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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Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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In the hands of an increasingly self-aware media, the traditional fairy tale romance has come under fire in the past couple of decades. The genre has earned a wealth of criticism that includes accusations of instilling limiting female role models and harmfully unrealistic illustrations of relationships. As such, we've seen a wave of deconstruction: subtle entries like Shrek, Ella Enchanted, and the upcoming play-to-film adaptation Into the Woods. Now, Reese Witherspoon — with a hue and bone structure that seem to be modeled after those of a fabled royal — is delivering Happily Ever After, a Disney film that looks to showcase what happens to your standard prince and the princess 10 years down the line.
A decade past being whisked off from the clutches of a dragon or a witch or whatever evil might have befallen Witherspoon's character, we find her and her husband struggling to keep their relationship afloat. But how biting do we expect this potentially interesting project to be? On the one hand, it's a Disney production, which suggests that a happy ending will indeed follow a rocky rom-com set-up. But there's hope: the premise was pitched to the studio by Nahnatchka Khan, the creator of the short-lived Don't Trust the B— in Apartment 23, a sitcom that was unapologetically acerbic and devilish.
Disney, through ABC, allowed Khan free reign over her dark sense of humor with Don't Trust the B— (a television show that was cut down before its due), so perhaps we'll see another impressively caustic tale in Witherspoon's Happily Ever After. After all, the actress has gained quite a colorful reputation in recent months.
More:Disney Plans a Cruella de Vil Movie'Tomorrowland' Plot Thickens with New DetailsDisney World Horror 'Escape from Tomorrow' Can't Possibly Be Real!
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SATURDAY 12:00 p.m. (Pacific): Dreamworks/Paramount is reporting a $20M opening day for Kung Fu Panda, which is better than the $17.75M I reported last night. The studio is floating a $60M estimate for the three-day, and that generally means it will be something higher. I say that the final weekend take will be $65M+, and there is an outside chance that it could reach the Animated Non-Sequel benchmarks of The Incredibles (Disney/Pixar) and Finding Nemo (Disney).
ALL-TIME TOP 10 OPENINGS FOR DREAMWORKS ANIMATION
1. Shrek The Third: $121.6M
2. Shrek 2: $108M
3. Kung Fu Panda: $60M (estimated)
4. Shark Tale: $47.6M
5. Madagascar: $47.2M
6. Shrek: $42.3M
7. Over the Hedge: $38.5M
8. Bee Movie: $38M
9. Chicken Run: $17.5M
10. Antz: $17.1M
Even more impressive for Kung Fu Panda , featuring the voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross, is its standing among the All-Time Best Openings for Animated Non-Sequels. Kung Fu Panda compares favorably to The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc. and Cars, and it will likely finish stronger than last year's Pixar offering Ratatouille.
ALL-TIME TOP 10 OPENINGS FOR A NON-SEQUEL ANIMATED FILM
1. The Incredibles: $70.46M
2. Finding Nemo: $70.25M
3. Monsters, Inc.: $62.57M
4. Cars: $60.11M
5. Kung Fu Panda: $55M (estimated)
6. Ratatouille: $47.02M
7. Shrek: $42.34M
8. Happy Feet: $41.53M
9. Madagascar: $47.22M
10. Ice Age: $46.31M
Based on the Cars opening weekend model, Kung Fu Panda would get to $61M, but when you plug in the first frame pattern of The Incredibles, the new Dreamworks family flick would yield $69M. For information, Paramount is projecting $60M based on $20M Friday, $23M Saturday and $17M Sunday. I think they are following the "under-promise and over-deliver" rule, and at least $65M will be in the bank by Monday morning.
Even if we use Paramount's lowball $60M number for Kung Fu Panda, it will easily reach $200M. Following Iron Man and Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, that would make the Melrose gang the first studio in history to release back-to-back-to-back $200M+ grossing movies.
Meanwhile, You Don't Mess With The Zohan (Sony) enjoyed a better-than-expected late night performance with $14.85M. Sony is pushing a $42M number for the weekend, which is very close, but I am projecting a possible $43.65M. If the number holds, it would be Adam Sandler's second best opening ever.
All-Time Best Adam Sandler Openings
1. The Longest Yard: $47.6M
2. You Don't Mess With The Zohan: $43.65M (estimate)
3. Anger Management: $42.2M
4. Big Daddy: $41.5M
5. Click: $40M
6. 50 First Dates: $39.8M
7. The Waterboy: $39.4M
8. Mr. Deeds: $37.1M
9. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry: $34.2M
10. The Wedding Singer: $18.8M
As I wrote last night, Sex and the City was No. 3 for the day, but it will dip to the fourth spot for the weekend. SATC grabbed a solid $7.3M on Friday according to Warner Bros, which will likely translate to an estimated $21.8M. That will probably leave the picture just shy of the $100M mark after 10 days. Indy 4 swooped in for another $6.54M, and it appears that the Spielberg-directed pic will wrap up its third weekend with $24M.
Rogue's The Strangers scared up another $3M on Friday, and the Liv Tyler-Scott Speedman slasher pic should wrap the weekend with $9.1M or so and a new cume of $37M+. Marvel's unstoppable Iron Man (Paramount) is slowing a bit at No. 6 with $2.2M on Friday and a likely $8M for the frame. Robert Downey Jr.'s superhero debut will have banked about $290M by Monday.
Mongol (Picturehouse), a 2008 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, has opened powerfully on four screens with $6,500 per location on Friday. This Genghis Khan historical epic will likely win the weekend per theatre race with an almost $25,000 PTA. Takeout (CAVU), the story of an illegal Chinese immigrant, surprised with $4,318 at its single engagement, and that could lead to a $15,000+ per theatre average. Kung Fu Panda will probably be No. 3 followed by Zohan and Film Movement's The Grocer's Son.
EARLY THREE-DAY ESTIMATES
1. Kung Fu Panda (Dreamworks): $60 million; $13,369 PTA; $60 million cume
2. You Don't Mess with the Zohan (Sony): $42 million; $10,471 PTA; $42 million cume
3. Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount): $23.75 million; $5,668 PTA; $253.97 million cume
4. Sex and the City (Warner Bros.): $23.5 million; $7,068 PTA; $101.48 million cume
5. The Strangers (Rogue Releasing): $9.1 million; $3,674 PTA; $37.45 million cume
6. Iron Man (Paramount): $8 million; $2,729 PTA; $289.37 million cume
7. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney): $6.52 million; $2,129 PTA; $126.84 million cume
8. What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox): $3.9 million; $1,651 PTA; $72.73 million cume
9. Baby Mama (Universal): $1.3 million; $1,419 PTA; $58.43 million cume
10. Made of Honor (Sony): $1.24 million; $1,676 PTA; $45.12 million cume