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Noah Baumbach & Ben Stiller Adapting Mr. Popper's Penguins?

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April 1, 2010

Mr. Popper's Penguins

I'm sure many, many of you are familiar with the Newbery Award Winning children's book Mr. Popper's Penguins. I remember spending an entire month on this in 3rd grade! That's exactly why I'm part excited, part nervous, about this. Variety reports that filmmaker Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) and actor Ben Stiller are considering teaming up again for this new adaptation of Richard & Florence Atwater's book about a house painter who ends up caring for some 12 performing penguins. Baumbach and Stiller last worked together on the Focus Features film Greenberg, which is currently playing in theaters now. Read on!

Mr. Popper's Penguins, published in 1938, is about a man who receives a penguin from an Arctic explorer one day. He then gets a female penguin from the zoo and shazam, he ends up with 12 of the tuxedo-wearin' birds. When the penguins start to eat him out of house and home, Mr. Popper forms Popper's Performing Penguins, a stage act that goes on tour and causes mayhem at every stop. My first thought - why isn't Wes Anderson directing this as a stop-motion animated movie instead? Maybe I've still got Fantastic Mr. Fox on my brain, I just don't want this to become an Alvin and the Chipmunks redux with dancing penguins.

Variety says that Baumbach is definitely in talks to direct this at 20th Century Fox. Stiller is also "in talks," but not signed on at all. Obviously they're probably still chatting it up after the release of Greenberg, but it takes a while to get everything down on paper. The trade also calls it a "kiddie pic" so I don't think we can expect a finely crafted adaptation like Fantastic Mr. Fox, this sounds like it's leaning much more towards the Alvin and the Chipmunks side of things. Who would've thought that damn movie would cause children's movies to never be the same again? As much nostalgia as I have for this book, I don't have high hopes for this adaptation yet. Though we can't forget Baumbach did help co-write Fantastic Mr. Fox. Optimistic?

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  • daniel felts
    Heh. Lol. Yea, I'm in. Just picturing it will be very funny. Penguins are so funny. And their silly antics. 😛
  • M
    Never heard of it.
  • John E.
    I don't know why you're so skeptical of the movie's eventual quality. I think/trust Baumbach won't hack it out and sacrifice all that auteurist cred that easily (for the $, or just to work with Stiller again). Yeah, can't imagine it will be an Alvin and the Chipmunks-type deal. After all, Tim Hill is no Noah Baumbach.
  • Lynn
    You think Noah Baumbach would make an Alvin and the Chipmunks-type movie? Uhh... what?? Whoa, dude. Off-base. I'm with #3.
  • George
    I LOVE that book! I remember reading that in second grade for class, and then again in fourth! I love how he fills his house with water and freezes it! Can't wait!
  • ImaginaryVisionary
    I hate to say this, but sometimes this site is very close minded, if not naive when it comes to children's movies. (Yes I understand it's a fanboy site at heart, but it's a movie site and we don't live in a male dominated fanboy world) Fantastic Mr. Fox as interesting as it was, was a bomb as far as kids movies are concerned (in fact it was a bomb box office wise too). Critics and film buffs may have enjoyed it, but the target audience did not, which also makes it a failure as far as a film goes. The reason why is simple...it was far too complicated and strange to be a children's movie. It was essentially an adult cartoon that was high jacked from a story for kids. What's the point of that? 95% of the movies made are for adults (if not more)....and there is a VERY small percentage of movies that are made especially for children. Don't you think we as adults have enough entertainment of our own? Pixar is the only consistent company making films specifically for kids. Dreamworks makes "childrens movies" as well, but their content is too adult a lot of the time. In other words Kids may like them...but that doesn't mean they should watch them. I believe the Alvin and the Chipmunk movies definitely fall in this category as well. (the first time I saw Alvin say "bow chicka-wow wow" in the preview I was certain of that) As adults we're too selfish when it comes to what a "childrens movie" should truly consist of. With that said...I LOVE this book. It's one of my all time favorites. My concern isn't that they'll make this into another Alvin and the Chipmunks. It's that they'll try to take some of the fantasy and the silly whimsical nature of the story away to try and appease the adults who won't be able to buy into a silly kids story. There goal should be to make this movie like BABE. Simple, cute, funny, and with heart.
  • That's actually a great point #6 - thanks for sharing. I'm glad it was Mr. Popper's Penguins that was able to bring out some honesty in the comments. And, unfortunately, you're right, I don't think this will be as good as Babe was, it'll probably be more like Alvin and the Chipmunks, and that's such a shame.
  • Dan Dassow
    I share ImaginaryVisionary’s concern. The creators of cartoons from the 1930s through 1950s understood and frequently employed whimsy. It is as though whimsy has become a lost art. Current day Hollywood filmmakers generally substitute hip references for whimsy. I am more concerned with Ben Stiller’s involvement that Mr. Popper's Penguins will be turned into another Madagascar or Night at the Museum.

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