August 02, 2011
Family Film Blogging: Mr. Popper's Penguins and The Smurfs
Posted by Christine Hurt

There is a recurring storyline in many movies:  cute alien creature(s) unexpectedly come into a human's habitat.  Human is initially repulsed and fearful, then creatures show human, who usually has some sort of personality defect, how to embrace life and live it to its fullest.  To make the show have a crisis, the human may have to fight off some sort of evil threat to the creature.  And of course, the creatures eventually have to return to their habitat. Two movies out this summer fall into this category:  Mr. Popper's Penguins and The Smurfs.

In Penguins, a beloved classic has been modernized.  Jim Carrey plays a much wealthier and sophisticated Mr. Popper, who shares custody of his children with his ex-wife, who is much more sensitive and loving than he is.  When he receives a penguin (and then some more) from his physically and emotionally absent late father, he eventually embraces them to the possible detriment of his job as real estate developer.  However, the penguins eventually bring him back together with his children and his wife.  In addition, in an homage to Pretty Woman, the penguins inspire him to buy Tavern on the Green but not tear it down, as he was going to do, but restore it to its former glory.

Our youngest ones enjoyed watching the slippery penguins, but it was hard to watch Jim Carrey as Mr. Popper.  Generally, he played it straight, but every once in awhile he would go all Ace Ventura, and the other actors seemed to visibly turn away in hopes that no one was watching.

Last night, we rounded out the ouvre with Smurfs.  This movie seems very recycled, as we have endured animated creatures from enchanged worlds coming to the world of the human actor already (Enchanted, Hop, etc.).  However, being a lover of the 1980s Smurfs, I forged ahead for the sake of the children.  First, I was a little disappointed in what the smurfs looked like in modern animation.  The white shiny plastic hats and pants of my smurf figures seemed to be made out of dingy beige burlap.  Smurfette's dress looked like burlap rags.  Our smurfs are chased out of the enchanted forest by the evil wizard Gargamel.  They enter Central Park through a portal that opened during a "blue moon."  Once in NY, they must elude Gargamel and find out how to re-open the portal.  They stowaway with Neil Patrick Harris, who is convinced by his pregnant wife Jayma Mays to help them.  If you haven't noticed, our humans have done some time on Glee, and there are some gratuitous rock ballads to emphasize the point. 

All three of my kids liked it, but I admit I squirmed at the quotes from Midnight Cowboy and Brokeback Mountain.  Really?  From the smurfs?  One satisfying part of the movie is that our humans voice the same questions we have always had about the smurfs:  why is there only one girl?  isn't that "la, la, la, la, la, la" song annoying?  Why do you use the word "smurf" in a million different ways?  do you get your name when you are born or when you exhibit that personality trait?  don't you realize that everyone has multiple personality traits and shouldn't be branded by one?  Like Penguins, we at first think poor Patrick (NPH) is going to lose his job because of the smurfs, but then he wins a promotion and his inspiration because of them.  Where did I see that before?

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