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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Positioned as an alternative to the dinosaurs, America's Sweethearts, starring John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Billy Crystal, is receiving few love notes from critics. "There are only human monsters in America's Sweethearts," comments Edward Jay Epstein in the Wall Street Journal, "but they are mostly cuddly, too, although harder to merchandise as dolls." The problem, most reviewers say, is not the star-studded cast -- which also includes Alan Arkin, Seth Green, Christopher Walken and Hank Azaria -- but in the script. "Like a bottle of lukewarm champagne -- an expensive one, judging by the label," A.O. Scott observes in the New York Times, "America's Sweethearts opens with a promising burst of effervescence and quickly goes flat." Later, he remarks that Cusack and Roberts, in their romantic scenes, are forced to "fall back on familiar quirks and twitches in the absence of strong writing." Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star uses such words as "tryingly bland," "drab," and "slackly timid" to describe the movie. "America's Sweethearts would have been greatly helped by some rat-a-tat banter," writes Francesca Chapman in the Philadelphia Daily News, "but instead you get blather, and plenty of it." But Bob Longino of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is one of several critics who halfheartedly recommend it. "It's still a perfectly pleasant time at the movies," he observes. "America's Sweethearts isn't a flop," says Jay Carr in the Boston Globe. "It's just not as entertaining as one had hoped it would be, given its high-powered cast." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post also aligns himself with the ho-hummers: "As undemanding summer movies go, America's Sweethearts is surprisingly funny and sweet, despite some missed comic opportunities," he comments. And Kenneth Turan concludes in the Los Angeles Times that the film "is entertaining as far as it goes, but it just hasn't figured out how to go far enough."