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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While ABC is trying its hand at another nighttime soap in Mistresses, the network's two other prime-time dramas are much more serialized and mythology-driven in nature. Red Widow, based on the Dutch series Penoza, stars Radha Mitchell as a woman who becomes a Russian crime boss after her husband is murdered in a drug deal gone wrong. Zero Hour is much more ambitious in nature, and revolves around a conspiracy theory somehow involving clocks, Nazis, and kidnapping.
Stars and producers from both series gathered to discuss their shows at ABC's presentations during the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Here's what they had to say about Red Widow, which premieres Sunday, March 3 at 9 p.m. before moving to the 10 p.m. time slot, and Zero Hour, which debuts Thursday, Feb. 14 in the 8 p.m. hour.
Twilight screenwriter and former Dexter executive producer Melissa Rosenberg adapted Red Widow from Penoza, a Dutch series. "What drew me to the project in the first place was this character," she explains of her desire to do the show. "This is a flawed female character, as all human beings are. It's a very human character. And I think that's something that has been really exciting to bring to network television."
Flaws are usually reserved for males, Rosenberg says, while women are supposed to have it together. "We've had on cable and then on network these male characters that are very flawed and complex, like Tony Soprano [The Sopranos] and Dexter [Dexter]and Vic Mackey [The Shield]. And then we've just begun to have that on cable for women in the form of Edie Falco on Nurse Jackie and [Mary Louise Parker on] Weeds. And now I think this show is bringing that kind of a character to network. It's a very tricky character to sell to an audience, because women are held to a higher standard. But as played by Radha, you have compassion for her. You are with her. Her experience is universal."
ABC ordered eight episodes of the series, something Rosenberg, whose past TV credits are in cable, appreciates. The original Dutch show is "very cablesque in its tone and its edge in terms of the characters and the moves that they make. When I went to meet with Paul [Lee, ABC Entertainment president] and everybody, I was wary because I said, 'I don't want to pull back on the edge for this or the storytelling for network.' I also felt that because this is a very character-driven show that it's not something that lends itself as well to 22 episodes. The one advantage that cable has over network [has] nothing to do with censors or violence or sex or any of that. It is time. If you have time to write a good show and you have time to develop it, you get good storytelling."
While Red Widow deals with more of an overarching story, Zero Hour is a multilayered mystery series with former ER star Anthony Edwards at its head. Edwards plays a magazine editor who must debunk a worldwide conspiracy when his wife (Jacinda Barrett) is abducted from her antique clock shop. But although it is packed with different elements, creator Paul Scheuring says he doesn't think it's too complicated to follow.
"I have a great amount of respect for the audience. Especially the new generations that are coming up beneath us — they're steeped in such narrative. They know narrative construct. They know all the tropes," Scheuring says. "So if you deliver them the cop show where the cop seems to smell odors better than other cops, it's like, nobody cares. If you give them something where they're like, 'Wow, this is different and new and they're treating me with a certain amount of sophistication,' then they're more liable to watch. And I may be wrong about that, but that's my philosophy. I'd rather go down swinging like that as opposed to go to the lowest common denominator and go 'Hey, man.'"
Because of that respect, Scheuring and his team don't plan to leave viewers hanging on for too long. Scheuring explains, "One of the things I've learned from Prison Break and making a serialized show was that if you're a single conceit show — like Prison Break or Lost or such — sooner or alter you star flapping your wings because a story needs to end. ... I kind of applied that wisdom to the construct of this show, which is it's like the 24 model where you reset every year. This entire Nazi conspiracy thing will be done in Episode 13 this year, but we have a group of investigators headed by Anthony at the magazine who can then apply those skills to the next investigation next year."
Adds executive producer Zack Estrin, "We're not going to make you wait until the end of the year to find out your answers. Specifically, Episode Four you know what that thing is that we're saying was hidden beneath the church. That's not the big mystery. That's just one of many mysteries. In each episode you will find out a piece, we will turn a card, there will be a cliffhanger."
Follow Jean on Twitter @hijean
[PHOTO CREDIT: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images; Rick Rowell/ABC]
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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.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.