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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Filmed four years ago Slow Burn’s uses shades of The Usual Suspects a film it tries way too hard to emulate and ends up being convoluted and often confusing. Ray Liotta plays Ford Cole an ambitious District Attorney of an unnamed American metropolis who is having an affair with Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock) his bi-racial assistant D.A. When she kills a man (Mekhi Phifer) she claims raped her the matter turns out to be anything but open-and-shut much to Cole’s personal and political chagrin. It turns out that Nora and the dead man were also having an affair. Is Nora the woman that Cole thinks she is? Hmm maybe not. Then there’s Luther Pinks (LL Cool J) who claims to be a friend of Isaac’s and whose version of the story is very different than Nora’s. The beleaguered Cole must ascertain who’s telling the truth and who’s not. He obviously hasn’t seen enough movies like this one because it’s a forgone conclusion that most everyone’s lying. Despite its many flaws Slow Burn is made watchable thanks to its cast most of whom transcend the tricky material. Like Michael Douglas Liotta (also the film’s co-executive producer) is one of those actors we love to watch losing it. He has ample opportunity to do so here. If you can buy Blalock as a femme fatale then it isn’t much of a stretch to believe that her character is bi-racial. She’s simply not that strong an actress to pull off the constant sleight-of-hand the character demands. LL Cool J who seems to be making a career out of movies that spend most of their time on the shelf (Mindhunters and Edison Force anyone?) plays it cool which is about all his role affords. Taye Diggs pops up briefly as a prison informant while Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a magazine reporter dogging Cole’s campaign. There are nice bits by Guy Torry as Cole’s right-hand man on the police force who’s (understandably) baffled throughout and by veteran Joe Grifasi as a desk sergeant with too much time on his hands. Best of all is the ever-reliable Bruce McGill as the chief of police and no fan of Cole’s. It’s the sort of hard-boiled role that McGill (also recently seen in The Lookout) can--and has--played with ease many times before but McGill plays it with scene-stealing aplomb. As first-timer director/screenwriter Wayne Beach lobs twists and turns left and right with Slow Burn but he isn’t able to maintain consistency or a semblance of credibility. To Beach’s credit there are some intense moments and a couple of sardonic laughs in Slow Burn. It isn’t nearly as bad as its lengthy stint on the shelf might indicate but it’s nothing special either. Beach’s previous screenwriting credits include the Wesley Snipes vehicles Murder at 1600 and The Art of War neither of which were particularly distinguished but passed the time relatively painlessly anyway. Add Slow Burn to the list. There’s nice cinematography from two-time Oscar nominee Wally Pfister (Batman Begins The Prestige– both of which he made after this film). It is appropriately gritty and stylish in the proper film noir tradition. So Slow Burn does have a few things going for it save for the Friday the 13th release date. As if it weren’t jinxed enough already.