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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Unlike a certain star/co-writer/producer’s namesake sitcom Bee Movie is not about nothing. When we first meet Barry B. Benson (voice of Jerry Seinfeld) he is about to graduate to a full-blown honey-making bumblebee—class of 9:15! But he soon learns that the nectar of bees’ labor isn’t doing all the good he’d always imagined. For his first venture out of the hive Barry hitches a ride with the “pollen jocks” to do some work on a sunflower. Entranced by what he thinks is a flower Barry buzzes his way down and grabs hold—only to discover that it is a tennis ball to which he is now stuck. After being catapulted to freedom from the ball’s fuzz and ricocheting throughout all of Manhattan he winds up in an apartment belonging to Vanessa (voice of Renee Zellweger) and her boyfriend Ken (voice of Patrick Warburton). Vanessa saves Barry from Ken’s wrath which leads to a long-lasting friendship between them even though Barry committed the sin of talking to a human. However Barry’s eyes become wide open to her fellow humans’ frivolous extraction and usage of honey and vows to sue humankind—and he wins. But the victory becomes bittersweet and a hard-learned lesson for Barry on how honey in a way makes the world go ‘round. Man this Seinfeld guy really has some friends in high places! Seemingly his whole Hollywood Rolodex laid down some vocals for Bee Movie even though you’ll only recognize the ones who "play" themselves—and of course Chris Rock. The comic and Seinfeld crony whose high voice and energy are perfect for animation is probably the best of the bunch playing a mosquito in peril named Mooseblood. But the A-list voices don’t end there: Matthew Broderick Oprah Larry Miller Megan Mullally Rip Torn and Michael Richards are among the heard but not seen while Sting Ray Liotta and Larry King hilariously poke fun at their flesh-and-blood selves. Seinfeld himself however is often hit-or-miss as the animated protagonist. He’s funniest when going on a somewhat tangential rant as Barry tends to do but delivering straight lines and tangibility his target audience can relate to are a bit of a stretch. Zellweger’s acting style while great in live action is even less fit for animation. As Barry’s friend with hints of bee-human romance she is rather bland and even seems out of sync at times with her character’s expressions. Perhaps we’ve just been spoiled by the Ratatouilles of the animated-film world but Bee Movie has nothing on the field’s leaders. You’d expect a little something more from Seinfeld who co-wrote (with Spike Feresten Barry Marder and Andy Robin) produced and altogether shepherded Bee—maybe a “What’s the deal with…?” nod to his stand-up faithful or more making-a-fuss-over-nothing rants or just overall edgier comedy—but he goes straight for the tyke demographic and his style doesn’t quite seem to be on children’s wavelength. It’s often funny with occasionally sharp jibes on the animal kingdom (is there any other kind of premise for an animated movie these days?) but rarely witty. And when the movie takes a Happy Feet-like preachy twist towards the end it’ll be too sappy-sweet for even the ones in your lap. Visually directors Steve Hickner and Simon Smith’s movie doesn’t really approach Pixar’s work but they make up for it with fun rollercoaster routes through the skies and skyscrapers of Manhattan. All in all Bee Movie’s large team of writers and directors scrape together enough for kids to enjoy but kids these days have come to expect more than just “enough” from their animated movies.