Popper’s penguins help to pass time

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the British summer being what it is, the long school holidays are likely to warrant at least one visit to the cinema as parents struggle to keep children entertained on rainy days.

It was on just such a day that I found myself searching the listings and hoping there would be something half decent on offer that I might enjoy as much as the youngsters.

I hadn’t heard anything about Mr Popper’s Penguins, but the Johnston Juniors had seen a trailer and declared it worth seeing.

When I saw it starred Jim Carrey my heart sank as low as the grey clouds hanging from the leaden August sky.

As far as I remembered, Carrey only ever seemed to play one character in every film, a charmless gurning fool. The Truman Show being a marked exception.

I didn’t relish the thought of spending a couple of hours watching him act daft around a group of Happy Feet-type co-stars.

It’s so long since I’ve watched a Carrey film my first impression was how much he appeared to have aged.

But with age there appears to have come some acting wisdom, with Carrey managing to rein in the facial grimaces.

His character, the eponymous Mr Tom Popper, is a successful workaholic businessman who is glad when the weekends are over so that he can get back to the office.

He is divorced and his two children don’t enjoy spending time with him, having learnt that dad’s work takes priority over them.

This is an almost identical situation to Popper’s own childhood when his explorer dad was away for long periods of times, missing birthdays and special occasions, until the emotional distance between father and son was as wide as the physical one.

When the family solicitor tells Popper that his father has died he barely registers it and looks bored when he is told that he has been left a package.

But he is forced to sit up and take notice when the package arrives and his legacy turns out to be six penguins.

Popper’s stylish New York apartment is soon over-run with the waddling birds who begin to impact on his life in more ways than one.

Suddenly his children see him as a cool dad and want to spend more time with him, although his teenage daughter takes some winning over.

In typical teenage fashion she spends most of her time texting and Popper has to figure out what her abbreviated speech means.

“BFF? That’s your big fat friend right?” he asks.

Meanwhile in his working life, Popper is attempting to close a deal on buying the Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park, which his company wants to tear down so it can build on the land.

The property is owned by Mrs Van Gundy, a sprightly Angela Lansbury, who is notoriously difficult to deal with and who doesn’t want to sell.

She sees straight through Popper’s oily sales patter and says she will only sell to someone who knows his own worth - and not in the financial sense.

Cue Popper’s big life lesson, courtesy of the half dozen birds which have now turned his apartment into a winter wonderland.

The snow turns into sentimental slush as Popper reconnects with not just his children, but his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) as well.

There is an ongoing battle with the film’s baddy, zoo keeper Nat Jones (Clark Gregg), who wants to take the penguins away.

And Popper’s personal assistant Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond) adds an extra comic touch. She talks mostly in words beginning with p, which she pronounces perfectly properly.

By Helen Johnston

Star rating ***