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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S11E8: It’s here! It’s here! Hollywood week is finally here! And what did we get for waiting oh-so patiently? A series of predictable “yeses,” a few shocking “nos” without explanation, and a big ol’ cliffhanger that only Idol would dare (and get away with). In case you’re a bit rusty since last season, Hollywood week works like so: half of the contestants perform the first day in groups of 10. They all sing a capella with no feedback (unless Jennifer just can’t help letting out a “beautiful, baby”), and immediately after, they’re told whether they’re in or out. That’s it.
“I realized the guy going before me was the guy Jennifer Lopez fell in love with.” –Heejun Han
First up are Johnny Keyser and Heejun Han. Both are strong singers, but as Idol points out so giddily, one’s super confident (Johnny) and one is really insecure (Heejun)! Isn’t this wacky? (Not so much.) Johnny sings “Dreamin’” by Amos Lee and this boy is golden. He’s cute and he’s got a voice like maple syrup – robust and sweet. Heejun isn’t quite to that level, but man, can he sing. He goes with “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” and by the time he finishes the song, he’s got his confidence back. And while we watch the contestants stand at attention while they wait for the judges to decide their fates, the awkwardness of this whole process is palpable. Luckily, they cut that short and the judges ask Heejun, Johnny and one other contestant we didn’t meet step forward and find out their fate. Of course, they both stay and despite how low his confidence is, Heejun is actually really likeable. Johnny’s lovable too, but that goes without saying.
Next, we get a bit of rapid-fire results as Elise Testone brings her smoky, raspy voice; blondie Bailey Brown delivers a sweet country drawl; and Hallie Day returns just as wonderfully as we remember her from her first audition. (In case you forgot, she was a sob story – one who almost committed suicide, but found new meaning in life.) These three ladies get the green light, but then it’s on to those getting the ax. As he explains the concept of being sent home, Ryan stands right by the waiting contestants whispering about how nervous they are as if they’re sloths in a jungle exhibit and he’s Nigel Thornberry. (I clearly watched more cartoons than Animal Planet, but you get my drift.) Luckily, we get a little buffer before the quick-paced exodus goes down. Jen Hirsche sings with strength and a saucy falcetto voice and Lauren Grey wows us yet again with her fantastic, bluesy, smoky voice. Both ladies get the go-ahead – even though Jen worried she was too fidgety.
The come the cast-offs. We quickly say goodbye to girls who can’t quite hit the high notes; Heather Youmans, Sasha Julian, and Candice Russell all break. Russell even begs to sing a little bit more, only to attempt to go all Mariah Carey without a spec of success.
"I can’t even sleep at night. I want this so much.” –Phil Phillips
And then it’s time for one of my favorites, Phil Phillips. The down-home boy has never been on a plane, but he makes it work so he can bring his growly, engaging voice (and adorable mug) to Hollywood. The song just rolls off his tongue, and he’s so cute, he may not be doomed to becoming an early castoff (one can only hope!). Next, is Reed Grimm – and it makes sense that he would be paired with Phil. He’s the guy who’s been singing since he was a kid and he likes to turn kid songs into jazzy tunes; this time he gave the scat treatment to “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket.” He’s got a velvety voice and while I’m not a fan of his flashy, cocky penchant for jazzing up kids’ songs, I can’t really deny his incredible talent. Along for the ride with these two incredible talents is the kid who dropped out high school to give Idol another shot, Travis Orlando. They refresh his sob story, but his voice is just so average. And the judges seem to understand that; they send Travis home and keep Phil and Reed onboard. And if you learn anything from Travis, let it be: THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DROP OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL, KIDS.
Then we get an unfeeling, all too rushed montage of fallen contestants without even hearing what their auditions sounded like. Notable shockers were Ramiro Garcia, the man who grew up without the ability to hear, and Wolf Hamlin, the golf course mechanic from San Diego. Both of those guys were episode-ender fantastic and yet, they’re gone without so much as a shoulder shrug. Even Travis Orlando got to sing on national television; what gives, Idol? Jenny “My boyfriend says I can kiss Steven Tyler” Schick also gets sent home, but I think we’ll survive.
“My expectations of this week are that I will stay here.” –Jane Carey
Adam Brock is missing his baby girl, but he’s in Hollywood for good reason. He sings “Walking in Memphis” like a professional blues singer and I demand to know where that voice is coming from. It’s nuts. This also the point the episode at which Jennifer’s inability to stop giving feedback (because it's only like, THE RULES, Jennifer) really starts to miff me. Next, Jim Carey offspring Jane Carey is finally up, and we find out how long we can look forward to Idol exploiting her famous father. She sings “Looking Out My Back Door” and does alright, but drops every note at the end of her phrases. It’s obvious she’s not making the cut when Jennifer and Steven try their darndest to make their faces blend into the background of the theater as she searches their expressions for some semblance of an answer. Adam is in, Jane is out. Jane connects it back to her dad, who says he failed at many auditions and he’s doing alright. Yeah, we’d say so.
This gracious, but tearful exit is followed by a series of beggers. Note to Idol contestants: when you get sent home at Hollywood week, just go home. You got a free vacation and if you were good enough to be a professional performer, you wouldn’t have to beg.
“Hollywood, are you ready for me?” –David Leathers, Jr.
And now for some more good news. Shannon Magrane, the daughter of a famous pitcher (the one who was appalled when Steven said she was beautiful because she’s only 16), sings “Falling” by Alicia Keys. As she sings, Jennifer sings along so that’s probably a pretty good sign – plus, she’s one of very few people who haven’t screwed this song up. Then, little ladies’ man David Leathers, Jr. sings “Because You Love Me” and as obnoxious as his little playboy routine can be, he’s so good I can’t be mad. He’s like a tiny, soulful Michael Jackson protégé. Finally, we see the girl whose boyfriend had a stroke, and he’s there being heart-breakingly supportive. And while I said after her first audition that she only made it because of her story, her performance makes it obvious that she belongs there. Suddenly, she’s so much better. All three get good news, and Angie Zeiderman (Broadway Baby/Lady Gaga wannabe from Aspen) and NBA cheerleader Brittany Kerr do as well.
But the next set wasn’t as easy to watch for me. We’ve got the fantastic mobile DJ, Erica Van Pelt; and while she still over-performs (because she’s a wedding singer) that voice cannot be denied. She rocks. But, then there’s Creighton Fraker, who I cannot stand. The judges always pick someone with a painful tonality like this kid. Sure he can hit notes, but he’s just unpleasant. Third, we meet another ladies’ man, Aaron Marcellus and he’s solid. He’s got great high notes, and sweet lows. They’re all good to go, even though if I could stop watching until Creighton is gone, I would.
Lastly, we find Lauren Mink, girl who runs a program for people with disabilities; Jeremy Rosado, a front desk clerk and an infectious diseases office and serious germophobe; and Symone Black, an adorable singer we met in San Diego. While Lauren changes key in the middle of “Alone” by Heart, it can’t compare to Symone’s flub. (Jeremy was great; no complaints there.) She sings “Sitting on the Dock of Bay” and when they ask her why she chose the song, she says she wanted to reach an older audience and then promptly falls off the stage. They call in medical assistance, but we won’t find out if she’s okay – or if she and the other two made it – until tomorrow night! Thanks Idol. These are the kind of reality shenanigans that drive us nuts, but hey, at least it’s Hollywood week, right?
Were you surprised to see anyone get sent home? Who do you think stayed unfairly? Let me know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler
The romantic action comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is like nothing — and if you’re a person between the age of approximately 18 to 35 everything — you’ve seen before. British director Edgar Wright’s (Shaun of the Dead Hot Fuzz) adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novel is so densely laden with pop-culture references it often times feels less like a movie than a mixtape. Those who share the tastes of the film’s 31-year-old writer and 35-year-old director will find the experience to be exhilarating; those who don’t however will likely be at a loss to comprehend what all the fuss is about.
The list of ‘80s and ‘90s video game nods in Pilgrim alone is daunting: Tekken Super Mario Bros. Tetris Zelda and even retro titles like Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man are represented just to name a few. To fit all of it in Wright must practically invent a brand-new kind of filmmaking. Using techniques and iconography culled from the holy fanboy triumvirate of comic books video games and anime/manga and armed with a clearly generous effects budget he splatters the screen with a dazzling array of CGI visual aids as the action unfolds: informational pop-ups supply key details on each character as they are introduced; words like “Boom!” and “Pow!” burst forth when blows are landed during fight sequences; a “Level Up!” graphic indicating increased levels of key character attributes appears after the film’s hero triumphs in battle. Even the old Universal Studios logo has been revamped by Wright rendered in the rudimentary graphics and sound of the old 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Call it easter-egg filmmaking.
At the center of this digital maelstrom is Scott Pilgrim a 22-year-old Canadian hipster waif played by 22-year-old Canadian hipster waif Michael Cera. Unemployed and in no great rush to find work he splits his time evenly between jamming with his middling band Sex Bob-Omb (a Super Mario Bros. reference) combing thrift shops for new additions to his near-limitless collection of ironic t-shirts and pining for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a beguiling New York City emigre whose signature attribute is her constantly-changing hair color.
After a few abortive encounters Scott finally gets Ramona to reciprocate his affections. Thus begins the quest — or "campaign " as gamers call it — portion of the film as Scott soon discovers that in order to secure Ramona’s hand he must defeat each of her seven evil exes (six boys and one girl) in spontaneous death matches of decreasing novelty. (A few of them could easily have been excised without harming the narrative but that might invite the ire of comic book fans who typically demand nothing less than absolute adherence to the source text.) With a variety of found power-ups and an entirely implausible collection of fancy kung-fu moves he faces off against among others a pompous vegan straight-edge (Brandon Routh) a self-absorbed action star (Chris Evans) a spiteful lesbian (Mae Whitman) and a smarmy record producer (Jason Schwartzman).
I expect Scott Pilgrim vs. the World will polarize audiences and not just because of Wright’s distinctively dizzying directorial style. (Which I thoroughly enjoyed even though it occasionally overdoses on manufactured quirk and is a bit too proud of its cleverness.) The film glosses over Scott and Ramona’s wooing process in its rush to commence with its succession of comic-book battles which grow somewhat tedious toward the end. It’s simply assumed that Ramona would fall for our protagonist as it’s likewise assumed that we already have. But not everyone will embrace Scott’s castrati hipster affect which too often comes across as grating rather than charming. (The movie’s funniest moments come courtesy of Scott’s sassy gay roommate played by Kieran Culkin who is never without a clever barb for his lovelorn pal.) And beneath Cera’s self-effacing sheen exists an unmistakable whiff of pretentiousness that isn’t entirely justified — at least not yet. Far less debatable is the appeal of Winstead whose spunky Ramona appears every bit worth the hassle of fending off seven or more ex-lovers.
God knows what she sees in him.