Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mr. Peabody and Sherman, a loving remake of the classic TV series from Rob Minkoff

The 1959 cartoon series Mr. Peabody and Sherman was radically different for its time.  A dog and a boy live in what we would call today a mixed family.  There was much to set the series apart, like their travels through history with their time machine.  Director, Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) loved the show as a youngster and has now completed a labor of love, a feature film version.  There are plenty of opportunities to learn about history but it’s still about fun.  Kids will relate to flying in Leonardo Da Vinci’s flying machine while adults might get a kick watching Clinton hitting on Mona Lisa.  It’s all there.  M&C spoke with Minkoff in Toronto.
                                           Sherman, Cleopatra and Mr. Peabody                  

There’s so much fun in Mr. Peabody and Sherman but you also dare to teach history.
We want to make sure it’s not uncool!  That’s important. We struggled with that from the beginning.  I loved Peabody for that reason to meet all these crazy people.  When you meet them when you’re a kid you’re interested in history and it can become a favourite subject.  People have this Pavlovian reaction to History because it sounds like not fun.  It’s been beaten out of them, all facts and names and there’s so much of it.  But it’s dry and scientific and data and not stories and interesting.  The difference is that when you understand history is a story to be told and worth hearing and then suddenly it’s not boring, it’s alive and interesting.  The unintended consequence of this movie is that it might expose kids to something they don’t know about and get interested. For me, I remember being exposed to a lot of stuff from cartoons. Thanks to Bugs Bunny I heard opera for the first time in What’s Opera, Doc?  He sings Wagner.  Huh.  This great thing that if you don’t talk down to kids, let them look it up and learn.  That was true of the original. The writing was super smart and made reference to things that were pretty arcane and kids didn’t necessarily get it.  They didn't care.  It wasn’t really for the kids, it was for everybody.
                                                         In the WABAC 
Mr. Peabody and Sherman, a dog and a boy, are father and son.  It actually speaks to diversity in our culture. This is what you can have, a mixed family.
That was part and parcel of making it a modern movie, not really changing it just looking at it from today, how many people react fifty years ago when it was a different world. First modern family, dog adopts a boy, many people aren’t aware that the in the originals, the first show he adopted Sherman and a lawyer says it wasn’t right for a dog to adopt a boy.  The Judge says “If a boy can adopt a dog, I see no reason why a dog cannot adopt a boy”.  We kept that because it was absolutely original but it takes on a new context.
                                                           Father and Son           

Mr. Peabody has trouble saying I love you, which hurts Sherman’s feelings.  Why is that?
It’s the idea of Mr. Peabody being so smart and being simply out of touch with his feelings. There isn’t a doubt that Mr. Peabody loved Sherman, which goes without saying, but expressing it is hard because he doesn’t know how to do it.  It’s easier for him to speak in theories and practical applications of scientific principles.
                                               Da Vinci's Flying Machine           

Speaking of science, explaining his graphs might encourage a child to learn science, so it can be inspirational and aspirational.
That was my impression of Mr. Peabody when I was growing up.  He seemed to know everything that Sherman didn’t know so I was interested in the show because of what Mr. Peabody knew and I was curious about that. What better sort of person to lead you through history than a guy like Mr. Peabody?
                                                Ty Burrell, Mac Charles and Rob Minkoff

Embarking on an animated film is a long term commitment.  You have to really want to do it.
I didn’t think it would take twelve years but it did.  From the first conversation about it, 12 Years a Slave, that’s me.  Movies are hard to make and to get made. I brought it to Dreamworks in 2005 and worked on it for years and we had different ideas and different approaches.  I gave up hope but I got a call in 2011 form the studio and they said “We’re ready to go!”    I’d made other films as a director you develop movies, some go and some don’t go and you never know. It’s a mystery to me slightly. Now we’re here.  It always seemed like a good idea to make the movie.


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