A broad-comedy version of ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’?


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We’ve previously wondered what kind of direction Fox was going to take with “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” the adaptation of the illustrated children’s classic originally published on the eve of World War II.
For a while, it looked like the studio/producers would take a Spike Jonze-y “Where the Wild Things Are” tack, with Noah Baumbach writing and directing and Ben Stiller looking to star. Then the “Greenberg” duo parted ways with “Popper’s Penguins,” and it was back to asking what kind of film the studio had mind.

Now we have something of a clue. In recent days, Hollywood circles have been filled with talk that Mark Waters, the “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and “Freaky Friday” director who has a few commercial comedies under his belt, was talking to the studio, as was Jim Carrey, the actor who has more than a few commercial comedies under his belt.


Waters and Carrey also have something else going for them -- both have made hit movies involving animals, literal or figurative (Carrey with the “Ace Ventura” movies and Waters with “Mean Girls.”)

Representatives and the studio aren’t confirming any talks with the two, and it could well end up being another pair that gets the gig. (Owen Wilson and Jack Black, for instance, are in the mix, and don’t rule out a Stiller comeback, though almost certainly without Baumbach). But the fact that Waters and Carrey are being associated with “Popper’s Penguins” tells us a little bit more about what the studio wants (it is the concept-driven Fox) --- and, maybe, what the project needs.
This, after all, is a story about a couple that takes in a few penguins and before they know it have a veritable zoo on their hands. You could plumb the depths of the soul with it, as Baumbach might have done. But more likely you’re going to want to plumb the depths of kid-friendly animal jokes, the kind of thing that’s right in Carrey’s hen house. And given how family films are tearing it up at the box office, it would hard to argue with the studio waddling that way.

-- Steven Zeitchik


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