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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To get around the premise to Head of State you must be willing to suspend your disbelief. Don't worry; it doesn't hurt. In fact it keeps you rolling in the aisles. Chris Rock plays Mays Gilliam a Washington D.C. alderman who listens to the people in his neighborhood and does everything he can to help them out. Unfortunately he's just not good at playing the political game--he's got too much heart. Then just as Mays is about to lose his job he unwittingly becomes part of a much bigger political machine. After the frontrunner in the race for president dies in a plane crash party pols--including Sen. Bill Arnot (James Rebhorn) advisor Debra Lassiter (Lynn Whitfield) and campaign manager Martin Geller (Dylan Baker)--ask Mays to step in as their nominee. Say what? Well to be honest those behind the scenes have chosen the unsuspecting Mays because they know darn well no one is going to vote for him. Losing now will give Arnot a better chance to win the presidential election in four years. What they don't expect is Mays's determination to do good as he throws away all conventions and incorporates his own special brand of campaigning (his motto: "That ain't right!"). At first only his older brother--and eventual running mate--Mitch (Bernie Mac) and new love Lisa (Tamala Jones) understand how truly effective Mays could be if elected president. Soon everyone does.
It's always been sort of a hit-and-miss situation with Rock and his films--the last two (Bad Company Down to Earth) have bombed at the box office. Fortunately Head of State captures just the right mixture of Rock's biting humor and social commentary--and even though the comedian likes to put on the smart ass routine most of the time deep down the guy has a heart of gold. I imagine Mays Gilliam is pretty close to who Rock really is. Even though Rock's good when the hilarious Bernie Mac hits the scene he turns the film up a notch. Mac whose career has skyrocketed in the last few years with his hit TV show has one of those expressive faces that tells it all. You can feel the energy rising when Mitch walks off the train dressed to the nines to meet his brother and assume his duties as Mays's running mate. In the supporting roles Whitfield does a nice job as the snooty advisor whose ideas about politics are happily changed by Gilliam's unorthodox ways while Robin Givens goes out on a limb playing Mays' shrewish ex-girlfriend who dumps the guy but desperately tries to get him back when she realizes where he's heading. Rebhorn and Nick Searcy who plays Mays's snarky opponent Vice President Brian Lewis easily take on the roles as the evil politicians. Only Jones (Two Can Play That Game) is wasted as the sweet girl-next-door.
As star co-writer and producer Rock also makes his directorial debut with Head of State. In total control of the project the comedian grabs the chance to incorporate whatever bits and outrageous behavior tickle his funny bone. In the film's opening credits for example he lists several political leaders including Bob Dole Al Gore and Hillary Clinton and then states "Who are NOT in this movie." You know from then on that you're in for a farcical ride along the road to Pennsylvania Avenue. Some moments are hysterical: Mitch explaining why with a background as a bail bondsman he's more than qualified to enter politics ("I can bail out the United States") or secret servicemen coming out of nowhere to whisk off an unwanted ex-girlfriend. Other moments miss the mark: a room full of uptight Washington D.C. muckity mucks getting jiggy with it as soon as Nelly's "Hot in Herre" comes on? Please. It's Rock's show though and he wants us to laugh long and hard--but he still sends out the message that anyone who puts his mind to it can make a difference.