I have to disagree with most of the film critics here. Mr. Peabody and Sherman is not only faithful to the original Jay Ward cartoon, but of all the movies made in the past three years that were adapted from established pop culture, this one is the best. We all joke about how Hollywood cannot do anything these days that doesn’t involve a remake of some property with established success… and then messes it up, disappointing the fan base that are counted on to buy the movie tickets.
As a fan of Rocky and Bullwinkle, you can imagine how much cheering I did when I heard they were making a movie based on one of those cartoons, Peabody’s Improbable History. The segments, created by Ted Key, featured the voice talents of Bill Scott and Walter Tetley. Every week the educated dog and his boy went back in time through his WABAC to help set straight the course of actions that led to a historic event. Every cartoon ended with a bad pun… often encouraging the television viewer to cry “boo.” If you haven’t watched those five-minute cartoons in the last decade or two, YouTube might provide a quick recap. (Or do yourself a favor and spend the $60 for the complete box set of all five seasons of Rocky and Bullwinkle.)
Director Rob Minkoff wanted to make the movie back in 2003 as a live action film. This never met fruition until 2006 when he succeeded in securing a contract for an animated movie at DreamWorks Animation, production starting in 2007. No stranger to Hollywood politics, casting and production kept pushing and delaying the movie. Robert Downey, Jr. was originally slated for the role of Mr. Peabody, but Ty Burell replaced him in early 2012. The release date was originally November 2013, then pushed to February 2014, then early March 2014. This, of course, kept making me wonder if there was something wrong with the film.
And in retrospect, Hollywood’s success rate of producing remakes of established franchises are worse than batting averages. Producers in Hollywood keep thinking that making changes to a format, which a loyal fan base branded in their minds, will be received with applause. Why tamper with a formula that is already geared to the fans? You don’t see Batman flying through the air in pink tights, do you? Name me a Batman movie that flopped in the theaters… you cannot.
So with Mr. Peabody and Sherman in the local theaters, my wife and I made an effort to go watch the movie. And I am proud to say that all you loyal fans of Rocky and Bullwinkle… go see the movie. The director did not tamper with the formula. Bad puns fill the screen, adult jokes are tame enough to laugh at but goes over the heads of young children, and a number of scenes were reconstructed from the old cartoons. Remember the episode with Leonardo Da Vinci trying to get the Mona Lisa to smile and Peabody came along to help set the course of history? They reconstructed that episode in the middle of the movie. Like the original cartoons, young children will also receive brief history lessons proving this movie of educational value. No vulgarity. Violence is kept to a minimum and usually as a chase sequence as Mr. Peabody and Sherman try to escape Egyptians and Romans.
Tiffany Ward, daughter of Jay Ward, one of the creators of the original series, served as an executive producer, whose job was to make sure the film stayed “true to the integrity of the characters.” When she was approached by Minkoff ten years before the film’s release, she was enthused by his intention to respect the legacy. Lengthy pursuit to make the adaptation “perfect” took them a long time, but she was pleased with the end result, which stayed “very true to the original cartoon.” With DreamWorks’ acquisition of Classic Media’s ownership of the Classic Media Library (which includes all of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons), it is assumed that DreamWorks is already planning the next adaptation. Rocky and Bullwinkle perhaps?
By the way, I cannot resist in pointing this out. If you are a geek of Hollywood movies, you might remember a character in the 1985 motion-picture, Back to the Future, named Otis Peabody… and his son named Sherman. A tip of the hat to the cartoons that proved time travel was cool.
Mr. Peabody and Sherman won’t be the best film of the year. But it is worth paying for a ticket, thus supporting the producer and director. It is the only way we can tell them how much we appreciate the fact that they made a movie faithful to the original material.