Taking a Trip With Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Mr.-Peabody-and-Sherman

Nothing will cause me to become skeptical quite like taking a long silent beloved childhood memory and giving filmmakers a gargantuan budget to revive it. It’s the trend though, so what are you going to do, right? Primarily it’s fairly easy to ignore these Frankenstein’s monsters, particularly when it’s something like Peabody and Sherman. These two characters were regulars on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Rocky and Bullwinkle was the example of low budget cartoons. They were given a chance at a big screen adaptation a while back. It was terrible. This is actually the third feature film to stem from that little show, come to think of it, with Dudley Do-Right being the other. Dreamworks has been a power-house for decent animated movies lately, so I went to the local library and borrowed a copy. It was a very good family film. And I don’t use “family film” in the sense that it was cranked out solely to babysit children placed in front of a screen. The jokes and visuals are juvenile enough to captivate a young audience, while the plot and even more jokes will certainly keep everyone else engaged. The movie takes head on subjects such as adoption, fitting in and bullying in a way that is funny, it’s essentially the perfect segue to discuss these topics.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman follows the life of Mr. Peabody, a brilliant dog that never fit into his societal mold. This is primarily because he can talk and is essentially the smartest creature on the face of the planet. He adopts a baby named Sherman, which he raises and takes on adventures through time with his “wayback” device. The conflict of the movie happens when Sherman ends up biting someone on his first day of school, calling into question Peabody’s ability to raise a human child. In an effort to smooth things over, the Bully’s parents are invited over for dinner. Naturally the two children end up using the time machine and end up on an adventure through time.

While more or less a typical animated feature, the movie manages to shine at particular points. For one thing it’s nice to have Danny Elfman providing the score. the music adds the level of whimsy that the movie deserves. The writing is also pretty entertaining. If Mr. Peabody is trying to prove he’s a good dad, he certainly does so simply by the amount of puns he uses. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. The writing is sharp and witty to the point where it is both easy to understand and not compromising the intelligence of the audience. Ty Burell manages to give surprisingly accurate life to the spirit of the Peabody character. But it’s Max Charles who voices Sherman that really blew me away. The timing and tone was dead on, a truly perfect voice for the character.

This movie wasn’t anything spectacular, to be certain. However it was a good movie, and sometimes that’s what you need. Not every animated movie is going to be Spirited Away or Toy Story, but that’s fine. This was a movie that did just about the best that it could, and it was just what a Peabody and Sherman movie should have been; short, sweet and pretty darn funny.

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The OTHER Potter England is famous for: Miss Potter

Misspotter

There are two vitally important attributes that great artists in any form must have. First is an imagination, the tool to picture the art and all that it encompasses. The second is the ability and talent to tangibly produce it through a medium, be it words or watercolors. Beatrix Potter certainly had both of these, and more. The Victorian era children’s author, conservationist and biologist is most well known for the beautifully illustrated set of stories starring animals. Peter Rabbit, Peter Cottontail, Samuel Whiskers and Jemima Puddleduck are just a handful of the characters that she brought life to not only with words on a page but beautiful pictures that drove the imagination of the reader. Miss Potter takes on the difficult task of summing up the life and major events surrounding Beatrix Potter by showcasing her loves, losses and triumphs.

 

The primary focus of the film is set squarely on the imagination of its titular character. From the get-go we watch as a young Beatrix interacts with her drawings as though they were her friends. We listen as she creates stories out of nothing to tell to her younger brother before bed. What is not anticipated by her mother or father is that this desire to paint and create stories should become anything more than a hobby. However, Beatrix persists and manages to convince a publishing house to print the story of Peter Rabbit. The owners of the publishing house give the book to their youngest brother, Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor) to guide through the publishing process. They fully expect the book to fail, but had promised to allow him to help. As Beatrix and Norman take on what becomes a wildly successful franchise of books, the two fall in love and must navigate the difficulties associated with a stringent class system. While the last bit of the movie focuses on Beatrix’ natural conservation efforts, it never strays from the heart of what made Potter so well known, and that was her incredible imagination and ability to breath life into it.

 

Beatrix Potter is an absolutely fascinating individual. Just reading through the wikipedia page on her is entertaining and points out that, while ambitious, this movie didn’t give her story the justice it deserved. Now you can’t expect an entire autobiography out of a 92 minute movie, and I wouldn’t want something from this light and almost whimsical telling of her life. What I would have liked, however, was for her not to be made out to be absolutely insane. She treated her drawings and paintings as her friends in the film, something she didn’t do in real life. Fine, artistic license. The truly jarring bit was when she would argue with and talk to her drawings in front of people. Renee Zellweger did a fine job portraying Potter, despite being 20 years older than the character, but when given a script that has you arguing with inanimate paper while others are around does little to cause me to sympathise with her situation. The movie, without that would have been a better film. The characters were portrayed in a believable way and were, for the most part likeable. Ewan McGregor in particular did a fantastic job as Mr. Warne. The soundtrack was appropriate and the nostalgia for those familiar with Beatrix Potter is a major draw.

 

The movie could have been better with some simple omissions. The above mentioned weirdness of having your main character argue with drawings was the biggest problem. Other minor offenses were few and far between, but there was a tendency to bring up oppressive social themes of the time and kind of just drop them. Again, I wasn’t expecting a ton from a 92 minute movie, but some follow through would have been nice. For all it’s flaws, it was enjoyable. This movie saw very little time in theaters (if any) and I stumbled across it on Amazon Prime and gave it a shot. I was glad to have done so. As a family film it’s well rounded and will potentially introduce the uninitiated to one of the greatest children’s authors of all time.

 

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a Terribly Long Name For Such A Good Movie.

howtotrainyourdragon

Animators have it rough. The amount of detail that goes into every frame of a modern animated film is astonishing, absolutely amazing. Often times that detail only exists for seconds, if that. With the misconception that animated films with low MPAA ratings are mostly for children, that level of detail can be lost. I’ll be the first to admit, I often times overlook animated films when deciding what to pay money to see in theaters. While on vacation, I went to a local discount theater and caught a showing of how To Train Your Dragon 2 and coincidentally watched one of my favorite movies of the year.

 

I need to rewatch How To Train your Dragon because when I rented it I wasn’t blown away. I know this franchise is loved by many, and it’s even revered above certain Pixar offerings. It was fun, but something that I was ok just watching once and calling it good. Not so with the sequel. How To Train Your Dragon 2 shows the inhabitants of Berk in a whole new light. Their entire society now revolves around dragons rather than fears them. Hiccup is reluctantly being primed to take over responsibility as the new chieftain, when he discovers a group of dragon catchers that are supplying a mad man with forces for his army of dragons that will be used as weapons to conquer the world. You can guess what the remainder of the film is about from there.

 

First off, the movie looks incredible. I don’t think I’ve had a movie appeal to my primal sense of adventure this way in years. The scenes of Toothless and hiccup flying over pristine landscapes, crystal oceans and through open sky were all it took to get me caught up in the movie. Add to that a heavy dose of accurate emotional weight and a hefty dose of dragons and you’ve got HTTYD2. Everything about the movie looked like familiar in the sense that we’ve been seeing dragons on film for decades, but it built on the uniqueness of the first film in just how different someone could interpret the beasts. It was fun just seeing how many variations of the fire breathing reptiles the animators could present. The environment only added to the aesthetic appeal and sense of adventure. Berk is a fairly wild city, but it pales in comparison to the harshness beyond it’s borders.

 

While a movie can be pretty to look at, if it falls flat it the story telling or in the character department then you’ve got a major problem. Fortunately this was not the case. Dreamworks hit a homerun with how they advanced their characters. We’re not dealing with the same set of problems or issues already dealt with in the first film, we’re dealing with new challenges, harder ones that carry more consequences and change the franchise in bolder ways than I anticipated. It was more than I had anticipated, and I found myself far more emotionally involved with the humans and dragons alike.


How To Train Your Dragon 2 manages to take the audience on a ride to another world filled with adventure, danger and unexpected beauty. The characters are flawed and believable, it packs an emotional wallop while still being appropriate and entertaining for a young audience. Despite the many offerings this year, I would rank this among the top in terms of just sheer fun adventure. Also, Toothless is still adorable.

 

JUMPJUMPJUMPJUMP with Speed Racer

 speed_racer

Adaptations are a funny business. Taking an original artifact, something that’s well loved and already has a fan base and then tweaking it in a way that makes it appeal to a broader audience. Too often the resulting re-translation will alienate those that love the original most. The is an almost indistinguishable line for those running the film industry, a line between a great adaptation and a cold dead husk of a what used to be beloved idea. Adaptations from animation to live action can be particularly difficult and are just terrible when done poorly; as was the case with The Last Air Bender. The difficulty is that you’re changing from a medium that doesn’t have to share the same physics or even social norms as real life and your trying to interpret it in a much harder lined reality. The beauty of Speed Racer is that it doesn’t try to be a live action movie, it’s true to the source, and, consequently, stars a cast made up of flesh and blood. I had the pleasure of re-watching this movie again, after reading Ryan Partlow’s review.

Speed Racer takes it’s story and characters from the 1960s anime of the same name. The story centers around the Racer family and their insatiable thirst for racing automobiles. Now, this is far closer to MarioKart than NASCAR, as far as automobile racing goes. When the Racer’s son, Speed, is given a chance to race under the banner of the mega corporation Royalton Industries he must decide weather to continue racing solely for his father’s small auto shop, or take it to the next level. When he learns the dirty secret of the racing industry, Speed is thrown into a highly stylized duel to the death on a number of eye popping racetracks.

There aren’t many movies out there that stick so close to their animated source materiel. The cartoon that this is based on had lots of races, lots of action and some goofy characters. This film has all of those, and rather than try to take a simple concept and “drama it up” for a live action release, it gives us what we least expect: a live action cartoon. The story is interesting, and it serves it’s purpose of propelling the hero into life threatening, breath taking races. Everything about this movie oozes classic anime tropes, from the dramatic hand motions to the bright colors of the surroundings. This movie is nothing if it isn’t vibrant. After watching this movie I felt like my eyes were restricting me from absorbing the colors that were bursting out of my TV. I had to mentally change the lense that I was watching the movie with. Looking at it as a cartoon made it far more enjoyable than trying to rationalize it as a live action movie.

While the film looked and sounded fantastic (something the Wachowskis are very good at) the editing of the film managed to keep the pace of the movie soaring, even with a longer than expected run time. The climax of the movie in particular was absolutely thrilling. It simultaneously pulled the the emotional strings of the story, and showed the end of the biggest race in the movie in such a flawless way that it was easily the best scene in the movie.

With a superb cast that managed to pull off a cartoon persona, good direction and of course the brightest visuals legally allowed on a screen (that last one is probably not true), the Wachowskis manage to give their full effort to something that a small group held dear, in an effort to introduce it to a larger group. And man, what a ride.

I don’t thinkg it’s going to happen; Waking Ned Devine

Waking-Ned-Devine

Cosmic irony is a very important comedic element in regards to film. One can’t help but laugh, despite how painful it may be to a character when something good is expected and something bad is given. For the most part, comedy relies on reversals of expectations. For instance, what would think that your entire life would just be starting had you won the lottery. The possibilities are completely endless, you’ve got a fortune at your hands and no one to tell you how to spend it. So, it would be truly ironic if, after having played the lottery your whole life, you died from the shock of finally winning it. And so goes the story of Waking Ned Divine.

In the small Irish town of Tully More there resides only 52 people. It’s a close knit community consisting of mostly older folk. Some of the residents play the lottery and dream of the riches it could bring them, among these are Jack O’Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly) two lifelong friends that make it their business to find who in the town was the sole winner of the last lottery. The news papers have announced that the winner comes from Tully More, but none of the residence fess up. It isn’t until Jack makes a house call to his last suspect that he realizes the winner, one Ned Devine, has passed away from the shock of victory. The rest of the movie the two friends come up attempt to claim the prize money, fooling the representative from the National Lottery Association, a feat that will take the cooperation of all of Tully More.

Ned Devine is similar to the town of Tully More, in that it is quaint, kind and darkly humorous. Death is a strong theme in this film, obviously, but it’s displayed in a way, not lightly, but unflinching. We all die, there is no backing away from that fact, and the residents of Tully More make the best of a bad situation, which sometimes results in funny, albeit morbid situations. For instance, Jack and Michael attempt to change the expression on poor deceased Ned’s face, and in doing so knock out his dentures and are forced to comically put them back in. The characters are the backbone of the story. Within the small confines of the town are numerous stories, a few of which are explored in depth. Life, love and death fill the screen for a genuinely feel good movie with plenty of charm. The cast is superb, particularly the two old friends, they completely encompass the roles in a seamless transition from actor to character.

I had heard of Waking Ned Devine but had never taken the time to sit down and watch it. For whatever reason, I am often times reluctant to watch movies with small stories and small characters. The events are not world altering, they affect only a small group of people in Ireland. It’s not necessarily exciting or thrilling, but it is genuine and heart warming. I make the mistake of assuming something with a small story will have a small heart, whereas this is showed me quite the opposite.

I think I’ll Cry Myself To Sleep Now: The Little Match Girl

The Little Match Girl

I recently acquired the Blu-Ray version of The Little Mermaid for my Birthday. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, it is one of my absolute favorite animated films, so naturally I watched a bunch of special features. These features included a number of documentaries, but also an animated short that I had all but forgotten about. The Little Match Girl was included on the DVD release of The Little Mermaid and was found after going through a number of sub menus. Hans Christian Andersen is known for having a number of fairy tales that have less than chipper endings (including the original Little Mermaid story) and this was no exception. The animated version differs from Andersen’s original, but still manages to retain most of the poignancy.

The story is both simple and sad. Using no dialogue, we’re introduced to a young girl in late 1800s Russia. The weather is cold and snowy, it’s she attempts to sell matches to anyone that would buy them. As she tries various methods, she ends her day with just as many matches as she started. As night begins to fall the temperature gets colder and she hesitates to use her matches to keep her warm. She hesitatingly does so and with the warmth stemming from her matches also comes visions of family and food. As she strikes the matches a world of hope erupts before her very eyes.

Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major manages to be the only sound needed to emotionally drive the story forward. It’s beautifully sad and simultaneously hopeful. The animation looks very similar to Mulan and manages to carry the heavy tone of the movie. Nominated for the 2006 Best animated short; The Little Match Girl is a beautiful short that was originally intended for another Fantasia movie that never was. If you have either the DVD or Blu-Ray for The Little Mermaid it is absolutely worth your time to click through a few menus to find.

Revisiting the Patriarch: The Muppet Movie

 muppetmovie

The Muppet empire was created by a group of incredibly ambitious dreamers that strove to perfect the art of puppeteering, making it something far more than an easy, cheap go-to children’s entertainment option. Jim Henson, known for being an avid perfectionist, was the mastermind behind the ordeal, and it’s thanks to him that some of my all time favorite movies have been made. The Muppets themselves have had a fantastic career in the film industry over the past few decades, most recently with their comeback hit The Muppets. The Muppets was a fun and lovingly crafted piece of work that pays tribute to the origins of the group, but it lacked two major components that can never truly be replaced; Frank Oz and Jim Henson.

The Muppet Movie was the beginning of the road for the motley crew of fabric puppets. Like quite a few movies I’ve watched recently, the overall tone is very self-aware. We quickly realize that we, the audience, are watching the screening of a film that tells the story of how the Muppets ended up in Hollywood (approximately). We’re introduced to Kermit as he sings and plays his banjo in the swamp. He’s accidentally discovered by a lost Hollywood agent who convinces him to audition for a movie role. Kermit then embarks on a cross-country adventure that gives a back story to the majority of the cast of the much beloved Muppet Show. Although filled to the brim with musical numbers and cameos, the movie really shined in it’s masterful use of the puppets that run the show.

As I mentioned before, Jim Henson was a perfectionist. He had a vision and he wanted to make sure that his vision was accomplished exactly as his mind saw it. So, when we watch the opening musical number that shows Kermit sitting on a log in a swamp playing his banjo and singing we think very little of what it took to accomplish a feat like that at the time. In truth, the scene took five days to film. Jim Henson was submerged under the water in a small metal container with an air hose and a monitor so he could watch his actions with the puppet. While watching it today may not have the same aw-inspiring effect he originally intended, this was the first time a hand puppet had performed on screen with its entire body showing. The intention of the film, aside from making people smile with fun music bits, corny puns and tons of guest appearances, was to wow the audience with what could be done with puppets. Little things were huge successes, particularly the scene where Kermit rides his bike down the street. It’s not a close up shot, it’s not cutting off his legs with the shot, it’s showing him riding down the street in full view. The ingenuity and creativity of Jim Henson is seen in full force in their first ever feature film.

Some might argue with my opinion that the pacing of the film is a bit slow thanks mostly to some less that incredible songs. Visually and technically it is a masterpiece, and most of the music in the movie is fun and engaging in the way it draws the audience closer to the story and the characters. However, some of the songs seemed a little out of place an unnecessary, proving to detract from the overall pace of the movie. It’s a very small gripe in comparison to the whole. The Muppet Movie has, and always will be able to impress me. It’s the original, the beginning to one of the most beloved media empires in our history, an empire headed up by a felt frog.