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Christy Catherine Marshall

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June 22, 2011

I hope you’re having a relaxing summer. I’m enjoying a break from the school routine, but I have little time to relax. This month, I’ve been completely consumed by a household full of kids and teens, and we’ve also added four baby goat “kids” to our menagerie. The word “kid” now has two meanings for me. These babies must be bottle-fed several times a day, yet they act like impish toddlers who are into EVERYTHING and don’t want to stay in their playpen. Baby goats are lovable and cute — just like the penguins in this film.

Getting to the movie theater to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins was pure escape for me. Of course, you know I had to see it — a movie based on a classic work of children’s literature! And a Newbery Honor winner at that! Though the plot of the movie deviates from Richard & Florence Atwater’s 1938 work, the screenplay is well written, and it’s thoroughly entertaining for all ages.

Jim Carey plays Tom Popper, a divorced New York realtor who excels in his job making high-end real estate deals, but is a lousy parent. You don’t want to miss the first five minutes of this movie because it shows scenes from Tom Popper’s childhood where he was also consistently disappointed by his absentee father — who traveled the world, sending back snow globes and other souvenirs, but missed important events like Tom’s birthday. History repeats itself.

When the grown-up Tom Popper receives word that his father has passed away, he learns his father has left him one final souvenir: it arrives in a wooden crate at the door of his luxury apartment. Tom thinks it’s a stuffed penguin, until the creature begins to move. He immediately contacts the zoo to come pick it up, and he puts the penguin into a bathtub full of ice cubes, thinking he’ll be sending it out the door soon.

Later, another crate arrives with five more penguins, and then his own family shows up to celebrate his son’s birthday. They’re in for a surprise when they see the apartment full of penguins. His son and daughter immediately fall in love with Dad’s new pets, and even his ex-wife is impressed at Tom Popper’s new role as faithful pet owner.

All kinds of adventures follow, as the zoo keeper is now determined to capture the birds, but Tom decides to keep them because his kids actually enjoy hanging out with their dad now. He even begins to break through the “OMG frowny face” texting world of his 13-year-old daughter, which is a miracle in itself, as any parent of a teen daughter can attest!

To keep the penguins alive, Tom Popper turns his apartment into a winter wonderland. Yet he’s determined to stay on top of his career, which involves convincing the owner of Central Park’s Tavern on the Green (played by “Murder She Wrote” actress Jessica Lansbury) to sell to his corporation. But she won’t sell until she finds the right kind of buyer, one with a big heart.

The penguins lay eggs, and Tom’s heart grows as he and his kids watch the eggs hatch. Slowly, he and his wife seem to be reconciling their relationship, and the kids are thrilled. The theme of this movie is all about keeping family together, and for this reason alone, it’s a great movie. This is the kind of film teachers will want to add to their Friday afternoon “pizza party” collection — it can be shown in the classroom without needing to have the fast forward remote close by. There are so many hilarious scenes and nothing to make a teacher squeamish about showing her students.

Besides the wonderful theme, Mr. Popper’s Penguins has an artistic quality that’s unusual for kid-friendly movies. The colors are relaxing, lots of blacks and whites with bold dashes of color sprinkled in like a painting. In one scene, Mr. Popper and his ex-wife are both wearing black, and her new boyfriend looks out of place in brown — you just want him to get out of the picture! The film is icy cold and uncluttered, a perfect escape from the heat of summer.

Jim Carey is so funny, our whole theater was laughing. Also, you don’t want to miss the closing credits, which show cartoon penguins dancing to a new rendition of “Ice Ice Baby.” All of us Gen-X parents who came of age in the 80s will remember this beat.

The best part about the film is that I believe it will fuel interest in the classic book, Mr. Popper’s Penguins. When we got home from the theater, my 11-year-old daughter immediately pulled the book off a shelf in her room, settled herself in our big rocking chair, and began reading it out loud to her younger siblings. THAT is what made it worth the effort and expense of going to see the movie.

I hope you’ll take your kids to see it — and let’s send the message to Hollywood that we LOVE movies made from the best of children’s literature!