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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Millennium Actress

Art and life have always imitated each other. With the rise of film this fact has become more evident than at any other point in history. People want their lives to play out like movies while film makers strive to make their movies feel more like real life. It’s a tantalizing dichotomy that will go on until humanity has ended. In Millennium Actress we are told the story of a famous actress who, in her old age, agrees to be interviewed by a documentary film maker. She tells the story of her life. What could have become a rather dry fictional dramatic film, becomes something entirely different when each scene that she describes unfolds onscreen through the various genres she has worked in. The story though simple, is sweet, enduring and very human. Although the story is simple, the way it’s portrayed is complex and often times confusing, in the same way that life is.

We are introduced to Chiyoko Fujiwara in the opening scenes of the movie through segments of the films she has been in. Two men prepare for a meeting with one of Japan’s greatest film stars, whose career has lasted 70 years. What starts as a simple enough interview, develops quickly into something very unusual. Chiyoko starts by talking about her birth and childhood, then changes gear into her career as an actress. The remainder of the film becomes one elaborate pursuit. As a teenager she briefly met a wounded young man that she aided in escaping from the authorities. In an attempt to follow him, she agrees to a star in a movie being filmed where she believes him to be. Her rise to stardom is paralleled by her constant search for the man she loves. Her pursuit is shown through a patchwork of scenes crossing nearly every genre of film.

What could have easily become a cheap novelty becomes one of the strongest aspects of this movie. Flawlessly the scenes between movies are switched crossing genres and timelines all while maintaining the continuity of Chiyokos life story. The scenes fit perfectly. Too perfectly. The movie, obviously, is not made up of actual film footage from different movies, so it doesn’t have to play by those rules. If one were to be too nit-picky, you might say that everyone of her films over a 70 year period all had the same story; which would be true in a sense. In this movie art and life don’t just imitate each other, they are the same thing. Despite the fact that the movie is animated, we’re treated to a very high level of dramatic respect, we can relate to the characters, the losses, the emotions, the fears, the love; this is a human being, not just a beautifully animated character.

Satoshi Kon Directed and animated Millennium Actress and is therefore responsible for not only a beautiful cartoon, but an eclectic but cohesive film that stands as one of the most unique creations in the industry (though not nearly as confusing or unique as his later film Paprika which was on a whole other level). This movie can certainly be confusing sometimes, especially if you have a hard time following a single story over multiple times and genres; most of which are allegories for the actual story. Regardless, it’s a fantastic film that’s very ambitious.