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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Every movie I saw in 2013, ranked from worst to best:
112. IDENTITY THIEFThe first comedy movie to not make me laugh once.
111. SAVING MR. BANKSInsulting, manipulative, dishonest, and unkind, with occasional song breaks.
110. SCARY MOVIE 5These movies have gotten much worse since we were 13.
109. GETAWAYINT. RACECAR. NIGHT. Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez crash into stuff.
108. GROWN UPS 2So much vomiting, so many homophobic jokes, so little plot.
107. I GIVE IT A YEARAn ugly, loveless rom-com that isn't clever enough to be satire.
106. DEAD MAN DOWNAll I remember is a whole lot of dark alleyways.
105. A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN IIIThe best part is the closing credits (I'm not being flip, they're actually kind of fun).
104. MOVIE 43Bad offensive joke after bad offensive joke after bad offensive joke...
103. WINNIE MANDELADesperately important story turned into a desperately dull movie.
102. TWICE BORNNo summary available due to lack of anything interesting happening in this movie.
101. R.I.P.D.Somebody forgot to give Ryan Reynolds any jokes.
New Line Cinema via Everett Collection
100. THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONEThis movie could have been funny if Wonderstone wasn't such a d**k.
99. ONLY GOD FORGIVESInteresting in the moments when it's not shoving its unpleasantness down your throat.
98. MAN OF STEELSetup: cerebral reinvention of Superman. Payoff: mass property damage.
97. CARRIEBeat-by-beat remake without any of the original's spirit.
96. THE TO DO LISTUncomfortably raunchy and mean. Thank God for Bill Hader.
95. KICK-ASS 2More Mean Girls shtick would have benefited this weak sequel.
94. PHANTOMI'm not sure this was actually a finished movie.
93. WRONGObnoxiously nonsensical, but not without its share of laughs.
92. THE SMURFS 2Mostly cloying, but Neil Patrick Harris is incurably watchable.
91. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS Dumb.
89. NOW YOU SEE MEPossibly the worst ending in a 2013 movie, but a few bits of fun along the way.
88. WE'RE THE MILLERS[Pop culture reference]
87. RED 2John Malkovich's facial contortions save this from total failure.
86. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS It hsa a few pros, but is mostly one giant... well, you know.
85. RIDDICKSurprisingly intriguing, when it isn't being deplorably sexist.
84. FREE BIRDSEh, turkeys are kinda funny.
83. PRISONERS Thankfully, scenes of Hugh Jackman yelling are intercut with the far superior scenes of Jake Gyllenhaal yelling.
82. WHITE REINDEER Any minute now, this movie is going to reveal its inner glory! Any minute now!
81. EVIL DEAD A better horror flick than the original! But still mostly forgettable.
80. GBFMostly charming, undone by its "safe" and "classy" ending.
79. THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALISTIt's kind of hard to get past how boring the title is.
78. DESPICABLE ME 2 Lots of minions. People like minions, right?
77. JOHN DIES AT THE END Not nearly as weird as it thinks it is or wants to be.
76. 2 GUNSHey, wait a minute, this movie is kinda funny! ... Not that funny, but kinda.
75. SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES MEI like to call this movie Click Offerman.
74. WHITE HOUSE DOWNWould be more fun if we were ready to laugh about terrorism.
73. AT ANY PRICEBoooriii— HOLY S**T WHERE THE F**K DID THAT COME FROM?!
72. BAD MILONot quite up to par with your expectations for the "Ken Marino has a demon in his butt" synopsis.
71. MONSTERS UNIVERSITYLackluster prequel, nice to look at, big band music.
70. THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES In its audacity, this silly amalgam of YA tropes can actually be a lot of fun.
69. THE CONJURING Fascinating subplots about the exorcism industry would be better served at the head of the film.
68. PEEPLESThere's a joke about wristwatches that I still think about.
67. SIDE EFFECTSSoderbergh's farewell caper doesn't have as much fun as its loony plot would demand.
66. ELYSIUMBroad and clumsy, but how wrong can you go with Bald Matt Damon?
65. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFULIt works with Dark Side of the Moon.
64. THE COUNSELORThe book was better. Wait, this wasn't a book? Well it should have been.
63. IN A WORLD...A fun, biting look at an unappreciated industry! ... until it dissolves into mild genericism.
62. THE LONE RANGER Oh come on, you didn't love the William Tell climax?
61. THE WOLVERINENot always engaging, but at least it's about something.
Summit Entertainment via Everett Collection
60. WARM BODIESNot really about anything, but at least it's engaging.
59. THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWNUndeniably powerful, but feels like it could use a few more revisions.
58. ENDER'S GAMESpace Camp: The Movie! (Slightly less expensive than actual space camp.)
57. PACIFIC RIMMonsters vs. robots aside, there's a riveting world constructed in the backdrop of this sci-fi epic.
56. ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUESThe battle royale does not disappoint.
55. YOU'RE NEXTThe fun, swift hook isn't nearly as interesting as the great character work that it replaces.
54. THE WAY WAY BACKI, too, long to get life advice from a waterpark-dwelling Sam Rockwell.
53. SOME VELVET MORNINGEven if you see the twist coming, the chemistry here is impeccable.
52. THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIREShut up, Peeta, I'm trying to watch all the good parts of this movie.
51. 20 FEET FROM STARDOMA story that deserves a little more spirit and energy than it is given in this documentary.
50. DON JONNo. 50 on "Best Movies" list, No. 1 on "Best Trailers."
49. THE ROCKETA feel-good kids' adventure substantiated by the gravities of war. Wins in both areas.
48. CRYSTAL FAIRY & THE MAGICAL CACTUS AND 2012Beautifully shot, interestingly written, impressively acted.
47. MUD Yes, we all loved The Goonies, and we all loved David Wooderson, so...
46. CUTIE AND THE BOXER A vivid struggle that is equal parts artistically, martially, and internally based. Engrossing all the way.
45. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS Tom Hanks' best performance in ages in a dramatic thriller that feels real (for obvious reasons).
44. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG As a Legend of Zelda fan, this movie's world awakened something in me.
43. FRUITVALE STATIONThis character story is at odds with its out-universe goal, but Michael B. Jordan is unforgettable.
42. BEFORE MIDNIGHTI'm still not sure how I feel about that ending, but it was good to catch up wit Jesse and Celine.
41. DARK TOUCHEverything that Carrie could have been. A shocking fantasy about human pains.
Walt Disney Co via Everett Collection
40. THOR: THE DARK WORLDMore Chris O'Dowd.
39. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLORIntellectually stimulating, but doesn't hit all its emotional marks.
38. THE WORLD'S ENDI've been saying "Gooey Wooey Egg Man" for months.
37. THE GREAT GATSBYLights! Music! Pizzazz! Moxy! The bee's knees! The cat's pajamas!
36. ENOUGH SAIDBest TV drama's male lead + best TV comedy's female lead = quite a charming romantic dramedy.
35. SIGHTSEERSWell, this is rather amusi— HOLY S**T WHERE THE F**K DID THAT COME FROM?!
34. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINESNot sure if the "three stories" approach makes for the most powerful character work, but it's an enchanting ride.
33. THE WE AND THE I A bus full of inner-city high school kids turns into a magical kingdom thanks to Gondry's dreamy edge.
32. NEWLYWEEDSA love triangle with marijuana as the third party. Weighty, but never overly so, and funny throughout.
31. GRAVITY. . .
30. PRINCE AVALANCHE Heh heh, look at Paul Rudd's mustache.
29. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET Yes, we all loved the 'ludes scene. Very, very much.
28. ALL IS LOSTRobert Redford, you still got that same oomph. You too, ocean.
27. SAVING LINCOLN The weirdest, goofiest, funniest biopic about Abraham Lincoln ever.
26. THE KINGS OF SUMMER Kids run away, live in the woods, grow up, make jokes. Always a charming endeavor.
25. AMERICAN HUSTLE Little more than a cartoon, but an emotionally explosive and riotous one at that.
24. THE HEAT Melissa McCarthy insisting on stepping out of a moving car earns a full five minutes of laughter alone.
23. DRINKING BUDDIESNever dips too low on the emotional spectrum, but stays real and fresh in the face of the rom-com genre.
22. UPSTREAM COLORA difficult, confusing, harrowing thinker.
21. STOKER Somehow both effectively haunting and deliciously fun.
Room 237: the movie/Facebook
20. ROOM 237 Less a doting tribute to The Shining or Kubrick than it is to movie-lovers and their bottomless well of theories.
19. BLUE JASMINE Each party fires on all cylinders in Woody Allen's Streetcar gem, Sally Hawkins especially.
18. S#X ACTSThe sadness of this story of our youth's desperate obsession with and reliance on sex is its authenticity.
17. IRON MAN 3 The first true action comedy in Marvel's line of films shows how much fun superhero movies can really be.
16. ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW Take notes, John Dies at the End. THIS is one weird f**king movie.
15. NEBRASKA Father vs. son, past vs. present, dreams vs. reality. Everything here is touching, funny, and inviting.
14. PAIN & GAIN Michael Bay talks a long, hard look in the mirror with this biting send-up of everything his other movies represent.
13. THIS IS THE ENDFar more interesting and insightful than it will get credit for being, This Is the End uses a literal apocalypse and no dearth of d**k jokes to deconstruct tenets of friendship and social politics.
12. THE ACT OF KILLING While this documentary would benefit from restructuring, the power of its message (especially its final few monents, not to mention the "anonymous"-heavy credits) is painfully resonant.
11. FROZENOffering the magic and whimsy you'll remember from time-honored Disney classics, but so much more in the way of its message, Frozen might very well be the most magnificent and meaningful animated feature yet to spring from Walt's legacy.
10. COMPUTER CHESSIt doesn't have much to say about the human condition (beyond maybe highlighting our propensity for arrogance and self-directed delusion). It doesn't tell a story that'll stick with you for very long. But Computer Chess reigns supreme as, far and away, the funniest movie of 2013.
9. SPRING BREAKERS A dark, wicked, wholly upsetting reflection of the toxic direction in which we might be headed. And James Franco gives a tour-de-force of a performance with his demonic scoutmaster Alien.
8. IT'S A DISASTER An intelligent, meticulously directed farce about group politics and conflicting personal philosophies, executed to near perfection thanks to the rhythmic participation of a more than capable cast.
7. 12 YEARS A SLAVEAn unprecedented masterpiece that sings the traumas not only of Solomon Northrup, a free man captured and sold into slavery, but in his fellow sufferers as well. For my money, the true anchor of the story is in Lupita Nyong'o's Patsey, whose suffering is unlike anything we've seen managed on the big screen in years.
6. HER With so much to say about such tremendous topics, Her manages to still dive so deep into the heart of its story: the pangs of love in the wake of the inevitable fallibilities of romantic relationships. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson alike give dynamic performances, and Spike Jonze mystifies us with his strange, cold, all-too-familiar world.
A24 via Everett Collection
5. THE SPECTACULAR NOWThis is one of those movies you try to convince yourself to inch out of your top 10, or five, for fear of being seen as juvenile. ButThe Spectacular Now hits such genuine notes with Miles Teller's Sutter, climaxing at a moment where you'll recognize an angst so true to life and so criminally absent from most movies about the journey toward self-love.
4. FRANCES HA Months and months after my first encounter with it, this deceptively simple film sticks in my head, reminding me that its every artful beat is riddled with emotional weight and ironic humor alike. Greta Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach give us the a New York movie to rival Annie Hall, zooming in and out of the perspective of the young women and men who occupy, and drown within, today's version of the biggest, most stupefying city in the world.
3. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVISSadness, coldness, loneliness, failure... such wonderful things when handled by filmmakers like the Coen Brothers. Padding this antithesis of triumph with some of the most beautiful, somber music you'll hear all year, Inside Llewyn Davis makes us fall in love all over again with the very idea of the artistic struggle.
Touchstone Pictures via Everett Collection
2. THE WIND RISESHayao Miyazaki's final movie doesn't pass judgment on its hero, a man so devoted to his work (building weapons) that he neglects his wife, sister, and friends. It doesn't endorse these choices either. Instead, it hones in on the passions of its hero/antihero, challenging us to sympathize with a fellow whose only desire is to do his job while we lament his sacrifices. More even than Gravity does the frequently airborne animated picture induce dizzy spells as we connect with the conglomerate of colorful, intriguing characters in this grim but dainty biography.
Cinedigm via Everett Collection
1. SHORT TERM 12 There are so few flaws to highlight in The Wind Rises, Inside Llewyn Davis, Frances Ha, and the other entries on this top 10 list. What separates Short Term 12 is not a complete lack of error, but in an umatched spirit for the telling of its story. The movie wants us to feel the pains of counselor Grace (Brie Larson) and the disavantaged children for whom she cares, highlighting abused Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) and orphan Marcus (Keith Stanfield). It also wants us to feel the hope that it brings to these characters in their plight to overcome the hands they have been dealt. Every emotion in this movie carries through with such force. For those of us who know any of these trials personally, they ring tremendously true. For others, they work to invite you into this sad but hopeful world. We've been gifted with a ton of exemplary cinematic works this year, but nothing sticks with me more than this tearful, heartrending masterpiece.
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Do the Bourne movies make any sense? Enough. The first three films — The Bourne Identity Supremacy and Ultimatum — throw in just enough detail into the covert ops babble and high-speed action that by the end Jason Bourne comes out an emotional character with an evident mission. That's where Bourne Legacy drops the ball. A "sidequel" to the original trilogy Legacy follows super soldier Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) as he runs jumps and shoots his way out of the hands of his government captors. The film is identical to its predecessors; political intrigue chase scenes morally ambiguous CIA agents monitoring their man-on-the-run from a computer-filled HQ — a Bourne movie through and through. But Legacy has to dig deeper to find new ground to cover introducing elements of sci-fi into the equation. The result is surprisingly limp and even more incomprehensible.
Damon's Bourne spent three blockbusters uncovering his past erased by the assassin training program Treadstone. Renner's Alex Cross has a similar do-or-die mission: after Bourne's antics send Washington into a tizzy Cross' own training program Outcome is terminated. Unlike Bourne Cross is enhanced by "chems" (essentially steroid drugs) that keep him alive and kicking ass. When Outcome is ended Cross goes rogue to stay alive and find more pills.
Steeped heavily in the plot lines of the established mythology Bourne Legacy jumps back and forth between Cross and the clean up job of the movie's big bad (Edward Norton) and his elite squad of suits. The movie balances a lot of moving parts but the adventure never feels sprawling or all that exciting. Actress Rachel Weisz vibrant in nearly every role she takes on plays a chemist who is key to Cross' chemical woes. The two are forced into partnership Weisz limited to screaming cowering and sneaking past the occasional airport x-ray machine while her partner aggressively fistfights his way through any hurdle in his path. Renner is equally underserved. Cross is tailored to the actor's strengths — a darker more aggressive character than Damon's Bourne but with one out of every five of the character's lines being "CHEMS!" shouted at the top of his lungs Renner never has the time or the material to develop him.
Writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton Duplicity and the screenwriter of the previous three movies) is a master of dense language but his style choices can't breath life into the 21st century epic speak. In the film's necessary car chase Gilroy mimics the loose camera style of Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass without fully embracing it. The wishy washy approach sucks the life out of large-scale set pieces. The final 30 minutes of Bourne Legacy is a shaky cam naysayer's worst nightmare.
The Bourne Legacy demonstrates potential without ever kicking into high gear. One scene when Gilroy finally slows down and unleashes absolute terror on screen is striking. Unfortunately the moment doesn't involve our hero and its implications never explained. That sums up Legacy; by the film's conclusion it only feels like the first hour has played out. The movie crawls — which would be much more forgivable if the intense banter between its large ensemble carried weight. Instead Legacy packs the thrills of an airport thriller: sporadically entertaining and instantly forgettable.
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.