It's not the penguins' fault.
Six handsome and lively emperor penguins have been cast in the title roles of the new Jim Carrey movie, Mr. Popper's Penguins - along with the rubber-limbed Carrey and that grande dame of whimsy Angela Lansbury. But this expensive adaptation of the much-loved children's book by Richard and Florence Atwater is still pretty much a glossy botch.
You'd think a recognized classic like Mr. Popper's Penguins would be fairly easy to not mess up. But this movie is overproduced, underwritten, poorly plotted, a waste of everybody's talent and utterly laughless, at least at the critics' screening I attended. Admittedly, critics can be hard cases. But penguins usually break down anyone's resistance. In this case: No dice.
The book is about a lovable but poor small-town housepainter named Tommy Potter who is fascinated with world explorations, and whose correspondence with a Byrd-like admiral in Antarctica results in the gift to Tommy's family of a penguin - soon joined by a female from a nearby zoo, 10 baby penguins and all kinds of amusing penguin domestic difficulties.
In the movie, Tommy (Carrey) is an obnoxious, selfish, fairly rich, unlovable, wildly mugging corporate huckster/troubleshooter, living in a pricey high-rise Manhattan apartment building, and (deservedly) separated from his wife (Carla Gugino) and kids (Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Perry Cotton). Popper is willed six penguins by his late explorer father, and he decides to keep and care for them after his son mistakes the penguins for a birthday present.
All kinds of family "fun" and would-be amusing penguin scenes ensue, all loonily improbable and none very amusing. Warmth, a prime ingredient of the book, is almost totally absent, perhaps due to the refrigerated sound stages, built to accommodate those penguins.
If you're a lover of the original book, I have some advice. Go read the book again. If you don't know the book and don't read much, I have more advice. Find a better movie. It won't be hard.