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 genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Top Story: NBC Considers Apprentice Spinoff
It looks as though The Apprentice winner Bill Rancic's 15 minutes of fame aren't up just yet. Reuters reports NBC is considering a spinoff that would follow Rancic during the next year as he embarks on his prize-winning post overseeing the construction of a 90-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in his hometown of Chicago. Apprentice creator/executive producer Mark Burnett said a spinoff on Rancic "seems like a fairly obvious choice." Although Burnett wouldn't elaborate on specific plans for the show, he insinuated that Rancic might be persuaded to hire some of the contestants from Apprentice to work on the construction project and would have to deliver a progress report to Donald Trump each week. Sources, however, told Reuters that the discussions are in the early idea stage and that no formal deals are in place. One thing everyone agrees on is that Rancic has a tough job ahead of him: According to published reports, the $700 million project is having difficulty securing final approvals from city officials.
Lil' Kim Wants Separate Trial
A lawyer for Lil' Kim said Monday the rapper, charged with three other suspects in a radio station shooting in 2001, wants a separate trial because unlike her two co-defendants, she is not accused of using a weapon, The Associated Press reports. Lil' Kim, whose real name is Kimberly Jones, pleaded innocent Monday to charges she lied to a grand jury investigating a 2001 shootout involving members of her entourage outside a Manhattan radio station. The 29-year-old hip-hop artist was released on $500,000 bail last week. The trial is set for Nov. 15 and is expected to last until about Dec. 6.
Jackson Memorabilia Web Site Shut Down
A Michael Jackson memorabilia Web site operated by a New Jersey man has been shut down after much of the material had been sold. Henry V. Vaccaro Sr. was awarded a warehouse full of Jackson family memorabilia following years of legal wrangling stemming from a failed business venture that ended up in bankruptcy court. He photographed and catalogued the items, which included costumes, financial documents, letters and awards, for his Web site, later selling the collection to a European buyer. A Los Angeles federal court judge ruled last week that Vaccaro Sr. could not sell Jackson's possessions, but the goods had already been shipped. The pop oddity's lawyer said he would seek a court order to have the memorabilia returned.
Jermaine Jackson Shows Islamic Support in Gulf
Meanwhile, Michael Jackson's brother, Jermaine, is in Bahrain to promote understanding between Muslims and Americans, Reuters reports. Jermaine, who became a Muslim in 1989 after a visit to Saudi Arabia, has been speaking about Islam and the U.S. occupation of Iraq to enthusiastic audiences at Koranic centers and universities in the Gulf Arab state. "I think Muslims have become the new Negroes in America. They are being mistreated at airports, by the Immigration--everywhere," he said. Jermaine added that he disapproved of Muslim extremism, saying Islam is a religion of peace.
Brad Pitt Quit Smoking for Troy
Brad Pitt, who had to bulk up and get in shape for his role as Achilles in the Trojan War epic Troy, told German magazine Cinema that the most daunting task in preparation for the role was giving up smoking. "I'm now happy about it because these things were killing me. But at first I was really missing my cigarettes," Pitt said. "The withdrawal was so hard that I was ready to kill--which was actually helpful for the role I was playing." Troy, which also stars Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom, hits theaters May 14.
Star Wars DVD Collection Gives Prequel Sneak Peek
Star Wars fans can get a first look at the new Darth Vader costume from the 2005 prequel Star Wars: Episode III on the upcoming DVD collection of the original trilogy. According to the AP, the anthology will feature behind-the-scenes footage of stars Hayden Christensen (Anakin) and Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) engaged in the upcoming film's lightsaber duel and include a playable X-Box demo for the video game Star Wars: Battlefront. The first three Star Wars films, subtitled A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, debut for the first time in digital format on Sept. 21, while the final installment in the prequel trilogy hits the big screen May 19, 2005.
RIAA Ends "Clean Slate" Amnesty Program
The Recording Industry Association of America has ended an amnesty program aimed at protecting downloaders from being sued by recording companies if they admitted to illegally sharing music online, the AP reports. The RIAA launched the "Clean Slate" program in September when it embarked on a strategy of suing individual computer users for copyright infringement. Overall, 1,108 people signed up for the program. The music trade group said it dropped the program because it considers the public educated enough to know that they could be sued for file sharing.
Role Call: Moss Joins Cruise in M:I-3
The Matrix leading lady Carrie-Anne Moss has signed on to Mission: Impossible 3, taking a leading role in the sequel alongside Tom Cruise, who is reprising his role as secret agent Ethan Hunt. The project is aiming for an August start date.