Go WABAC with Mr. Peabody. This old cartoon dog learns some new tricks for 2014 film
By Peter Covino
I’ve always had a sentimental soft spot for that classic cartoon, Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
Who couldn’t love a cartoon where the dog is the master and the boy is his pupil? And just like in Indiana Jones, I even named my dog, Chester “Peabody”.
Fortunately, Dreamworks and all else involved mostly pay a fitting tribute to this animation (Peabody’s Improbable History) that goes back to the days of Rocky and Bullwinkle and friends. Of course it is all CGI, which does sort of kill that nostalgic feel.
All of the elements are here though, and more. We get a flashback and just how the genius dog Mr. Peabody got his start (I don’t know if that ever happened in the cartoons) and how a dog legally adopted a boy.
And you can’t have Peabody & Sherman without the WABAC machine (as a kid, I always thought that was Way Back, who knew?), the time machine that takes our pair of heroes back in time. There was always limited educational value in the twosome’s time excursions as they visited the likes of everyone from Annie Oakley to Helen Keller. It was mostly for laughs and always ended with some terrible pun.
Most of that remains intact here as well, but the WABAC machine is much more 21st century and the duo make use of wormholes and the like, things that early 1960s audience knew nothing about. The “getting there” time-wise does make good use of 3D technology, if you happen to see that version of the film.
Initially, dog and boy take a trip back the to time of Marie Antoinette, where she eats plenty of cake and sets off a revolution.
But back in present time, Sherman has school problems in the way of girl named Penny, who bullies him, and just like any son of a dog would do after enough tormenting, he bites her.
That bite leads to all sorts of problems, including a joyride to the time of the pharaohs in Egypt, which causes a major time warp and soon Penny, Sherman and Peabody are dealing with everyone from Abraham Lincoln and the men of Troy to Mona Lisa and Leonardo da Vinci in present time.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a pleasant trip back in time, the comedy is broad enough to appeal to both adults and kids, and there are some lessons to be learned, without getting preachy.
The excellent CGI is accompanied by some very good vocal talent including Ty Burrell as Mr. Peabody and Allison Janney as a nightmare social worker.
Critics Rating B-
Let’s load up the WABAC machine and look at some of the DVDs available this week. My personal favorite “new discovery” is Dear Heart (1964), a mostly forgotten film that is probably best remembered for its Oscar nominated best song, also titled “Dear Heart.”
Similar in feel to Sunday in New York, Barefoot in the Park, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and other 1960s era New York-based films, it’s the tale of two very different people (Geraldine Page, Glenn Ford) who keep having encounters during the postmasters convention in the big city.
Page plays Evie Jackson, a middle-aged woman who makes friends easily, but is still lonely. Ford is Harry, a womanizer, who is engaged (to Angela Lansbury), but obviously has something missing in his life.
The city may be a big place, but Harry and Evie keep bumping into each other, sharing experiences, and finally realize they love each other.
Dear Heart is one of those breezy, nostalgic romps, with the emphasis on comedy rather than drama, and it is a time capsule at the way we were, or Hollywood thought we were, in New York City in the 1960s.
The film is available for online order only via the Warner Archive Collection (www.warnerarchive.com).
There is more WABAC nostalgia in I”ll See You in My Dreams (1952), a near perfect musical, for people who like musicals.
Hollywood was big on musical movie biographies way back when, and I’ll See You in My Dreams with Doris Day and Danny Thomas ranks with the best. Who knows about its accuracy, but this is the tale of lyricist Gus Kahn, who wrote many of the popular songs of his day including “Pretty Baby,” “Makin’ Whoopee” and “It Had to be You,” and his wife Grace LeBoy, who was his guiding force.
Day and Thomas are paired perfectly. Day is less “Pillow Talk” and more woman in control here and Thomas is basically the same cigar smoking character he played on TV for years in his own show.
Alone and together they sing all of Kahn’s biggest hits, as they go through the ups and downs of marriage and his career.
The DVD also contains a bonus cartoon and a film short of what it means to be a director in Hollywood. Both bonus features are from the 1950s as well.
I’ll See You in My Dreams also is available online only from the Warner Archive Collection.
Also new from the Warner Collection is the HBO movie, Muhammed Ali’s Greatest Fight.
Nicely directed by Stephen Frears, the film is a combination of archive footage of Muhammed Ali during his “Cassius Clay” days and his fight before the Supreme Court as a conscientious objector of the draft during the Vietnam War.
The archive footage works really well against the performances of Christopher Plummer (as Justice John Harlan), Frank Langella (as Justice Warren Burger), Ed Begley, Jr. (as Justice Harry Blackmun), Barry Levinson (as Justice Potter Stewart) and Danny Glover (as Justice Thurgood Marshall) as they decide whether or not Ali should go to jail.
The performances are all outstanding in what feels like an inside look at the highest court in the land. It also is a time capsulre of ourselves and how we were and how we viewed upstart Ali in a very much divided America when it came to civil righs in the early 1960s.
Ali, who is seen only in actual newsreel interviews and boxing clips, proved to be far a head of his time.
The ending is no surprise, of course, but it is altogether fascinating.