For the bulk of every Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, moose and squirrel would engage in high concept escapades that satirized geopolitics, contemporary cinema, and the very fabrics of the human condition. With all of that to work with, there's no excuse for why the pair and their Soviet nemeses haven't gotten a decent movie adaptation. But the ingenious Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman are another story, intercut between Rocky and Bullwinkle segments to teach kids brief history lessons and toss in a nearly lethal dose of puns. Their stories and relationship were much simpler, which means that bringing their shtick to the big screen would entail a lot more invention — always risky when you're dealing with precious material.
For the most part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman handles the regeneration of its heroes aptly, allowing for emotionally substance in their unique father-son relationship and all the difficulties inherent therein. The story is no subtle metaphor for the difficulties surrounding gay adoption, with society decreeing that a dog, no matter how hyper-intelligent, cannot be a suitable father. The central plot has Peabody hosting a party for a disapproving child services agent and the parents of a young girl with whom 7-year-old Sherman had a schoolyard spat, all in order to prove himself a suitable dad. Of course, the WABAC comes into play when the tots take it for a spin, forcing Peabody to rush to their rescue.
Getting down to personals, we also see the left brain-heavy Peabody struggle with being father Sherman deserves. The bulk of the emotional marks are hit as we learn just how much Peabody cares for Sherman, and just how hard it has been to accept that his only family is growing up and changing.
But more successful than the new is the film's handling of the old — the material that Peabody and Sherman purists will adore. They travel back in time via the WABAC Machine to Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War, and 18th Century France, explaining the cultural backdrop and historical significance of the settings and characters they happen upon, all with that irreverent (but no longer racist) flare that the old cartoons enjoyed. And oh... the puns.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a f**king treasure trove of some of the most amazingly bad puns in recent cinema. This effort alone will leave you in awe.
The film does unravel in its final act, bringing the science-fiction of time travel a little too close to the forefront and dropping the ball on a good deal of its emotional groundwork. What seemed to be substantial building blocks do not pay off in the way we might, as scholars of animated family cinema, have anticipated, leaving the movie with an unfinished feeling.
But all in all, it's a bright, compassionate, reasonably educational, and occasionally funny if not altogether worthy tribute to an old favorite. And since we don't have our own WABAC machine to return to a time of regularly scheduled Peabody and Sherman cartoons, this will do okay for now.
If nothing else, it's worth your time for the puns.
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Bille Golden (Isabel Rose) is a 30-something nightclub singer-slash-waitress who wishes she were performing doing the golden years of the 1950s cabaret. Billie's dream seems impossible: she's not a teenager anymore she's poor lives with her alcoholic mother and doesn't completely believe in herself…all the makings for depression. Along comes Prince Charming to rescue her in the form of one Greg Ellenbogen (Cameron Bancroft) her old high school crush who is now a very handsome and successful lawyer. The drawback? Greg does not believe in Billie's dream. Enter one Elliot Shepard (Andrew McCarthy) a pianist who is more into his art than earning money. Sparks fly when Elliot becomes Billie's music teacher. Of course in a very formulaic way she must choose between her two loves between money and passion.
An unknown Isabel Rose shines in this indie; she is an excellent singing and acting talent taking every scene and making it her own. However most of the others don't exactly hold their own--the already predictable movie proves more so with the mediocre acting of Cameron Bancroft and Andrew McCarthy. Both seem to go through the motions and only stick to the stereotypes of what their characters are: one rich and selfish the other artistic and caring. Victor Argo as Sal the nightclub owner is genuine and carries out his part well but is not seen enough. Eartha Kitt appears in a welcome cameo but in a key role that only plays up the film's unlikelihood.
Robert Cary co-wrote the screenplay (with star Rose) and directed the movie which may explain why there are no surprises. Without a different point of view he was unable to really give this film the space it needed to grow and develop. "I've always loved the musicals and romances of Hollywood's golden era specifically those films produced by the majors between the mid-30's and mid-50's " Cary has said. Those formulaic romantic plots of yesteryear may have worked in their time but Anything But Love ends up being just too unrealistic for today's savvier audiences. The plot in addition to Billie's dream sequences is too fairytale-like. Anything But Love fails at being old-fashioned and instead merely forces the audience to wait for the inevitable ending.