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'Mr. Popper's Penguins' could reshuffle its flock

April 29, 2010 |  6:44 pm

EXCLUSIVE: It looks like Noah Baumbach won't march with the penguins.

The director who examined adult problems through children's eyes in his breakout "The Squid and the Whale" had been in talks to direct the children's classic "Mr. Popper's Penguins." But he's fallen off and won't direct it after all, sources say. 

Baumb There had never been a formal deal between the parties, though Baumbach's disassociation raises the question of Ben Stiller's involvement in the Fox movie; the comic actor has also been in talks to come aboard (to star), in part because of Baumbach's interest. (The two collaborated on the recently released quirky dramedy "Greenberg").

"Mr. Popper's Penguins" is a 1938 novel aimed at the early-grade set about a house painter and his wife who come into possession of a dozen penguins but soon find themselves in over their heads with feeding and other responsibilities.

The decision that producers and Baumbach (who also explored animal-minded whimsy in "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which he wrote) go their separate ways was said to be related to creative differences, and we can understand why.

Bringing on an independent-minded auteur to direct a famous children's work is an interesting idea in theory -- we'd rather a studio hire someone with a strong point of view for a movie like "Penguins" than water it down to a generic family film -- but a checkered model in practice, something that Warner Bros. and Spike Jonze could tell you about from the "Where the Wild Things Are." We'll see what tonal direction Fox decides to take "Penguins."

--Steven Zeitchik

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Photo: Noah Baumbach. Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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