DIR: Rob Minkoff • WRI: Craig Wright • PRO: Denise Nolan Cascino, Alex Schwartz • ED: Tom Finan • MUS: Danny Elfman • DES: David James • CAST: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Allison Janney, Stanley Tucci, Lake Bell, Patrick Warburton, Mel Brooks
STOP. DO NOT CLICK OFF THIS PAGE…
I’m not one for stereotyping or profiling but I have a sense of the average Film Ireland reader. And I’m sensing kids’ animations get short-shift from you lovers of interminable European arthouse dirges and avid fans of restored silent black and white Eskimo epics from 1936.
What can I do to change your collective mindset? All I can say is that if you pass over this film with your snooty cineaste nose held aloft, then you are potentially missing one of the early unexpected highlights of 2014. (If you have a snotty cineaste nose – go see a doctor. That’s a whole other condition). So do you hate enjoying yourself? Do you hate laughter? Do you hate children?
If you’re still here, you’ll be happy to hear that I’m not exaggerating. This is a little gem of an animation bristling with verve, imagination and genuine warmth. I’m blissfully ignorant of the original TV show (bar a tangential reference in a Simpsons time travel episode) but I instinctively doubt it was as subversive and sharp as this modern re-imagining.
The film centres on and celebrates the relationship between a super-smart canine Mr Peabody and his adopted human boy Sherman. Even in an animated fictional world, their pure and mutual affection is viewed with incredulity and suspicion. Sherman becomes self conscious about having a dog as a dad when he starts a new school. However he is proud enough of his guardian’s inventions to try and impress a classmate by showing her a top-secret time travel machine. When they start to zip and rip through the fabric of history, their only option is to confide in Mr Peabody and trust that his genius brain can re-impose order on the past.
Naturally this playful confection has a zany take on history from Troy to the French Revolution but by jingo – there’s a subtle yet substantial educational pill inside this candyfloss entertainment. Yet, the film is never less than an irreverent and rollicking adventure. Summed up by the duo developing a habit of being ejected from any animal shaped construct whether Sphinx or Trojan horse by the rear exit – if you get my drift. And it’s hilarious.
On paper, the character of the know-it-all Mr Peabody could easily be a bore or just plain annoying. However he is brilliantly personified by the dulcet tones of Ty Burrell (who is equally impressive as the effete father Phil Dunphy in TV’s Modern Family). As well as undercutting his boffin status with practical shortcomings and occasional over-confidence, Burrell imbues the dog with palpable insecurities. The stiff upper lip of the character is adroitly established with the clever deployment of a discernible trace of an English accent in the vocal performance. On the back of this wonderful work, I envisage Burrell being a stalwart on the voiceover scene for the foreseeable future.
Much like veteran vocal artist Patrick Warburton who is hysterical in the Troy sequence as an empty headed but overly emotive Agamemnon. That entire section has me in stitches from the moment the occupiers of the main Trojan horse are fooled into bringing a much smaller wooden horse into their covert hiding place. Again, the film operates superbly but differently for kids and adults. The comedic peak of the film’s ambitious climax is a supremely naughty reference that kids will be blissfully oblivious of.
And though rampant incessant entertainment would have been reward enough, the film even has an emotional arc that resonates without being cloying or overly saccharine. The writer Craig Wright must be singled out even in this most collaborative art form. His script zings and fizzes with giddy creativity but in fairness, the visuals are exceptional too.
Even the 3-D is expertly and continually utilised to accentuate the storytelling. And that really is rare. Most 3-D in this field focuses on the opening sequence and perhaps is again concentrated on during the closing stretch. An entire raft of animated films has displayed this token approach to 3D but this film distinguishes itself by never forgetting about the extra dimension. From sword fights to snake fangs or angles that emphasise the height and depth of an Egyptian tomb, the effect is, for once, mesmerizing.
Kids of a certain age love watching favourite films over and over again. This title will instantly enter that firmament. Personally, I could have easily sat through it a second time just after the first screening had concluded. When’s the last time that happened in the cinema?
G (See IFCO for details)
Mr Peabody and Sherman is released on 7th February 2014