Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Year 9, Day 24 - 1/24/17 - Movie #2,524

BEFORE: Allison Janney carries over from "Minions", where she was the voice of the mother in the family of bank robbers.  I like putting this one after "Minions", which was also like a little fictional trip through history, though that film skipped over quite a lot.

THE PLOT: The time-traveling adventures of an advanced canine and his adopted son, as they endeavor to fix a time rift they created.

AFTER: I'm back on time travel, I've been trying to get to this topic for a while, but I never can seem to find the time.  Ironic?  They did do a gag about time travel in "Minions", so this seems right on point.  And finally, a film that has zero connection to Donald Trump.  I know secretly some people were maybe wishing for a time-traveler from the future to appear at the inauguration and change history, but alas, it was not to be.  Maybe we all have to live through this scenario once and see how bad things become before we're allowed to change the timeline.

But time travel is a hot subject all of a sudden, at least on TV.  This season, I've been watching both "Frequency" and "Timeless", while last season I watched "12 Monkeys" and now it looks like someone's also making a show out of "Time After Time", which was a great film about H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper traveling into the present.  In films we've seen such ridiculous films as "Hot Tub Time Machine", but also "Safety Not Guaranteed", and "Project Almanac", which is still on my list of films to get to.

What does it all mean?  Why is this topic so prevalent in science-fiction.  Is it just escapism, do we want to get out of the situation we're in?  Or are we just fascinated by other times, when things were "better", or at least different?  Is there some fascination with being able to "fix" historical things that were broken, or at least make a valiant attempt to do so, and is that all just a form of wishful thinking?

In its own way, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is itself a sign of a simpler time, because the original 2-D cartoons were part of the "Rocky & Bullwinkle" show when I was a kid.  I'm not old enough to have seen them first-run, I must have watched reruns in the early 1970's, and I was probably too young to understand much about history, or get all of the jokes.  But damn, there were 91 episodes, it turns out, and I wouldn't mind watching them again as an adult to see what I missed the first time.  For example, I always thought it was called the "Wayback" machine, but it turns out the name for their time travel device was really WABAC, which is an acronym meant to look like ENIAC or UNIVAC, which were early computers of that time (late 1950's).  It didn't really stand for anything specific, probably still doesn't (but maybe it should...) it's just supposed to sound like "Wayback".  Ah, but the IMDB tells me this film used the acronym to stand for "Wavelength Acceleration Bi-Directional Asynchronous Controller", so there you go.

If you can buy the concept of a dog that's smarter than most humans, and can talk, then you're in the clear.  The original cartoon flipped this whole concept of "a boy and his dog" (like, Davey and Goliath, or Buster Brown and Tiger) by making the show about a dog and his boy.  Now, in the modern version, Mr. Peabody is not only Sherman's owner, he's his adoptive father.  Because once you allow gay marriage, I guess, you have to allow smart dogs to adopt children.  Wait, is that right?

Dreamworks bought the movie rights in 2012 to characters owned by Classic Media, and this includes Mr. Magoo, Richie Rich, Casper, Little Lulu, Underdog, and Felix the Cat, plus they're in a joint venture that could make more films with Jay Ward Productions, which covers the Bullwinkle characters and George of the Jungle.  So there's plenty of material there to make future animated films that also appeal to nostalgic parents.  If they're all produced at this level of quality, then I think everyone wins.

However, (and you knew I'd have a "however" when a story relates to time-travel, right?) like many other time-travel stories, at some point this film spirals out of control.  After we see Mr. Peabody and Sherman visit France at the time of the Revolution, and then return to the present to deal with other matters, like Sherman's first day at school, which does not go well.  Partially because Sherman knows a little TOO much about history, but he can't reveal the existence of the WABAC machine - because if humanity knew that a dog built a time machine, everyone would lose their minds and panic.

Of course this is a kid's movie, and of course I don't expect the science to be accurate in any way - but why would a black hole affect a time machine?  A black hole is a point in space, not time, right?  Ah, but the gravity of a black hole is so strong that maybe it CAN affect time, we found that out in "Interstellar", right?  But still, I wouldn't expect a kid to be up on theoretical physics like this.

Further problems are caused when Sherman goes back in time to try to undo the damage that he and his rival Penny have caused, and thus he changes the present, by arriving back before he left, and trying to get Mr. Peabody to come and help BEFORE the last time he came to help.  Which isn't possible, because if he leaves the timestream to help the second time, then he wouldn't be there to help the first time, and then the real problem wouldn't have occured.  The situation gets further complicated when future Sherman bumps into past Sherman, and that's a paradox that the continuum just can't resolve, apparently.  (Of course, since future Sherman doesn't remember the encounter that past Sherman had, the story should shut down right there, but it doesn't.)

Plus, this means that Mr. Peabody never went back to Egypt to get Penny, since future-Sherman interrupted him before present-Sherman got a chance to enlist his aid.  So therefore, she should now still be in Egypt, because nobody went back to get her.  But this seems to have been ignored, because the problem of two Peabodys and two Shermans existing at the same time seems to take precedence.

So a temporal rift is created, and it starts disgorging Trojan soldiers, Marie Antoinette and King Tut into the modern world.  The Sphinx falls from the sky, Abraham Lincoln is back, etc.  But fortunately this means that some of history's greatest minds - Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Da Vinci are on hand to come up with a solution, which even as a fan of time-travel stories, I didn't quite understand.  And if I didn't understand it, what chance does a kid have?

NITPICK POINT: As we saw in the news last week, presidential pardons are only valid when the person issuing them is still President, thus many Presidents wait until their last day in office. Even if George Washington traveled through time to the present, he could not issue one, because he's no longer the commander in chief.  Yes, I know this was a gag, but even joke plot points need to be realistic.

One thing I noticed about "Minions" was that it cast actors against their usual type, for example, Sandra Bullock has never played a villain before, and Jon Hamm, who was so great on "Mad Men" as the deadpan Don Draper, played a very lively and expressive Herb.  Tonight's animated film played it straight, and seemed to cast according to type - Ty Burrell as the suave, proper Mr. Peabody, Stephen Colbert as a smarmy father, Stanley Tucci as Da Vinci.  I don't know which method was ultimately more successful, but I bet the first was more satisfying for the actors.

Also starring the voices of Ty Burrell (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), Max Charles (last seen in "American Sniper"), Ariel Winter (last heard in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2"), Stephen Colbert (last seen in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"), Leslie Mann (last seen in "Vacation"), Stanley Tucci (last seen in "The Hoax"), Patrick Warburton (last seen in "Ted 2"), Dennis Haysbert (ditto), Steve Valentine (last seen in "The Walk"), Tom McGrath, Zach Callison, with vocal cameos from Stephen Tobolowsky (last seen in "Failure to Launch"), Mel Brooks (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, Lake Bell (last seen in "In a World...").

RATING: 6 out of 10 Einstein on the Beach cocktails (that should be a real thing...)

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