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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Frozen, the new animated film by Disney earns its charms the honest way: with smart writing and heartfelt performances. It's not an easy thing to pull off in an animated film, but when it works, it gives a digitally rendered 3D film a shimmer that allows it to stand above the other stuff effortlessly. Once again, Disney stands as the animation studio to beat come Oscar time, and it's well-earned.
The film is so loosely based on "The Snow Queen," a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, that the story only gets an "inspired by" credit, so comparisons are futile. This is a Disney princess story through and through (oh, the marketing possibilities with two new princesses for the price of one!). However, the sensitively drawn characters by screenwriter and co-director Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph) evoke a precious sympathy through humor and wit.
Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and older sister Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) grow up as inheritors to the kingdom of Arendelle, in a mythical version of Norway. Elsa, imbued with the ability to create ice and snow with the flick of a wrist, must hide her magical powers for fear of endangering the lives of loved ones and being revealed as a witch. She therefore stays shut in her room, her sister Anna left to yearn for their connection, as they come of age on their own. This sacrifice makes her a stranger to her younger sister.
When the time comes to coronate a new queen, Elsa must face her fear of trying to restrain her power while becoming the center of attention in the kingdom. Of course things go awry, and she unwittingly unleashes an eternal winter upon the kingdom. Elsa flees to the snowy mountains in the distance, and Anna chases after her with a guilty sense of responsibility. Along the way, Anna makes cautious friends with ice-harvesting Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his faithful reindeer Sven. Their necessary alliance inevitably grows into something more intimate in charming, hesitant steps.
Then there's Olaf (Josh Gad), a magical talking (and singing) snowman who's still trying to figure out his own existence and misguidedly pines for the romance of summer. The fact that he is loosely assembled from balls of snow that easily come apart will delight the kids. But the fact that almost everything he says, with brilliantly timed delivery by Gad, has a wry wit will delight the older fans of layered humor.
Aside from co-director Chris Buck (who also co-directed Disney's Tarzan), the filmmakers are a young group, and this brings a freshness to the Disney humor. Besides one disgusting reference to boogers that doubles as a potshot at men, the jokes forgo the base and easy gross-out humor and walk a precious line of relatable gawkiness and humility. The awkward self-awareness continues in the songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, whose lyrics walk a wide-ranging line, as they also rise to powerful emotional heights. Menzel does particularly strong work when handling the movie's single "Let It Go." Her voice glows with humanity and stirring ragged edges.
When a film like this can melt the cynicism from a writer like me, it deserves recognition. The stereoscopic 3D is as warm as you would expect from a Disney production. The textures of ice alone offer many fascinating visual moments. Frozen towers above any mainstream animated film released this year as far as quality of graphic and writing. The subtleties of its pace only somewhat comes undone toward the end, when the filmmakers get a little too caught up with action sequences and plot twists. But, by then you are ready to forgive any shortcomings, as Frozen has melted your heart.
A special mention is owed to the film’s opening 7-minute short, "Get A Horse!" At first, it seems like a long-lost slap-sticky 1930s-era Mickey Mouse cartoon. As a chase between Mickey and the vintage villain Peg-Leg Pete ensues, the characters burst through the screen in 3D, and the chase continues, weaving between olden times, hand-drawn black and white animation and stereoscopic 3D. Director Lauren MacMullan (The Simpsons) takes the set pieces to meta levels transforming the screen to not only an active player in the action but to surreal heights of perspective manipulation, celebrating 3D to pinnacles rarely achieved.
"Get A Horse!": 5/5
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A well-crafted apology is an art form. Just ask any celebrity that's had to make one for their indiscretions. It has to be compassionate without obvious pandering, sincere without being manipulative, and, of course, self-effacing. But some celebrities, no matter their crime or how finely crafted their apology, will have to keep paying the price. Kristen Stewart begged and pleaded for Robert Pattinson and the scrutinizing public to forgive her, but the Twilight actress only made the target on her back that much bigger. The thing is, Stewart seemed legitimately sorry for what she did, whereas other stars release blanket statements or over-explain their wrongdoings. But the worst thing for an already disliked celebrity to do in this situation — aside from the useless "sorry your feelings are hurt" apology — is to take on the role of the victim. Exhibit A: Bret Easton Ellis.
Earlier this month the American Psycho writer/newfound Twitter troll unwisely and wrongly declared from his page that Oscar-winning Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow "would be considered a mildly interesting filmmaker if she was a man but since she's a very hot woman she's really overrated." He then called her films "just OK junk." Needless to say, it upset some people to hear Ellis imply that female directors get some sort of special treatment in Hollywood (they don't) or that the one who does only gets it not because she's a tremendous talent (she is) but because she's attractive.
One should tread lightly in calling what Ellis wrote for The Daily Beast in response to the Internet's reaction to his outlandish speech an actual apology. Yes, the word apology is in there, and the piece is titled "Dear Kathryn Bigelow: Bret Easton Ellis Is Really Sorry" but a deeper read into the four-page stream of consciousness may suggest otherwise. Let's break down some of the key components of the apology that Ellis — who has already dug a deep enough hole for himself on Twitter with his homophobic remarks about Matt Bomer and his senseless defense of Paris Hilton's homophobic remarks — see whether he is deserving of our forgiveness.
"I hadn’t seen Zero Dark Thirty but thought, in the Twitter-moment, can it really be that good? Marc Boal and Kathryn Bigelow and another war film?"
Oh, BEE, you're off to a bad start here. First, you can't use "a Twitter-moment" as a defense. Your only Twitter moment is when you actually hit send, everything before that is time to stop and ask yourself, "Is this really a thought worth putting out in the universe?" Second, definitely don't judge a movie you haven't seen yet. You're an author, you've clearly heard of not judging a book by its cover. This practice has already gotten a number of writers in trouble for calling the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty problematic without actually having seen it themselves. And yeah, it is that good, now that you've asked.
"Oh please. The press? They’ve been trashing me for years. Did you see what they did to me during my Twitter campaign for the 50 Shades of Grey screenwriting gig? I can handle the press, babe."
Wait, wasn't this an apology to Bigelow? You're not the victim here. Plus, if you can "handle the press" why even write this apology in the first place? Why not handwrite Bigelow a letter? (He later theorizes, "I’m not even saying that Kathryn Bigelow was hurt or even noticed the tweets or even cared. I imagine her balls are bigger than that.") This doesn't feel like someone who is sorry for what they said and brushes off the press. It's the defense of someone who got called out on a grand scale and is only sorry for that.
"My 'problem' was: did she win it for directing a movie a man usually makes? And if so, is that double-COOL or double-MEH?"
No, she won because it was the best direction of any other film that year. And calling a war movie or a movies about human struggle a "movie a man usually makes" is an awfully archaic way of thinking. No one accuses Garry Marshall of making movies usually made for and by women.
"I thought that in the Bigelow tweets people might find a certain truth (Yes, Bret! Tell us the truth! You’d know!) about the hypocrisy of the world, of the Hollywood mindset, beautiful women in the movie biz, reverse sexism, etc. But they ultimately revealed a much more layered sexism that, I guess I thought as a gay man, I could get away with since my supposed vitriol about Bigelow was coming from another 'oppressed' class."
This is where the whole thing truly unravels. Ellis didn't write his tweets as a big f**k you to the hypocrisy of Hollywood, he condemned them for praising Bigelow's work and deduced that they only did it because of her looks. And look, you can certainly be a compassionate, empathetic person (though, let's face it, BEE hardly fits in that description) but you being a gay man doesn't mean you'll fully understand the plight of women.
"Perhaps, we can start all over again."
This is how Ellis closes out his apology. Who that's directed towards, it's hard to tell. Does he want to "start all over" with the media he claims he isn't bothered by? Or with Bigelow? Or with women everywhere, who found his words to be "both a much broader and more personal 'attack"? Ellis admits he was "really wrong" about what he said, but there's still an overwhelming sense that he doesn't know what he's sorry for, he just knows he has to be sorry for something.
[Photo credit: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images]
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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.