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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Last night’s episode of The Voice marked the beginning of the battle rounds. Performers face off against members of their own team, with one competitor to be eliminated after each duet. (This is where I’d make a timely Hunger Games reference, if I knew anything about The Hunger Games besides a. Jennifer Lawrence and b. teenagers killing each other with arrows?)
This season, coaches can steal a losing contestant away from another team with by pressing their buttons. (“We paid for the freakin’ things,” I can imagine a grizzled props manager grunting, “We might as well use them.”)
In other news, Adam, Blake, Christina, and Cee Lo have finally changed out of the outfits they wore throughout all the blind auditions — presumably to make editing out-of-order for heightened drama possible — and I no longer have to worry that they’ve been locked without food and water in the auditorium weeks at a time. But just in case: If you’re being held against your will, Xtina, look bored and unimpressed during every performance. I’ll send help.
Aided by mentor Michael “Hamm and Bublé” Bublé, Blake pairs up Casey Muessigmann — remember his ass-spanking rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama”? — and Scottish rocker Terry McDermott. Both singers auditioned with rock anthems, so Blake assigns them the Kansas classic “Carry On Wayward Son.”
Casey’s omnipresent cowboy hat (a Hulk Hogan-esque ploy to conceal premature baldness?) makes for an entertaining contrast with Terry, who looks like an aging Justin Bieber that fired his manager and neglected to trim his hair for months.
Though Casey’s country take on “Carry On” is fun, he’s easily overpowered by Terry’s formidable rock-and-roll chops — even country boy Blake has to agree, choosing McDermott. None of the other coaches steal Casey, and I feel improbably sad, like The Voice has suddenly become an ASPCA commercial about dogs that don’t get adopted (please, for the love of god, no Sarah McLachlan covers tonight).
Next up, Adam and mentor Mary J. Blige pit Bryan Keith, son of a Grammy-winning Latin artist, against pleasant, enormous-faced Collin McLoughlin.
Sublime’s “Santeria” challenges the artists to nail a difficult balance of toughness and sweetness. In rehearsals, Adam compliments Collin’s “razor-sharp pitch” but encourages him to explore the song’s emotional complexity. The coach also grows increasingly frustrated by Bryan’s apparent inability to deliver a convincing Adam Levine impression.
In their battle, Collin brings a likeable reggae flair to “Santeria,” but Bryan’s winning personality lets him do exactly that: win. Fortunately, Forehead McGee’s fairy tale doesn’t end here — Blake steals him for Team Shelton.
Native Peruvian Diego Val and YouTube star JR Aquino duke it out on “Jessie’s Girl” for Cee Lo and team mentor Rob Thomas. Diego struggles with memorizing the song’s lyrics (uh, really?), while Cee Lo pushes JR to “dirty” up his pristine, nonthreatening voice.
Ultimately, neither performance is exceptional. JR delivers an emotionally unsatisfying but well-executed cover, but Diego — whose mannerisms, full disclosure, have started to annoy me — sounds a little pitchy. Nevertheless, Diego it is, and JR is sent home to the small comfort (ahem) of his nearly 500,000 video subscribers.
With Billie Joe Armstrong (who is, ermahgerd, totally watching this episode from rehab right now) at her side, Christina chooses “Message in a Bottle” for the charmingly genuine Nelly’s Echo and the adorably androgynous De’Borah.
Between Billie Joe’s cheerfully constructive criticism (“Even the mistakes you’re making sound amazing,” he tells De’Borah) and Nelly’s reference to finding one’s “best self,” this segment feels like a group therapy session, and maybe even an ill-conceived network tie-in with NBC’s five hundred hourly promos for Go On.
Though De’Borah is initially flustered by Nelly’s connection with the song, they both excel in front of the coaches, performing a creative, lively, and well-matched duet. Christina finally picks De’Borah, if only for her fantastic outfit (part NBA hipster, part Steve Urkel). As De’Borah’s parents tearfully embrace her backstage, I experience many feels inside my heartholes.
In Team Blake’s second battle of the night, yodeling Gracia Harrison takes on mother-daughter duo 2Steel Girls. As the three rehearse the Dixie Chicks’ “Sin Wagon,” Mama Steel grows nervous that the song doesn’t suit her voice, while Gracia works to overcome her natural shyness.
But during the battle, Harrison radiates confidence, looking like a cowgirl version of Glinda in an Oz-ready pink minidress and boots. Though 2Steel Girls harmonize beautifully, having three performers on stage makes for awkward choreography — mom and daughter become unwitting back-up singers, nervously standing to the side while Gracia rocks out center stage. Unsurprisingly, it’s she who wins the battle. Though 2Steel Girls are, in Carson’s words, “available to steal” (or are they available… 2STEEL?), no one claims them.
The episode ends with another Cee Lo match-up: former Adele background singer Amanda Brown vs. 18-year-old Trevin Hunte, who previously brought down the house with a cover of Beyoncé’s “Listen.”
Cee Lo picks Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” to test the pair’s power and control, but it soon becomes clear that these two are more than he bargained for. Rob Thomas throws his hands in the air in surprise as Amanda, who is distractingly gorgeous, immediately starts flawlessly belting the song — leaving the already characteristically nervous Trevin visibly shaken.
Their live performance escalates beautifully, electrifying yet amazing controlled. Jeebus, I have no idea who is better; neither, it seems, does anyone else. Undeterred, Adam climbs atop his chair and commits to steal whichever performer their coach doesn’t choose.
Cee Lo, who must make terrible March Madness brackets, admits he was foolish to undervalue Amanda, but decides on Trevin instead. Don’t worry, Amanda — Adam is more than happy with his sloppy seconds.
The Voice is back with more battles tonight at 8 pm. If there’s any justice in this world, at least one pair of singers will wear Brady Bunch-style matching jumpsuits and bust out an elaborate, synchronized line dancing routine (that one’s for free, producers).
Find me on Twitter @mollyfitz.
[Image Credits: NBC]
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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.
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.