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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The animated adventure Puss in Boots is a spin-off of the blockbuster Shrek franchise, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that by watching it. In an exclusive interview with Hollywood.com, Puss in Boots director Chris Miller explained why ignoring Shrek was crucial to his film, and how Guillermo del Toro’s departure from The Hobbit turned out to be a godsend.
It seems like this project has been in the works forever. Were you on board from the beginning?
I came in around the beginning of 2008, but I think it’s been around – I’m guessing here – since 2004 or 2005. My producers, Latifa Ouaou and Joe Aguilar were on at the beginning. But back then it was this project that was being developed, but it was slightly back-burner. It just wasn’t getting the attention. A writer would take a pass [at the script] and it would lay dormant for six months, then reappear as a pirate movie. [Laughs] Then it would go away again. Right around 2007, someone wrote a draft that finally got the attention of the studio. I was just coming off Shrek the Third and they asked me if I’d be interested, and I immediately thought, “That character is great.” I hadn’t seen the script or anything, but I knew the character was brilliant, and I was really interested in doing something totally different than what’s been done in the Shrek movies.
That’s one thing that surprised me with the film. Aside from some similarities with the animation, there’s really no resemblance to Shrek.
We were very conscious of that. We didn’t want any crossover with Shrek at all. We just thought it would dilute our creation of a new world. It should be his film and his film alone. Everything about the movie and its style comes from the character himself: his traits, the persona that Antonio infused him with. We knew that we wanted to do an origin story. The character’s colorful and the world he comes form should be as well. It’s bold and dynamic. We knew we were going to do a lot more with the camera in this film and play with shadow and light a lot more. We wanted it to be dark and mysterious and yet colorful and energized as well.
At what point did Guillermo del Toro come aboard as Executive Producer?
I remember reading in the trades that The Hobbit wasn’t happening. And I was bummed out. I wanted to see that dark, twisted version of that movie. Later that day I heard that Guillermo was stopping by Dreamworks and I was asked to show him a peak at the movie. He was just checking out everything. So I showed him some artwork and gave him a rundown of the basic story, and he was very much into it. The next day we screened the film for him and the studio, and he loved it … and he asked us, “Do you mind if I work on this? Can I help you guys out in any way?” And we were like, “Absolutely!” It was fated: We found out he was off The Hobbit and two days later he was Executive Producer of Puss in Boots.
So were worked out a system where once a month, or every six weeks, we’d have a Guillermo day. He’d come in and we’d go over artwork, or work on a scene, or flesh out a problem with a character … and that’s how we proceeded for a year and some change. If we were having trouble with an action scene in editorial, if we couldn’t get the pacing right, we’d bring Guillermo in. We’d sit down and have a session with him and learn so much about cutting action. If we were jammed on the design of the giant’s castle, we’d bring Guillermo in and get his thoughts. It created this really great, collaborative situation that allowed us to work through stuff.
I’m amazed at the energy and enthusiasm he displays. He really seems like a fountain of creativity.
He’s a hurricane. I really hope Pacific Rim [del Toro’s next film] just kills, because I want to see At the Mountains of Madness get made. He was so excited about it. He showed me some stuff on that, some test animation, and it looked amazing. So otherworldly. I’d never seen anything like it. I felt so bad for him [when the project was canceled].
If he and Tom Cruise can’t get that movie made, who can?
I don’t know. But if Pacific Rim [does well], if he can make a movie that does half a billion worldwide, he’ll get to make a lot of films the way that he wants.
Puss in Boots is now playing in theaters everywhere.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.