‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’: As kids’ films go, this one’s a stinker

If there is a growing gap between the extreme rich and the rest the country, "Mr. Popper's Penguins" appears to be on the wrong side of it.

This is a purported comedy, loosely and irresponsibly based on a children's novel, that only Leona Helmsley could love.

It's about a wealthy Manhattan real estate shark named Popper (Jim Carrey) who is illegally hoarding exotic animals in his high-rise penthouse - a half dozen rare penguins, which he keeps to mollify his entitled children, who whine and pout when he speaks of having the flightless birds removed.

He bribes his doorman to keep the illegal game afoot, hires a Latina domestic to watch them when he can't be bothered. Her instructions - make sure the penguins have a limitless supply of vintage movies to watch on the HD big-screen TV when he's out.

The sob story that explains his behavior? As a child he was forced to eat at Tavern on the Green. Yes, that's what I said. Tavern on the Green.

That's where his oft-absent international adventurer father took him every few months to tell stories of his expeditions. The boy could also communicate with dad via the personal ham radio installed in his bedroom.

Not exactly Oliver Twist, this kid. Still, he was apparently so traumatized he grew up to be a bad father, a lousy husband (to Carla Gugino) and a real estate hustler. The penguins are a device to restore his humanity.

With foreclosures (legal and illegal) at alarming levels, with a housing price collapse that now exceeds that of the Great Depression, maybe now is not the time to have a real estate guy as a movie protagonist.

By the way, the villain in this story is a zookeeper who thinks the penguins would be better off under the care of professionals, at a facility where the general public could view and enjoy the captured animals.

Precisely the kind of middle-class thinking that gets you the black hat in "Mr. Popper's Penguins."

When Popper does start thinking of the animals' welfare, he and his family fly the penguins to Antarctica so they can be released into the wild.

The idea that cash is unlimited and no expenditure too frivolous or wasteful extends to the studio and its animators, who've spent many millions of dollars here creating the digital illusion of a farting penguin.

His name is "Stinky."

An apt title for this movie.

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Directed by Mark Waters. With Maxwell Perry Cotton, Andrew Stewart-Jones, Carla Gugino, Curtis Shumaker, Jim Carrey. Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Running time: 1 hours, 35 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG (for mild rude humor and some language).