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 idea of a Kick-Ass sequel — even a good one, even one that might rope in an off-his-rocker Jim Carrey for more than a collective 10 minutes — seemed a bit unnecessary from the get-go. And this is coming from someone who liked the first movie, having delighted in its colorful charm and pitch black wit without the aid of any established fandom from Mark Millar's graphic novel. The 2010 superhero flick felt complete. It neatly rolled its ideas and themes into a standalone feature, notwithstanding the obvious sequel bait of its cliffhanger. So the announcement of a Kick-Ass 2? Yeah, sure, it could be fun. But "worthwhile" is another story.
Perhaps it's the absence of the original film's creative team — writer/director Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman hand all duties to Jeff Wadlow for the follow-up — that explains why Kick-Ass 2 feels not only subpar to its predecessor, but lacking in so much of its kinetic energy. Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) slay dozens of enemies, but not with the fresh vigor that kept the first movie from feeling overdone... somehow. Very little is energized in Kick-Ass 2, without a reborn Dave Lizweski's (Taylor-Johnson) booming origin story pushing forth the action, or the haunting vigor of a young Mindy Macready (Moretz) peppering in some highly macabre fun... and a few peeps of genuinely sweet, sad sensitivity. While Moretz's character, struggling to adjust to a new "normal" life as a high school student, does engage in an interesting new story, she isn't given the time to explore it fully, as our attention is diverted to Dave's return to the heroism game (which he does for no established reason, after a hiatus brought on for no established reason) and the ascension of Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) from bratty punk to full-fledged supervillain who calls himself The Motherf**ker.
The connotations of the name are particularly unsettling when you consider Chris' garb: a box full of S&M gear he finds in his mom's closet after inadvertently, though quite unapologetically, killing her in her tanning bed. The whole sequence of events is so mean-spirited and twisted that it just feels off-putting. It doesn't match the dark but earnest ambiance of Kick-Ass; it's as if the new mission statement was, "Let's make this one even more f**ked up!" In this tunnel vision endeavor, you lose the compassion that paddedKick-Ass' morbidity.
But there is fun to be had with the new film, most notably in its secondary players: Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl form a posse, made up most notably of ex-Mafioso Col. Stars and Stripes (Carrey, who reminds us that he's an undeniable hoot and far more versatile than he gets credit for being) and wannabe scientist Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison, launching his endearing goofiness to new extremes). But just as we could stand to have a lot more of Mindy's face-off with her new arch enemies — her high school's popular girls — we would love a chance to get to know these masked folk a bit better. Or at least watch them make more jokes!
Even the dull majority of Kick-Ass 2 never dips below watchable. Lacking in charm and spirit, but always "good enough" to keep us from losing interest altogether, the film doesn't plod along as much as it does just sort of skip in circles. A total failure of a movie? Hardly. But in its will to reinvent and experiment anew with everything we discovered in the original, we'd have to call Kick-Ass 2 effectively powerless.
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