In the trailer, these words come out of Jim Carrey’s mouth.
“I’m not coming in to work today. Because I have a pest problem.”
“I don’t like you, I don’t need you, I don’t want you in my life!”
Dude. Mr. Popper would NEVER say such things.
It looks like the plotline goes like this: Jim Carrey is a high-powered something or other; penguins are thrust upon him; he doesn’t like, need or want them. He probably deals with them to make his children happy, grows attached to them after teaching them to dance, loses his job due to his seemingly manic behavior, but regains the love and respect of his family.
I’ve seen that movie before, frankly. The details were different but the message the same. Liar Liar anyone? Dr. Doolittle?
Why couldn’t they make a movie that celebrates a family that is close and strong and loving to begin with… and stayed that way? That celebrates penguins for being penguins, instead of being a CGI-enhanced dance troupe?
Kids are going to see this spectacle, and Jim Carrey making an exaggerated ass out of himself as usual. I’m still going to see it, because I LOVE PENGUINS. It will probably be mildly amusing, taken on its own merits.
What kills me is the idea that some of those kids will go to read the book afterwards… and be disappointed by the comparison. “Not as good as the movie.”
The book is quiet. Simple. The real Mr. Popper is practically the anti-Jim Carrey.
I KNOW Hollywood is capable of producing a good children’s movie that stays true to the story (Because of Winn-Dixie springs to mind). Why don’t they? Why do they insist on doing things like introducing a love story into The Lorax?
In any case, I implore you. PLEASE. Buy your kid a copy of the book and read it with them, or to them BEFORE you see the movie. It will all be worth it if kids actually read and love the story… so that they can enjoy it with their own kids. If they grow to love penguins, real penguins, and work to preserve their habitat.
Gah. Stupid Jim Carrey.
Oh, and P.S…
Guess who’s playing Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in the Disney remake?
Jennifer Garner. Just shoot me now, please.