Thomas Popper (Jim Carrey) will do anything it takes to...

Thomas Popper (Jim Carrey) will do anything it takes to keep his six new friends in line in " Mr. Popper's Penguins " directed by Mark Waters. Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film /

How much penguin poop can a film pack in before its popularity with parents peters out? Plenty, perhaps, though the box-office potential of "Mr. Popper's Penguins" will more likely depend on the appeal of Jim Carrey in the title role.

Very loosely adapted from the 1938 children's book, "Mr. Popper's Penguins" stars Carrey as Tom Popper, a Manhattan real-estate agent whose success hides the emotional wounds of a boy neglected by his globe-trotting father. Popper barely blinks when he hears of the old man's death; he'll blink later, when dad's six Gentoo penguins arrive.

The birds take on personalities and names -- Bitey, Lovey, Loudy, Stinky (guess why), Captain and clumsy Nimrod -- while taking over Popper's penthouse apartment. As the penguins twirl in flushed toilets and relax in front of the television, Popper warms to their Antarctic ways. Clark Gregg ("Iron Man") plays an unamused zookeeper.

The penguins teach Popper -- well, what, exactly? That his young son (Maxwell Perry Cotton) and preteen daughter (Madeline Carroll) need him? That he should protect his favorite restaurant, Tavern on the Green (Angela Lansbury plays the owner), from being bulldozed? That he still loves his ex-wife (Carla Gugino)? The answer is D) all of the above.

Carrey is quick as ever with an ad-lib; he even turns the movie's climactic speech into political satire. His silly-putty expressions can be unreadable (is that smile sincere or hostile?), but no one ever said Carrey wasn't a matter of taste.

And the penguin poop? Well, as Popper's alliterative assistant, Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), would say: Be prepared. It's prodigious.

  

Back story: Kids and critters captivate Carrey

Jim Carrey doesn't subscribe to the show business adage "Never work with children or animals." He enjoys both.

"I kind of like to join their energy," says the rubber-faced comedian. "I like their spontaneity." In "Mr. Popper's Penguins," a live-action family comedy based on the classic children's book, Carrey once again works with both youngsters and animals. Working with penguins -- six in all -- was a whole new experience for the actor, but he was game from the get-go.

"Working with penguins, you can have a plan, but they're going to do what they're going to do," he says. "You have to be kind of on your feet."

Carrey takes flight as the title character, a divorced New York real estate developer who inherits a flock of penguins from his estranged father. In his introduction to penguins, Carrey made an important discovery: They're only interested in one thing -- eating fish. So the comedian always had plenty of sardines on hand whenever he was working with the hungry creatures.

Carrey recalls filming one tricky scene where his character was supposed to enjoy a meal with the birds. Carrey sat at the end of the table and the penguins were seated on chairs on either side of him.

The plan was for the birds' food to be uncovered when director Mark Waters called "action." But as soon as the covers were lifted, the penguins leaped onto the table and started squawking and attacking each other's food -- with Carrey in the middle of the chaos.

"It was mayhem, basically," recalls the actor with a chuckle. "I just kind of had to stay in and have fun with it."

-- Entertainment News Wire

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