Based on the children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater, Mr Popper’s Penguins is a cutesy tale of errant fathers, emotionally damaged offspring and feathered friends, whose fates collide in wintry New York City.
A Christmas release would have better suited Mark Waters’s whimsical confection, when the lashings of sticky sweet sentiment are easier to swallow, and the chill outside mirrors the swathes of snow and ice on the big screen.
Like the birds at the film’s emotional core, Jim Carrey and co will struggle to take flight in a summer overloaded with flashier blockbusters.
The screenwriters certainly don’t help, having the titular father deliver a patriotic grandstand speech about the glory of America and its citizens that sticks in our craw.
The film opens in 1976 with young, rosy-cheeked Tommy Popper communicating with his explorer father in Antarctica using a CB radio and the handles Tippytoes and Bald Eagle.
Fast forward to the present day and Thomas (Jim Carrey) has become a workaholic real estate developer for the money-grabbing triumvirate Franklin (Philip Baker Hall), Reader (Dominic Chianese) and Yates (William C Mitchell).
“I love the smell of toner in the morning,” grins Thomas, sniffing a report prepared by personal assistant Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), who pointlessly punctuates perfectly pithy prose with a plethora of Ps.
In order to secure promotion, Thomas must persuade Mrs Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury) to sell the Tavern On The Green restaurant in Central Park.
She rebuffs his pitch, determined to sell the historic property to a person of worth.
“She’s looking for someone with integrity and character - someone like Jimmy Stewart,” Thomas informs his bosses.
While he attempts to close the deal, Thomas receives his inheritance from his late father: six Gentoo penguins, which take over his life and rebuild bridges with ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino) and children Janie (Madeline Carroll) and Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton).
Mr Popper’s Penguins is a saccharine family-oriented comedy, which hammers home the central message about parental responsibility and love triumphing over adversity with all the tenderness of a nasty case of frostbite.
Carrey reins in his usual mugging and is completely upstaged by the real and digitally rendered birds, who wreak havoc at a swanky party in the Guggenheim museum with its sloping spiral walkway.
Carroll and Cotton tug heartstrings as the kids who want their father to choose them over his employment, while Gugino is a slave to the contrived narrative.
A subplot involving New York City Zoo official Nat Jones (Clark Gregg) scheming to steal the Gentoos away from the Poppers is a lacklustre diversion and leads to an outlandish sequence of one bird magically defying the laws of nature to make his mark.
Penguins have dreams too.
By Damon Smith
:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10
Released: August 5 (UK & Ireland), 94 mins