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Originally published Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Movie review

'Mr. Popper's Penguins' waddles in with class and charm

A movie review of "Mr. Popper's Penguins," a classy and sweet movie for the whole family starring Jim Carrey as a rigid developer whose life is undone (and improved) by caring for six Antarctic penguins.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Mr. Popper's Penguins,' with Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Philip Baker Hall, Angela Lansbury, David Krumholtz, Ophelia Lovibond. Directed by Mark Waters, from a screenplay by Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern, based on a book by Richard Atwater and Florence Atwater. 97 minutes. Rated PG for mild suspense. Several theaters.

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It's easy to imagine a version of "Mr. Popper's Penguins" from the 1960s. It would have most likely been a glossy Disney production for the whole family, starring Fred MacMurray or Dick Van Dyke as a self-involved career man undone by the cheerful chaos of a half-dozen penguins.

If I close my eyes, I can easily dream up a pleasant, childhood afternoon built around a Saturday matinee of such a movie. That's pretty much the intention of "Mr. Popper's Penguins," the charming new comedy from Mark Waters, who gracefully remade one Disney classic ("Freaky Friday") and has brought a trademark luster to other features blending the fantastic with raw human emotions ("Just Like Heaven," "The Spiderwick Chronicles").

"Penguins" (which is not from Disney) reaches across generations in audience appeal. It stokes memories of an era of clever, adventurous and genuinely sweet movies for kids, on one hand, while planting a future memory of quality for today's tykes.

Not that "Penguins" is perfect. Its star, Jim Carrey, is unleashed perhaps one too many times to do his familiar, human-cartoon thing, disrupting Waters' careful tone.

But for the most part, Carrey is wonderful as a character he has played before ("Liar, Liar," "Yes Man"), a rigid guy who becomes a better person by shaking up his status quo. As Tom Popper, a building developer whose wayfaring father sends him six penguins from the Antarctic, Carrey successfully deconstructs a man immersed in professional arrogance and near-cluelessness toward his kids.

Carrey redeems Popper as a free thinker, ushering winter into his Manhattan apartment for the birds' sake and flowing with their anarchy. Much of the film's fun, however, follows the penguins (each of whom has a distinct personality) bringing craziness to unfamiliar territory, especially the Guggenheim Museum.

The reliable cast includes Angela Lansbury, Carla Gugino, David Krumholtz and Philip Baker Hall. There's a scene-stealer in the midst: Ophelia Lovibond ("Nowhere Boy") as Popper's delightful assistant, happily enslaved to speaking in alliteration.

Tom Keogh:

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