Mr. Peabody and Sherman


Every dog should have a boy.

Every dog should have a boy.

(2013) Animated Feature (DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Alison Janney, Leslie Mann, Stanley Tucci, Patrick Warburton, Lake Bell, Zach Callison, Dennis Haysbert, Stephen Colbert, Lauri Fraser, Steve Valentine, Guillaume Aretos, Karan Brar, Joshua Rush, Mel Brooks, Thomas Lennon, Tom McGrath, Leila Birch. Directed by Rob Minkoff

Those of a certain age group (i.e. my own) will remember with great fondness the Jay Ward cartoons on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, from Fractured Fairy Tales to my own personal favorite, Peabody’s Improbable History. They were subversive for their time, with humor that sailed above my innocent yet pointy little child head but still the cartoons managed to educate about history almost despite themselves. When you compare them to the drekk that passes for animation on the Cartoon Network, it’s clear that modern animators think that modern kids are dumber than a sackful of dead cats.

In this 3D updating of the Jay Ward cartoon, Mr. Peabody (Burrell) – a brilliant beagle who also is able to talk – is the adoptive father of Sherman (Charles), a none-too-bright but full of heart kid who has trouble making friends at school. Mr. Peabody has invented a time machine called the WABAC to help teach Sherman about history.

When the gentle Sherman gets into a fight with the overbearing Penny (Winter) at school, Mr. Peabody realizes that something is wrong. Peabody is summoned to the principal’s office where he is confronted by Ms. Grunion (Janney), a social worker who thinks that dogs are not fit parents and threatens to take Sherman away if an upcoming visit to Peabody’s apartment turns up any irregularities. Peabody also takes the opportunity to invite Penny’s family – parents Paul (Colbert) and Patty (Mann) – to dinner.

At first things go swimmingly well as Peabody charms both the parents. However, Penny is a tougher nut to crack and when Sherman accidentally lets slip that there is a time machine in the house, he is forced to prove it to her when she calls him a liar. Of course,  the spoiled little princess finds herself in ancient Egypt as the bride of Tutankhamen (Callison) and looking forward to a life of indolent pleasure, not wanting to return back with Sherman.

In desperation, he gets his father to intervene. Mr. Peabody must drag the unwilling brat back to the present so that he can keep the nosy Ms. Grunion from finding an excuse to take Sherman away and while he’s at it repair a disturbance in the space-time continuum. It’s a dog’s life indeed.

Burrell, the star of Modern Family is the perfect choice to replace the late Bill Scott as the voice of Peabody. He captures the dog’s supercilious demeanor and urbane charm but adds a little bit of beagle warmth to the mix. He gets the inflections and tone Scott used down perfectly. It can safely be said that Burrell carries the film and should a sequel be made (and it looks like that’s a distinct possibility judging on the box office) could be a lucrative sidelight for the actor.

While there are a few brief celebrity cameos (Brooks as a kvetching Einstein is the best), the movie doesn’t stoop to being a cameo-fest as some other DreamWorks films have tended to do. There are also fewer pop culture references than a lot of the movies from the DreamWorks studio, although there are enough of them to be pleasing when they arrive but not so many as to be overbearing.

The animation is cool looking enough, particularly the WABAC which going from the clunky 60s version is a kind of red orb looking not unlike Spock’s spaceship on the reboot of Star Trek. There are plenty of nods to the original series (such as the street sweeper who ended every five minute MP&S cartoon in the 60s making an appearance in the end credits) but has enough cool credibility to keep most young ‘uns (particularly the boy types) delighted, which has to make every mom smile. And most moms and dads, who grew up on this stuff, will have enough here to feel a pleasant wave of nostalgia break over them like a tropical beach. All in all as far as this film is concerned I’d say “Mission Accomplished” – and not in a George W. Bush manner either.

REASONS TO GO: Heart-warming. Some nice animated effects.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks the sophistication of the original cartoon. Dumbed down a bit.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some mild peril and a bit of rude humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A sketch of Bullwinkle hangs in Peabody’s apartment over his yoga mat.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/18/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Monsters vs. Aliens

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: 300: Rise of an Empire

Prince of Egypt


Parting the Red Sea as a theme park event.

Parting the Red Sea as a theme park event.

(1998) Animated Feature (DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff Goldblum, Sandra Bullock, Patrick Stewart, Danny Glover, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Mel Brooks, Phillip Ingram, Amick Byram, Aria Noelle Curzon. Directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells

I was surprised to discover that when I reviewed this back in 1998 for the Triviana website, I wrote “As the stranglehold on quality animated features once held by Disney has weakened, we can expect a glut of animated movies to hit the local multiplexes, since they are extremely profitable to the studios when marketed correctly. Every parent will have, somewhere in the recesses of their home, a toy of the cartoon-du-jour picked up from one fast-food place or another.” And wow, that actually came to pass. I had to take that opportunity to pat myself on the back.

Prince of Egypt came from the nascent DreamWorks animation studio which hoped to cut into the Disney pie and wound up cutting the largest wedge, if you please. Featuring a stellar cast of vocal talent, Prince of Egypt retells the story of Exodus. Those familiar with the Bible (or, at least, who have viewed The Ten Commandments any number of times) will know the story: A fearful mother, watching the children of Israel being slaughtered at Pharaoh’s command, puts her son into the waters of the Nile to escape the sword.

Plucked out of the Nile by Pharaohs’ wife, young Moses (Kilmer) grows up to be a bit of a hellion, a constant rival to the Pharaoh’s legitimate son and heir Ramses (Fiennes). The two, however, have developed a bond that, while tested occasionally, proves strong. Tzipporah (Pfeiffer), a high-spirited slave from Midian proves to be the undoing of the Prince as he allows her to escape, then attempts to follow her, only to run into his actual brother Aaron (Goldblum) and sister (Bullock), who tell him who he really is. Confused, Moses finds his erstwhile father Seti (Stewart), who confirms his heritage, and the terrible act that brought Moses to him. Horrified, Moses flees Egypt and makes his way to Midian.

Jethro, the Sheikh of Midian (Glover) takes the young man into his home and his heart. Eventually, Moses marries Jethro’s daughter Tzipporah (surprising how convenient these Bible epics can be). However, Moses destiny is changed forever when he encounters a burning bush while chasing a lost goat. The bush is the manifestation of the Almighty, who directs Moses to return to Egypt and free the Israelites. Most people should know how the story ends.

A great deal of dramatic license is taken here, although to be fair they do warn you at the beginning of the movie, and to the credit of the filmmakers they do refer you to Biblical sources for the lowdown. Still, it’s disconcerting to see figures such as Yeshua and others written out or reduced to minor roles.

The animation is gorgeous. The special effects of the Parting of the Red Sea, the Pillar of Fire and the multiple plagues are breathtaking. The songs are a bit treacly and I can do without hearing that diva duet between Whitney and Mariah ever again – have two more overrated performers ever shared the same soundstage? All in all, this is one animated movie that is not going to put either restless kiddies or their long-suffering parents to sleep.

It’s nice when a kidflick comes out with at least a worthwhile message and some intrinsic value beyond its marketing scheme. While watching The Prince of Egypt is no substitute for reading Exodus directly, it does make for a worthy introduction to the story for those who may be a bit young for direct Bible reading.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous animation. Stellar vocal cast. Nice introduction to Biblical story.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Kinda rewrites the Bible a bit much for my liking. Definitely more kid-friendly than adult.

FAMILY MATTERS: Some of the scenes might be a bit intense for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Val Kilmer also provides the voice of God so that when God speaks to Moses, he’s literally talking to himself.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a really interesting featurette on how the feature was translated into many different languages and how they had to find voice actors whose voices were close enough to the original. They then play a single sequence, the “When You Believe” song, in many different languages. Very impressive. There’s also a look at the chariot race sequence that opens the film and how that was created.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $218.6M on a $70M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Wizard of Oz