I wish I could sit you down and read this book to you. Like, right now. Cover to cover, in one sitting.
This is one of my all-time favorite books. Sure, it’s a children’s book, but the story is so sweet, so endearing, so funny. No person with a heartbeat could help but adore Mr. Popper from the moment you see him walking down the street covered in paint and bits of wallpaper, ’till the end when you’re waving goodbye to him and his penguins as they make their journey back to Antartica.
From start to finish, this is a great book. No wonder it was honored by Newbery. They’re kind-of known for having great taste in children’s lit.
About a year-and-a-half ago, I had the happy job of reading this book to my kids for the first time. They ate it up, just like I had when I was little. Some things are timeless.
My kids are being raised in a world where everything is available on a screen of some sort – movies, books, music, tv, art, games. While technology definitely has its advantages, I have to admit, I dig that convenience far less than the average person. The hubster and I often butt heads about this. It’s his job to be on the cutting edge of home integration technology – a job he loves. Which means we have more gear than any sane person has the right to (even if it’s far less than he would like). And it’s something that the kids have adapted to from day one. They’ll never know what an answering machine is. What a rotary phone is. They’ll never know the joy of going to the movie rental store to pick out a movie to rent. There’s been a digital world at their fingertips pretty much since the moment they emerged from my womb. They’ve grown up with this stuff. So whenever we read a book together that’s a hit, it’s only natural that they’d ask whether there’s a movie for it (and if they can watch it in the car on their iPod).
My response, as the ultra-stellar-super-cool-number-one mom that I am is to simply roll my eyes, chalk it up to my boys being little miniature versions of their dad (who, by the way, is ultra-stellar himself), and Google the title of the book in question. This time, it was Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
Nope, I told them as I scanned the screen. No movie. Oh. No, wait. (clicks on IMDb website) They’re making a movie. Oh. (gulp) It’s a Jim Carey movie. Hmmm. (squinches eyes) Looks like they strayed from the plot a little. There’s a trailer. Let’s see. (watches, dismayed) Welllll….the main character’s name is Mr. Popper, and there are a few penguins, soo…I guess that’s the same.
Thankfully, the movie wasn’t due to be released for several months, and the kids forgot about it. *phew* A family of five has to take out a second mortgage to see a movie in the theaters these days, so we usually only go if one of the children proclaims they might actually die if we don’t. This usually only happens if the movie involves alien robots simultaneously trying to save/destroy Earth while some teenage busty babe – played by an actress who is clearly not a teenager – pretends to fix cars. Gag. Me. Now.
(This, by the way, is a tactic I plan on using when The Hobbit is released. I will die if I don’t see it in the theatre. The thought of missing it actually makes me feel faint and a little nauseous.)
So, we didn’t see it in the theatre. In fact, we pretty much forgot about the movie altogether. Until we found ourselves home this New Year’s Eve with kiddos who were anxious to watch a movie. As we were scrolling through the rentable selection on AppleTV, Mr. Popper’s Penguins popped up. And the kids remembered.
How bad can it be? I asked myself as the kids bounced up and down, noisily awaiting my decision. I mean, even if they mess with the plot a little, it’s still Jim Carey. He’s always good for a laugh or two. Or at least a snorting chortle. And there are penguins. Penguins are cute, right? If Morgan Freeman’s taught us anything, it’s that penguins are cute.
And so we rented Mr. Popper’s Penguins to ring in the New Year.
Let me tell you where the screenplay writers and director got it right:
(1) There is a guy in it named Mr. Popper.
(2) A penguin arrives at his house via mail.
That’s it. Those are the only two similarities between the book and the movie. Oh my gosh, and it makes me so mad! Not because they made the book into a movie – if there was ever a movie that could have rivaled the heralded children’s classic Babe (the book’s name is The Sheep-Pig) in the sweetness of the story, the humility and lovability of the main (human) character, and the ample personality and charisma of the main (animal) character, it’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
I understand that when a book is adapted for film, that the film will usually stray from the story a bit – that’s expected. I don’t know if there’s a book out there that’s ever been made into a movie that hasn’t been changed at least marginally. But this is a whole ‘nother animal completely. They didn’t simply do some tweaking to make it more film-worthy. They re-wrote the whole story. Here are a few examples of how:
In the book… Mr. Popper is a poor but loving husband and father whose favorite pastime is daydreaming about adventuring into the wild. In the movie… Mr. Popper is a very wealthy businessman who’s divorced, barely knows his kids, and daydreams about making lots and lots and lots and lots of money.
In the book… Mr. Popper receives a penguin in the mail from his hero, Admiral Drake, as a gift for a kind letter he wrote to the Admiral. In the movie… Mr. Popper receives a penguin in the mail from his dead father (who was an adventurer) who never had time for his son when he was alive.
In the book… Mr. Popper teaches his clever penguins to dance and perform together, and he and his family hit the road to do a traveling show (and have many adventures together). In the movie… Mr. Popper uses his penguins to try and win back the love of his kids and ex-wife.
In the book… Mr. Popper finally gets the dream of his lifetime when Admiral Drake returns and offers to take him on a trip to Antartica to return the penguins safely home. In the movie… Mr. Popper finally gets the dream of his lifetime by managing to purchase Tavern on the Green for his real estate company, thus becoming parter in the firm.
Sorry. I have to say it one more time. Blarrrrrg.
I get it. Movies with cute animals, spunky kids, physical humor, and parents getting back together work. I mean, when I was a kid, I could recite The Parent Trap word for word. But to take a book like Mr. Popper’s Penguins and break it…it seems so totally unnecessary. Why not just write an entirely new movie, name it Mr. Miller’s Macaws, and be done with it? Believe me, nobody in their right mind would have ever thought the two were similar…because by changing the name and the type of bird, you just completely erased any similarities at all between the book and the movie.
I would love, love, love to see this movie done again. The right way. Set in 1938 when the book was written. With humble, sweet and charming characters. With birds who are not named ‘Loudy’, ‘Bitey’, ‘Lovey’, and ‘Nimrod’, but have names like ‘Captain Cook’, ‘Greta’, ‘Columbus’, ‘Victoria’, and ‘Magellan’ – to name a few. With hilarious hijinx that involve more than the birds pooping on Mr. Popper.
How do you feel? Have any of you read the book? Seen the movie? Have a favorite book that’s been slaughtered by Hollywood? Think I’m full of crap? Talk to me, people!