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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: Mr. Popper's Penguins

December 6th, 2011

Mr. Popper's Penguins - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Mr. Popper's Penguins was a mid-summer family film about penguins. Penguins immediately bring to mind visions of snow. So the timing of the theatrical release is a bit puzzling, but the home market release is perfectly timed. It was a moderate hit in theaters, but will it do better on the home market?

The Movie

The film begins in 1976 with a young boy getting a call on his radio from his father. His father travels a lot and at each new location he hopes he will find something to solidify his legacy. Over the years, as the boy grows up his father is never around.

30 years later, and that boy has grown up into Thom Popper, who is looking to become partner in his real estate firm. He has just one task left to guarantee his place at the big table: get the Tavern on the Green. It's an old tavern in a great location run by Mrs. Van Gurdy, who has been very particular who she sells to and has refused countless offers in the past. She won't sell unless she finds the right person.

Thom Popper might have trouble convincing Mrs. Van Gurdy he's the right kind of person, because he has trouble convincing his daughter of that fact. He's divorced from his wife, Amanda and, when he goes to pick up his two kids for the weekend, Billy is excited to go, but Janie is less inclined to go. Granted, she's dealing with matters of the heart, which is not exactly Mr. Popper's fault. But when she asks him for advice, he blows it.

His family life takes another hit when he learns his father has passed away. At the reading of the will, Thom Popper learns his father left most of his worldly possessions to the National Geographic Society, but he did leave a souvenir to Thom from the last place he was when he died: The Antarctic. When the souvenir arrives, it turns out to be a live penguin. While he calls to try and return it to the Antarctic, he accidentally gets five more penguins sent to his apartment. At first it seems like a nightmare, but, when his family comes over, his kids love the penguins and he decides he doesn't want to give them up. Unfortunately, his assistant already called the zoo and they send Agent Coulson to pick up the penguins.

Now Thom Popper has to balance his job, his improved family life, all while trying to keep his penguins from being taken away from him.

If you've seen a family film featuring a family pet, you can probably guess how most of the film will end up. Originality is not the film's strong suit. Granted, having penguins instead of an rambunctious dog, for instance, adds something new to the genre, but it's not enough to truly stand out. Don't get me wrong, there are parts of the film that do work, including some of the humor and some of the more emotional family life. However, there are also a lot of lulls throughout the film. The humor relies too heavily on slapstick and bathroom antics (Mr. Popper gets pooped on, twice, in just the first 20 minutes. And that's before Stinky the penguin shows up.) I don't think kids will be enthralled by the real estate deal that is central to much of the film's plot. But there's enough penguin mayhem that families should be entertained, even if it is not a great example of the genre.

On a side note, Agent Coulson is the good guy in the conflict. The way that conflict was handled bugged me, especially the resolution.

The Extras

The extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with the director and a couple of filmmakers, deleted scenes with optional commentary, outtakes, a short film on the life of the penguins one year later, a featurette on working with the real penguins, a featurette on the Gentoo penguins and, finally, a selection from the original book.

I don't have the Blu-ray to compare. In fact, I have a DVD-R copy of the movie, so I can't compare technical specs. I do believe there are a couple extra featurettes, but the Blu-ray also costs nearly 50% than the DVD on Amazon.com, which is a bit too much.

The Verdict

Mr. Popper's Penguins is better than average for a family film, but that's not really high praise. It's a little too predictable and the humor tends to be lowbrow too often to earn an enthusiastic recommendation; however, if you are in the target audience, there are worse options out there. Both the DVD or the Blu-ray Combo Pack are worth renting, but that's as far as I would go.


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