It was just one of those weird, cosmic coincidences that Mr. Peabody and Sherman hit the big screen at just the moment when the Netflix DVD rental of Looper appeared in my mailbox. Cool! Two time travel movies in one day!
But wait. Mr. Peabody and Sherman is an animated feature film based on the 1960s “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” segment about a genius time-travelling dog with a Harvard Ph.D. and his pet boy, Sherman, and their adventures travelling into the past, mostly for educational purposes. Looper, in high contrast, is the great 2012 sci-fi film about specialized hit men employed by future mobs that use time travel to send hit targets into the past for assassination. Ummmm……
This isn’t really about Looper, it’s about Mr. Peabody. There’s no way I could be considered an objective reviewer, though. I was a pretty big fan of “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” as a kid, and actually moreso a few years later, when I discovered just how sophisticated the show’s humor was. It was kid-funny and also smart-funny, especially verbally, with triple-layer puns and all – much of which I don’t remember getting as a kid. But I liked it and watched it a lot anyway, and who knows? Maybe that had something to do with the wordsmith / wise guy I turned out to be.
Directed by Rob Minkoff, the writing credits start with a nod to Jay Ward, who created the 60s TV series. The screenplay, by veteran Craig Wright, with really funny dialogue by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon , is every bit as funny as the show was. Maybe funnier. I’m a little embarrassed to say I don’t remember the last time I laughed so often and so hard in a movie. The dialogue is funny as hell, and probably would have been even without the great cast, who deliver the goods on a skewer, especially stars Ty Burrell (Peabody) and Max Charles (Sherman), with a bunch of terrific cameos including Mel Brooks (Albert Einstein), Patrick Warburton (Agamemnon), Stanley Tucci (Leonardo da Vinci), and Stephen Colbert (Paul Peterson).
Peabody is true to the original concept, but it’s also an updated mash-up of more contemporary references, including Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Wishbone, Jimmy Newtron, and (I’m told) Family Guy, Seth McFarlane’s current and long-running animated cable series that featured in a number of episodes a talking baby, a genius dog that dropped out of Brown University, and a time machine.
The movie threatens to spin wackily out of control – of course – and we get an excellent, if warp-speed, exploration of the classic time-travel conundrum, what happens when you travel to a time and place where you’re already present (no pun intended), and there are two of you in the same place at the same time? I won’t spoil it for you.
I will say that it’s precisely that conundrum, and the potential consequences, messy timelines, and the like that come with it, that also drives Looper. One of the extremely interesting things about that film is the idea that when the future mob has an issue of some kind with a particular looper, they close out his contract by grabbing the future man, 30 years older, and sending him back into the past to his 30-year younger self, to be killed. When it doesn’t go as planned, well… things get really messy. When it’s his turn, the young looper / main character, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets tangled up with his older, smarter self, “Old Joe” (Bruce Willis). One of the best scenes in the movie is when the two square off in a diner over coffee and eggs. Joe has questions, and Old Joe says, “I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.”
Anyway, that’s as good as it gets. Two – very different – time travel movies in one day.
Mr Peabody and Sherman is playing now at the Genesee Square Cinema.