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
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.
Fantasy prevailed over reality this weekend as Steven Spielberg's fact-based Catch Me If You Can failed to con its way past the chimerical The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Together, however, they helped make the last weekend of 2002 the biggest Christmas weekend in box office history.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the second installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, wore the box office crown again with a regal $48.9 million*, while Catch Me If You Can managed to snare second place, bagging a crafty $30 million.
Marred by unfavorable reviews, Pinocchio--the only other film to open nationwide Friday--lumbered its way into theaters with a painfully truthful $1.1 million, averaging $954 in 1,195 theaters.
Gangs of New York expanded onto 686 more screens and made a bit of headway, scrounging another $11.2 million.
The top 12 films this weekend grossed $157 million--up 6.8 percent from last year when they totaled $147 million.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's PG-13 fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers hardly lost any sovereignty in its second week at the box office with a strong ESTIMATED $48.9 million (-21% at 3,622 theaters; $12,508 per theater).
After 12 days of release and a cume of approximately $200.1 million, The Two Towers is outpacing its predecessor The Fellowship of the Ring, which charmed audiences to the tune of $174 million in its first two weeks.
Directed by Peter Jackson, The Two Towers stars Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Ian Mckellen, Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler.
DreamWorks' PG-13 rated crime biopic Catch Me If You Can failed to catch the No. 1 spot, but still bilked an impressive ESTIMATED $30 million from moviegoers at 3,156 theaters ($9,506 per theater).
Catch Me If You Can is based on the true story of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., a successful con artist who assumed several different identities, all the while skirting an FBI agent hot on his trail.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen and Nathalie Baye.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice dropped a notch to third place with an ESTIMATED $16.1 million at 2,755 theaters ($5,849 per theater) in its second week. Its cume is approximately $43.6 million.
Directed by Marc D. Lawrence, it stars Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant.
Another romantic comedy, Sony Picture's PG-13 rated Maid in Manhattan, followed in fourth place in its third week with an ardent ESTIMATED $13 million (+21%) at 2,938 theaters (+72 theaters; $4,425 per theater). Its cume is approximately $57.4 million.
Directed by Wayne Wang, it stars Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Miramax Films' R rated period drama Gangs of New York fought its way down to fifth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $11.2 million (+18%) at 2,190 theaters (+686 theaters; $5,114 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.1 million.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Twentieth Century Fox's sleeper hit, the PG-13 rated musical comedy Drumline, skipped one beat down to sixth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $8.3 million (+17%) at 1,668 theaters -169 theaters; $5,006 per theater). Its cume is approximately $36.8 million, heading for $50 million.
Directed by Charles Stone, III, it stars Nick Cannon, Orlando Jones and Zoe Saldana.
Paramount Pictures' PG rated animated family pic The Wild Thornberrys Movie dropped a peg to seventh place with an ESTIMATED $7.4 million at 3,012 theaters ($2,457 per theater). Its cume is approximately $18.4 million.
Written and directed by Jeff McGrath and Cathy Malkasian, it features the voices of Lacey Chabert, Tom Kane, Rupert Everett, Lynn Redgrave and Marisa Tomei.
Warner Bros.' PG rated fantasy sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets gained a spot and finished eighth in its seventh week with an ESTIMATED $6.5 million (+49%) at 2,505 theaters (-245 theaters; $2,599 per theater). Its cume is approximately $240.3 million.
Directed by Chris Columbus, it stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.
Buena Vista's PG-13 rated comedy The Hot Chick slipped to ninth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (+5%) at 2,246 theaters (+29 theaters; $2,137 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.2 million.
Directed by Tom Brady, it stars Rob Schneider and Rachel McAdams.
Rounding out the Top 10 was MGM's PG-13 rated spy actioner Die Another Day, which remained in tenth place with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (+10%) at 1,875 theaters (-200 theaters; $2,373 per theater). Its cume is approximately $146.7 million.
Directed by Lee Tamahori, it stars Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry.
Miramax's G rated fantasy adaptation Pinocchio opened wide with a disappointing ESTIMATED $1.1 million at 1,195 theaters--with a wooden $954 per theater.
The film is a remake of the classic children's tale, which centers on a wooden puppet who wants to become a real boy.
Dirceted by Roberto Benigni, it stars Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi and Carlo Giuffre.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
This weekend also saw the arrival of four new limited releases, including Chicago, The Hours, The Pianist and Nicholas Nickleby.
Miramax's PG-13 musical Chicago opened with an ESTIMATED $2.1 million at 77 theaters, with a whopping $27,299 per theater average. The film expands Jan. 3.
Chicago is based on the 1975 Kander & Ebb/Bob Fosse Broadway musical of the same name, which in turn had three predecessors: the 1942 film Roxie Hart, starring Ginger Rogers, a 1927 silent film titled Chicago and, finally, the original play by Maurine Dallas Watkins.
Directed by Rob Marshall, it stars Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere.
Paramount's PG-13-rated literary drama The Hours opened to a solid $0.3 million at 11 theaters, with a per theater average of $40,000--the highest of any film this week. The film goes wide on Jan. 17.
The Hours revolves around three very different women--one being Virginia Woolf--in various time periods, all wrestling with issues of freedom, responsibility and identity.
Directed by Stephen Daldry, the film stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris and Claire Danes.
Focus Features' R rated drama The Pianist opened with an ESTIMATED $0.1 million at 6 theaters, with a $17,342 per theater average.
The film is based on the autobiography of the acclaimed Polish composer, Wladyslaw Szpilman, detailing his survival during World War II and his narrow escape from a roundup that sent his family to a death camp.
Directed by Roman Polanski, the film stars Adrien Brody.
Finally, MGM released the PG rated drama Nicholas Nickleby, which opeend to an ESTIMATED $.04 million at 5 theaters, with an estimated $8,600 per theater average.
The film is an adaptation of the classic novel by Charles Dickens.
Directed by Doug McGrath, it stars Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Nathan Lane, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent and Anne Hathaway.
The top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $157.1 million, up about 18.47 percent from last weekend when they totaled $132.6 million.
The top 12 were also up 6.8 percent from last year when they totaled $147 million.
Last year, New Line's second weekend of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was first with $38.6 million at 3,359 theaters ($11,520 per theater); and Warner Bros.' fourth week of Ocean's Eleven was second with $16.9 million at 3,075 theaters ($5,498 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $55.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $90.4 million.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.