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 funny thing about Downton Abbey is that it seems to be like every other one of PBS' British imports: a stodgy costume drama that hews closely to a formula that hasn't changed since Charles Dickens was in short pants. While that may be true, there is something magical about the drama that has captivated audiences in the UK and made it PBS' only hit in, well, decades. But can they replicate the magic again? Their certainly hoping to, and this time the Brits' eyes seem set on America. Welcome to Mr. Selfridge.
The newest bet to keep themselves off of government handouts and keep their audience sending away checks to get quality programming and an endless supply of tote bags is this Jeremy Piven drama based on an actual historical figure. Just like Downton, it is imported from ITV. Unlike the previous show, this one seems configured to take the colonies by storm. First of all it stars an America, Jeremy Piven, the sushi-sick actor who we still have to claim as our own no matter how much we want to disavow him (and all those Emmys he won for Entourage), and he's playing an America. Next, it follows the Downton formula so closely that it could be a conjoined twin. Or maybe an America cousin.
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The comparisons start off right from the beginning, with the title sequence, a plinkety, catchy and immediately recognizable theme song plays over the actors names as we see flashes of life in London in 1909. The title character is a huckster from Chicago who comes across the sea to create the greatest department store in the world. Not only do we deal with him, his family, and the high-class London set that he runs with hoping to cultivate investors and customers from the upper echelons, we also get the stories of the shop girls, clerks (which the British still pronounce with a long A), and other functionaries in the store. It's the same upstairs/downstairs effect as another show of which we've grown very fond and has a penchant for killing off its nobles. This one was written by Andrew Davies, who masterminded the critically adored and popular adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair, and House of Cards for British TV.
So, does it live up to its older brother? Well, yes and no. It only has about 7 million viewers in its home country, which is less than the 10.7 million who watched the Season 3 finale of the show and the 11.5 million people that PBS says watched Season 3 of Downton on our shores. Still even half that would be quite a feat for the little channel to pull off.
RELATED: 'Downton Abbey' Season 3 Breaks Ratings Records
As for the quality, it just doesn't quite have the same spark. Jeremy Piven is, well, Jeremy Piven, a nimble actor who is nearly impossible to like. As a snake oil salesman with a noble clientele, he has a bit of charm, but there is nothing behind the character. We have no motivation for why he wants to succeed or what the stakes are if he doesn't, other than the obvious. (Also knowing the real Selfridge ended up peniless on the street doesn't bode well for his character.) The female characters are more well drawn and interesting, especially accessories salesgirl Miss Towler (Aisling Loftus), ingenue and spokesmodel Ellen Love (Zoe Tapper), and sultry noblewoman Lady Mae (Katherine Kelley, who has already said she won't be back for Season 2, which ITV has already ordered). Sure the show (and the store) may be named after the man they're all chasing, but they're the ones who are shoplifting it.
Still the American aspect of the show is what is the most interesting. Here is the man who turned shopping from a drudgery into entertainment, and of course it took someone from the good old U.S. of A. to create conspicuous consumption. But is this what our countrymen want to watch necessarily? Well the ones who are already fans of PBS and costume dramas will surely be amused, but for the rest of it, the show is a bit like one of Selfridge's blustering speeches: lots of flash with little sentiment behind it.
Mr. Selfridge debuts with a two-hour episode on PBS on Sunday, March 31. Check your local listings or PBS.org.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: PBS]
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Over the next few months, we’ll see new series soar, old series sour, and so much Jersey Shore madness, we’ll want to shower. Let’s face it: The Fall TV season is intimidating. With dozens of new and returning shows hitting our small screens, we know we have some big choices to make. So, to help you determine what to watch, we’re digging deep into the most notable series premiering this season. Where did each show leave off? Where is it headed? And who should you watch it with? Next up is ABC's ladies who lunch on each other soap Revenge. It's gonna come back to get you, like a homicidal pregnant stripper. No, that's a real thing. Told you it would getcha.
Series: Revenge Premiere Date: Sunday, September 30, at 9 PM on ABC Tagline: Amanda Clark, who the world knows as Emily Thorne, is out for revenge against the powerful Grayson family that framed her father for terrorism and sent him to prison where he died. Now she's using her millions (billions?), her superior cunning, and her ninja training to take them down and find out just who the shady group behind her father's assassination really is. Oh, and there's a few guys she's in love with too. All the Cliffhangers: When season one ended a plane carrying Botox-paralyzed socialite Victoria Grayson, her best frenemy Lydia, and an FBI agent crashed thanks to a bomb the White Haired Man who killed Amanda's father placed on the plane. Who is alive and who is dead? Also, Conrad Grayson was rushing his daughter Charlotte to the hospital after a suicide attempt. Amanda's love Jack was getting back together with Emily, who everyone thinks is Amanda, but is really a homicidal stripper who is carrying a baby that may or may not be Jack's. Also Daniel Grayson was making out with the help. What is this? Downton Abbey? Oh, and Amanda's mother is alive! Additions to the Family: We already know that Jennifer Jason Leigh will be playing Amanda's mother so that should be delicious. Conrad Grayson's son from a previous relationship is also going to be showing up at Grayson Global to make things interesting. We also know that Nolan is going to be getting a love interest, but knowing Nolan the gender is up in the air, but I hear it's a lady. Oh, and Emily is going to need to push out that baby at some point, right? So that baby will be around. Great. Just what this show needs, a baby. Death in the Family: Series creator Mike Kelley says that, just like last year, this season will hinge on a death. The season starts at a place in the future and then we flashback to the Hamptons in the summer, but by midway point there will be another dead body to deal with and we'll know how that future event came to be. Who could it be dead and what are we gonna do about it? Character You Want Dead: The only correct answer is Declan and his awful accent. Character You Don't Want Dead: I'm very afraid that Lydia, the stone-faced she-devil who survived being thrown off a balcony onto the top of a taxi cab, is finally going to die in a fiery plane crash. Our sincere condolences go out to her family, if she had any. Who's That Guy?: We don't know what the hell is going on with Amanda's crazy ninja instructor Satoshi Takeda, but we do know that when he comes back this season he's going to look totally different. Original actor Hiroyuki Sanada wasn't available to do season two so Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is taking over the bad-ass duties. Ratings: The show's top episode was its season finale (seems like people were getting caught up with the soapy hit as it went along). 7.6 million people watched the final episode in May, and I bet the premiere climbs even higher. Why Is It on Sunday?: I don't know, but the new time slot is going to be challenging, considering its up against every single other television show you want to watch. Accolades: The series was ignored by the Emmys, even for Madeline Stowe who plays Victoria, who is acting with a handicap. You don't think botulism paralysis of the forehead counts as a handicap? It does. Who to Watch It With: Your mom who loved Dynasty, your little sister who loves Pretty Little Liars, and your gay best friend who loves short hunky guys who take their shirts off a lot. Who Not to Watch It With: People who want their TV dramas to be real. If we wanted real, we'd watch reality. The Kardashians are real, right? Wine and Cheese Pairing: Well, it's a show set in the summer, so a rosé champagne would be perfect. And cheese? You mean there isn't enough already on screen? Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan [Photo Credit: ABC] More: Holy Crap, Jennifer Jason Leigh Is Going to Be on 'Revenge' 'Revenge' Season 2: Charlotte is Back, Daniel Has a New Lady... But Where is Madeline Stowe? Just What Are the 'Revenge' Characters Thinking in These Crazy Pics?
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.