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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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.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The second Men in Black finished first for the second time in its second weekend with $25 million and a $133.3 million cume.
Opening at half the theaters that MIBII has, Road to Perdition was second with a first-class $22.1 million.
Reign of Fire opened third with a fiery $16 million. Halloween: Resurrection kicked off fourth with a sharp $12.3 million. Mr. Deeds inherited fifth place, holding well with $11 million.
The weekend's other wide opening, MGM's The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course bit off less than it hoped to chew, finishing sixth with $10 million.
Ticket sales were up nearly 19 percent from last year. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- took in $138.5 million versus last year's $116.8 million.
THE TOP TEN
Columbia's PG-13 rated blockbuster sequel Men in Black II topped the chart again in its second week with a still impressive ESTIMATED $25.0 million (-52%) at 3,611 theaters (+54 theaters; $6,923 per theater). Its cume after 12 days is approximately $133.3 million.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, it stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.
"We certainly hope we're in position to make it to $200 million," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "That would make everyone very happy and (generate) plenty of profits for everybody."
The film's second weekend drop of 52 percent was well below predictions some insiders were making late last week that it would fall 60 percent or more. "This shows this (film) is really being taken as it was meant to be, which is (as) a terrifically entertaining summer picture," Blake said. "It's basically for everybody and I think that adds up. Any time anybody is this high profile and as wide as we are and adding up as quickly as we are, I guess there's some question of how long it can last. But, in the meantime, it certainly is adding up pretty quickly."
With MIBII and Mr. Deeds both performing well, Sony Pictures Entertainment saw its domestic theatrical gross for the year soar past the $1 billion mark this week. "We haven't added it up yet, but I know we're probably around $1.03 billion or something like that at this point in time," Blake noted. "I believe we passed ($1 billion) last Friday." The studio is hoping and planning to break the record it set in 1997 with its gross for that year of $1.27 billion. It's presently running about two months ahead of where it was in '97.
Sony's next release, Stuart Little 2, arrives Friday (July 19) at 3,000 or more theaters. The first Stuart Little opened to $15 million the weekend of Dec. 17-19, 1999 and went on to gross $140 million in domestic theaters.
DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox's R rated adult appeal drama Road to Perdition, a Zanuck Company production, opened in second place to critical acclaim, an early Oscar buzz and a heavenly ESTIMATED $22.11 million at 1,797 theaters ($12,305 per theater).
Perdition's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Sam Mendes, it stars Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law.
"It's outstanding," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning. "The nature of this kind of movie is to play strong Sunday and mid-week. With the adult audience, they don't always turn out the first weekend to see a movie. Many times they wait for the word of mouth and show up in subsequent weeks.
"The idea of going out initially with the 1,797 runs was to allow the movie to play well through the summer and into the fall. And I think this release pattern allows that."
Recalling DreamWorks' 1998 summer blockbuster Saving Private Ryan, Tharp noted that it opened to an average of $12,414 per theater with 2,463 runs. Ryan arrived to $30.58 million the weekend of July 24-26, 1998 and wound up grossing $216.1 million in domestic theaters. "On a per theater basis, (this) is about the same and it's in fewer theaters," Tharp said.
Asked about talk that Perdition is on the road to the Oscars, Tharp replied, "We're aware of all of that. It's not something we're addressing at this point. We're trying to maximize the box office of the movie with our marketing and release pattern."
On the distribution side, DreamWorks plans to go a little wider with the film this week. "We actually had conversations with (exhibitors) last week, many (of whom had) wanted to open the movie," Tharp said. "So we'll add a few hundred runs this coming Friday. But, again, we're still restraining ourselves from really blowing the movie out and taking what we think is an inappropriate number of runs."
As for those who questioned whether it made sense to release a film targeted to adults in mid-summer, Tharp observed, "Well I think (this strong opening) does counter that. I think a good movie can play any time of the year. This kind of movie that plays really well on Sundays and mid-week is even stronger in the summer than it is any other time of the year. So for the total box office for the movie, we think the summer was a perfect time to release it."
Looking at the first exit poll information coming in Sunday morning, Tharp said DreamWorks was told, "Audiences for Road to Perdition were evenly divided by gender and evenly split under and over 35. The movie played substantially above average in the excellent, very good and definite recommend categories."
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Spyglass Entertainment's Reign of Fire, a Zanuck Company production, arrived in third place to a hot ESTIMATED $16.0 million at 2,629 theaters ($6,095 per theater).
Directed by Rob Bowman, it stars Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale.
Miramax's Dimension Films launched its R rated horror sequel Halloween: Resurrection in fourth place to a bloody good ESTIMATED $12.3 million at 1,954 theaters ($6,294 per theater).
Directed by Rick Rosenthal, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis.
Columbia and New Line's PG-13 rated comedy Mr. Deeds dropped three rungs to fifth place in its third week, showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $11.0 million (-40%) at 3,239 theaters (+8 theaters; $3,396 per theater). Its cume is approximately $94.1 million.
Directed by Steven Brill, it stars Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder.
"We're particularly pleased that it's down 40 percent," Sony's Jeff Blake said. "This is a movie that will hit $100 million by Friday and seemingly is headed to $120-130 million, which is a wonderful place to be -- especially on a picture that cost $55 million.
"Adam continues to show that he has great staying power. There's nothing like a big summer comedy."
MGM's PG rated family adventure The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course opened sixth to a tame ESTIMATED $10.0 million at 2,525 theaters ($3,960 per theater).
Directed by John Stainton, it stars Steve Irwin and Terri Irwin.
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated family appeal feature Lilo & Stitch slid four pegs to tie for seventh place in its fourth week with a less lively ESTIMATED $7.6 million (-40%) at 2,940 theaters (-282 theaters; $2,575 per theater). Its cume is approximately $117.9 million.
Written and directed by Chris Sanders, it was produced by Clark Spencer. Its original score is by Alan Silvestri.
20th Century Fox's PG rated urban appeal basketball comedy Like Mike skidded three hoops to tie for seventh place in its second week with a less funny ESTIMATED $7.6 million (-37%) at 2,436 theaters (+26 theaters; $3,128 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32.6 million.
Directed by John Schultz, it stars Lil' Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, Robert Forster, Crispin Glover and Eugene Levy.
"It's only off 37 percent, which is terrific," Fox executive vice president, distribution Rick Myerson said Sunday morning. "The way things have been going this summer, everything is off 50-55 percent on the second weekend. This is just sensational and we're really happy about it. It looks like Like Mike's got a little slam dunk here."
20th Century Fox and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy thriller Minority Report tumbled five pre-cogs to ninth place in its fourth week with a slower ESTIMATED $7.41 million (-41%) at 2,419 theaters (-310 theaters; $3,063 per theater). Its cume is approximately $110.3 million, heading for $135-140 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Tom Cruise.
"Off 41 percent is a very good hold because it's an adult oriented movie and you had Road to Perdition open up (which also is targeted to adults and) did very well," Fox's Myerson said.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Universal's PG-13 sleeper hit The Bourne Identity, off four slots in its fifth week with a still solid ESTIMATED $5.77 million (-37%)) at 2,199 theaters (-313 theaters; $2,625 per theater). Its cume is approximately $99.0 million, heading for $110 million or more in domestic theaters.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Sony Pictures Classics' R rated romantic comedy My Wife Is an Actress to an encouraging ESTIMATED $46,000 at 7 theaters ($6,594 per theater).
Directed by Yvan Attal, it stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Yvan Attal and Terence Stamp.
Focus Features' R rated romantic comedy Never Again opened to a hopeful ESTIMATED $33,000 at 5 theaters ($6,677 per theater).
Written, produced and directed by Eric Schaeffer, it stars Jeffrey Tambor and Jill Clayburgh.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding added a few more theaters via IFC Films in its 13th week with a still terrific ESTIMATED $2.4 million (-5%) at 501 theaters (+2 theaters; $4,760 per theater). Its cume is approximately $27.3 million.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $138.54 million, up 18.64 percent from last year when they totaled $116.78 million.
Key films were down about 6.53 percent from the previous weekend of this year when they grossed $148.22 million.
Last year, MGM's opening week of Legally Blonde was first with $20.38 million at 2,620 theaters ($7,778 per theater); and Paramount's opening week of The Score was second with $19.02 million at 2,129 theaters ($8,933 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $39.4 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $47.1 million.