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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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.
The Toronto International Film Festival just wrapped up. Did everyone have a good time? You didn’t go? Oh, you really missed out on some cool flicks. Of course I didn’t go either, but still. I have a really good imagination.
Anyway, a bunch of movies got distribution deals which means you might get to see them in theaters! But probably not unless you live in New York, LA, or another big city with a vibrant film community. It should be noted that these are films that picked up distribution at the festival, some (like Easy A) came into the festival with deals. Here’s what you should be looking forward to:
Passion Play: Image Entertainment picks up this film that has Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox, and Bill Murray staring. Add on to the fact that Fox has angel wings and you have the entire fetish community on lock. (Deadline)
Super - The film I am most excited for. Rainn Wilson stars in James Gunn’s (the handsome guy up top) take on the average modern man becoming a super hero. Yes, this does sound like Kick Ass. However, Gunn’s film apparently shifts tones so quickly and goes so dark, I hardly doubt the comparisons will last. With Ellen Page throwing down as the foul mouthed sidekick and Kevin Bacon as the bad guy, who doesn’t want to see this movie? No wonder it was the first film sold out of Toronto. (Deadline)
Rare Exports - See trailer. Get excited. (Deadline)
Beautiful Boy - I’m not usually one for incredibly dramatic stories but this one has me intrigued. Michael Sheen and Maria Bello star as parents of a disturbed son who goes on a college shooting spree ending with his suicide. Sheen is an incredible actor and focusing on the aftermath of the event and the role it plays in the parent’s relationship sounds fascinating. Shawn Ku picked up an award in Toronto for his directing. (Deadline)
Everything Must Go - I enjoy Will Ferrell as much as the next guy. But he’s at his best when really stretching himself. Stranger than Fiction was brilliant and his turn in The Other Guys as something other than a glorified frat guy made it one of the funniest movies of the summer. Now that Everything Must Go has been picked up by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. Ferrell stars as a man who decides to start afresh by selling all his possessions after his wife kicks him out to the front yard. (Deadline)
Peep World - Sometimes a cast is enough to get me to see a film (see Passion Play above) and this film sure has it. Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Judy Greer, and newcomer Ben Schwartz are just the few that I can remember off the top of my head. But then I find out the film is about a family who comes together for the first time after the youngest sibling has published a book about their darkest secrets and I am totally buying a ticket. (Deadline)
Rabbit Hole (ugh) - See, this is how I usually feel when I learn about super dramatic movies. Apparently this is an incredible return to form for Nicole Kidman, and yet I don’t really care about this one. At all. Oh well. (Deadline)
Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project - Just to show that the world of fiction didn’t rule Toronto a few interesting documentaries found distribution deals. The first is an unauthorized bio on Harvey Weinstein and if half the tall tales about him are true then he’s probably twice as scary as I imagine him to be. Also he’s apparently kinda pissed about the movie which means it should be awesome. (Deadline)
Caves of Forgotten Dreams - When you want to show off your vacation you might post some pictures of Facebook. Werner Herzog makes documentaries about his. And this one is in 3-D. (Deadline)
Submarine - Ben Stiller produced this comedy from rising (at least on this side of the pond) British comedian Richard Ayoade. The story focuses on a young boy who tries to navigate mending his parent’s deteriorating marriage and his own budding relationship. (Deadline)