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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143/ReprisePlaying yuletide songs outside of December always seems rather inappropriate. But there are several 'festive' standards that have as much right to be blared out in the blazing hot summer as in the run-up to the big day. Here are five Christmas favorites that have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas at all.East 17 – "Stay Another Day"The track which pipped Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" to the U.K. number one spot back in 1994, boyband East 17's signature hit has become a staple of the holiday season across Europe. But despite its use of sleigh bells and an accompanying snow-filled video, the ballad is in fact a heartfelt tribute to chief songwriter Tony Mortimer's brother, Ollie, who had committed suicide several years previously.Frankie Goes To Hollywood – "The Power Of Love"Taken to the U.K. number one spot by Frankie Goes To Hollywood in 1984 and then again by Gabrielle Aplin last year, the message of "The Power Of Love" may be in keeping with the season of goodwill ("make love your goal"). But there's not one mention of Christmas during its epic production and the track has only become synonymous with the festivities because of its nativity-themed promo.Aled Jones – "Walking In The Air"Another track which has become associated with Christmas due to its accompanying visuals, "Walking In The Air" was written by Howard Blake for the animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs' much-loved children's book The Snowman. Played during the boy and the snowman's journey to the North Pole, the soaring lullaby has perhaps inevitably since become a choirboy favorite but it still contains a distinct lack of anything Christmassy."Jingle Bells"Recorded by everyone from The Beatles to Buble, "Jingle Bells" has been a yuletide favorite for over 150 years, largely thanks to its copious amounts of snow. But snow isn’t confined to Christmas and the jaunty ditty was actually written by composer James Lord Pierpont to be sung at Thanksgiving rather than December 25th."Baby It's Cold Outside"Recently covered by the likes of She & Him and Kelly Clarkson & Ronnie Dunn, "Baby It's Cold Outside" has been a seasonal favorite ever since its writer, Frank Loesser, and his wife, Lynn Garland, premiered it at their housewarming party back in 1944. But again, the track has become so ingrained in the festive season because of its Arctic weather conditions rather than anything particularly Christmassy.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
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.
Flyboys is about the Lafayette Escadrille a real-life WWI French fighter squadron and follows the adventures of young American men who volunteer to fly and fight for the French before the U.S.'s involvement in the war. The characters are either based directly on or are an amalgamation of the real men who flew in this most treacherous combat. There’s Blaine Rawlings (James Franco) a Texan who has just lost his ranch; William Jensen (Philip Winchester) a well-educated and earnest fellow; Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine) a privileged man who joins under the pressure of his wealthy and powerful father; Eddie Beagle (David Ellison) who is running from a criminal past; and Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis) an African-American who escapes his country’s injustice and comes to France. And what would a war film be without a love interest? Blaine falls for Lucienne (Jennifer Decker) a local French girl but that is really just a bit of a detour from the main story about these daring young men in their flying machines. With a life expectancy of about six weeks they considered themselves knights of the air with their own code of chivalry and honor. Unfortunately for this cast of fine actors there isn’t a whole of time to show off their acting abilities. Franco (Spider-Man) is probably the biggest name and stands out as Rawlings a guy who has nothing left to lose. The actor took his job very seriously getting his pilot’s license—and should finally get a break from all the flops he has been in of late (Tristan and Isolde Annapolis). Jean Reno does a fine job in the thankless part as the squadron commander Captain Thenault. And Decker is captivating as Lucienne debuting in her first U.S. film; it probably won’t be her last. Salis (Love Actually) Labine (Antitrust) Winchester (The Patriot) and first-timer Ellison (a licensed aerobatic pilot in real life) are all good but Martin Henderson (Torque) as Reed Cassidy--a veteran pilot and a bitter loner with a big chip of his shoulder--is the most interesting of the supporting players. These fighter pilots known for being methodical and hyper-courageous in the air were also a bit eccentric and tortured when on the ground. With Flyboys director Tony Bill (My Bodyguard) found his dream project. Bill has always been known as an actor’s director and definitely keeps his Flyboys in check. But where the film really soars pun intended is in the absolutely remarkable aerial sequences. The director is an expert pilot himself and his love of flying is clearly evident and the real guiding hand. He does an excellent job in capturing what it must have been like to be a WWI fighter pilot putting audiences right in the hot seat almost quite literally at times. There haven’t been many movies made about this particular subject obviously due to lack of technology to make it seem real. And it’s that commitment to realism which ultimately what keeps Flyboys flying higher than it should. If the story had been more compact and compelling this might have been a classic war movie. Instead Flyboys is a just good film based on true war stories with better pictures.