Why I Will See Mr. Popper’s Penguins, And Why You Can’t Stop Me


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySnNvJplaP0&w=622&h=384]

When I was six years old, I went to see Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls dressed in full costume as Ace Ventura. Assembling the wardrobe was not a challenge: thrift stores, it turns out, are rife with child-sized Hawaiian shirts, and after weeks of planning, my hair had grown long enough to be easily gelled into a cartoon-like wave. My daily ritual of watching and rewatching my Ace Ventura: Pet Detective video had already given me ample time to not only memorize all of Jim Carrey’s vocal and physical mannerisms, but also every single line of dialogue, and all the lines in the opening trailer for Major League 2. Yes, opening night of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls would be a chance for six-year-old Will to finally step out into the world and let it be known how loudly he could yell, “Excuse me – I’d like to ASS you a few questions!”

Dear reader, I can say without a hint of exaggeration that that night still ranks as one of the greatest of my life. There I sat in the front row, completely engrossed in the wacky, zany, and latently racist tomfoolery of a Pet Detective in Africa. I laughed when he threw a high-society man over his shoulder like a fur scarf, and guffawed when he exited nude from a mechanical rhino’s backside, and even yukked it up at the gay-panic jokes, though I’m not sure I understood them. So high on adrenaline was I that I may or may not have chosen Toronto’s Bloor Street as the ideal location to replicate Ace’s famous affinity of simulating speech with his buttocks.

Now, fifteen-and-a-half years later, I will attend the earliest possible matinee of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, the latest cinematic endeavor from my childhood hero. I’m not exactly looking forward to it (has a less promising film ever been made?), but it’s the same pavlovian instinct that also compelled me to see Carrey’s creaky mugging in Yes Man and Fun with Dick and Jane, and his motion-capture creepiness in A Christmas Carol, and his supremely awful attempt at numerology-based thrills with The Number 23. (Full disclosure: I actually waited for that last one on DVD. Gotta draw the line somewhere). My relationship with Carrey is like that of a devout Christian having a crisis of faith: I’m not sure why I’m still going to mass every week, but the ritual is so ingrained that I wouldn’t think of missing it.

I’ve watched the trailer enough times to feel like I’ve already seen the film. The plot: Jim Carrey is a hotshot businessman who thinks he has it all until one day he discovers that he can no longer tell a lie – – er, I mean, he inherits six rascally penguins who for some reason he can’t get rid of. Sure, this leads to a prolonged mid-section in which the penguins complicate his life through comical mishaps (farting in his bathtub, kicking a football at his johnson, etcetera etcetera), but by the end, they’ll teach him a valuable lesson about the value of friendship and family. There’s also a scene where they dance to “Ice, Ice, Baby,” because it’s time someone finally took Vanilla Ice down a peg.

My rational mind tells me that Mr. Popper’s Penguins doesn’t look very funny, and indeed, that it will be the latest in a long string of films in which Jim Carrey has not been very funny (the lone exception: the excellent but little-seen I Love You Phillip Morris). My rational mind also reminds me that the ageing funnyman practically panted and wheezed through the slapstick motions in his last attempt at an out-and-out comedy, the shamelessly mercenary Yes Man. And yes, my rational mind has gently suggested that the sight of a 48-year-old man cavorting with a bunch of farting and/or johnson-kicking CGI penguins will be exhausting at best, embarrassing at worst.

Well, fair enough, rational mind, but I still cannot accept your advice. Farting penguins be damned, nothing can stop me from seeing this movie. I know it’s a hipster cliché to write long articles comparing pop culture ephemera to relationships (thanks, Klosterman), but when it comes to my relationship with Jim Carrey, sometimes I wish I could go back to that sweet, uncomplicated period of sexually-charged flirting (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) – a more innocent time when our future was in front of us, before consummation (The Mask) and even the happy months/years that could be called our halcyon days (Dumb & Dumber). Certainly long before the baring of souls and sharing of emotions that made our relationship so complicated (The Truman Show, Man on the Moon), or the first fights (The Grinch, The Majestic), or the drawn-out period of decline (seriously, have you seen The Number 23? Fucking abysmal).

But no, we can’t go back. Jim and I have been through too much. There was the Oscar-begging, and the reports of erratic on-set behavior, and the depressing interviews (“I tend to stay up late, not because I’m partying but because it’s the only time of the day when I’m alone and don’t have to be performing”), and the recent tabloid appearances. There was also his recent guest spot on Letterman, where once again he flailed and mugged and cavorted like none of this had happened between us, and he was still the same man who made Ace Ventura.

But I’ll tell you something else. When I was six, the only thing besides Jim Carrey that I loved in this world was Batman, and when a Batman movie featuring Jim Carrey as the Riddler came along, the overwhelming happiness pretty much sustained me through junior school. And, I mean, remember that scene in Ace Ventura where he pretended to be a UPS man and he kicked the package down the hallway? Holy crap, more like Ace Ventura: LAUGH Detective, amiright?! And Dumb & Dumber! Have you seen that lately? “Kick his ass, Sea Bass!” Comedy gold.

So yes, I will see Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and by golly, I’m going to try to like it. It’s a dysfunctional relationship, and it causes me a lot of distress (see: 23, The Number), but dammit Jim, I wish I knew how to quit you. In fact, while promoting the penguin film, Carrey recently hinted that he and the Farrelly Brothers have been considering a Dumb & Dumber sequel. If I need to chip my tooth to get in costume for opening day, I just might.

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