Mr. Peabody and Sherman
Out of the Furnace
Rated : R
This week I saw two very different films and, while they were of approximately the same level of quality, they are for vastly different audiences. It should go without saying that parents will want to take their kids to the one with the cartoon dog voiced by “Modern Family’s” Phil Dunphy as opposed to the one where Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson play mumbling misanthropes in the backwoods of the Rust Belt.
I remember watching “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” as a kid on “Rocky and Bullwinkle” reruns, although I don’t think it was called that. In fact, the duo has been around so long that my parents could also have watched them as children, taking delight in their screwball trips through time via the WABAC machine. I remembered that Mr. Peabody was super-smart, that he was in charge, and that he was a dog. Sherman, as I recall, was a bit of dork and sounded a lot like Rocky the Squirrel. What I don’t remember was any kind of familial relationship between the two, although the 2014 big-budget 3-D animated adventure sure does. Apparently Mr. Peabody, the world’s most accomplished being, was lonely and decided to adopt a baby. After gaining specific permission from the courts to do so, Peabody takes legal parental custody of Sherman, raising him as his own, with a little help from historic figures of the distant past. While the five minute cartoon segments focused mainly on the adventure followed by a not-so-clever pun, this current incarnation is all about the family stuff, which is frankly, slightly off-putting. Peabody, upon dropping Sherman off at school for the first time, is nervous, understandably, it turns out because his precious boy winds up biting a bully who was taunting him in the lunch room. As a solution, Peabody invites the bully and her parents (the bully in question is a pretty blond girl named Penny – anyone want to take odds on whether Sherman is going to have his first crush?) home to supper to work it all out. Predictably, Sherman and Penny wind up in the WABAC machine and all heck breaks loose.
At first, I was fairly annoyed at the number of dumb, ever-so-gently crude jokes there were in the film. The material is certainly not offensive, just lowest common denominator stuff. Gradually, however, the story picks up steam and by the end things get both fun and pretty sweet. The movie moves at a break-neck pace, perhaps to satisfy a generation children being brought up on “Phineas and Ferb,” but there are some genuinely enjoyable moments. Ty Burrell, as Peabody, is nicely witty and urbane, although he can’t do much beyond an impersonation of the original Peabody from the ‘50s. Stephen Colbert is a welcome addition as Penny’s father, as is Patrick Warburton as a dimwitted Agamemnon from the Battle of Troy. Unfortunately, as many of the jokes fall flat as land, and many of the plot twists, including one involving Child Protective Services, seem needlessly flamboyant. By the time the credits rolled, I had bought in, but it took a while to get there. The movie is a fine little diversion, but really sets itself up for failure when it touts both “How to Train Your Dragon,” and “The Lion King,” among the pedigree of its creators. There is nothing classic about “Mr. Peabody,” and not even a trip back in the WABAC can change that. Grade: B-
“Out of the Furnace,” though slightly better as a whole, also suffers somewhat in comparison to its predecessor. Touted as the next major project from “Crazy Heart” director Scott Cooper, this tale of small town tragedy and justice can’t come close to living up to the beauty and heart of that previous film. That doesn’t make it bad, but it’s just not great either. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are two brothers in the rural Northeast – the older, Russell, working quietly at the steel mill while younger brother Rodney flounders at home while in between tours to Iraq. Russell has a handle on life, taking care of his ailing father and keeping his brother out of trouble, all the while growing closer to family and fatherhood with his beautiful girlfriend Lena, played by Zoe Saldana. But, when a tragic accident puts him out of commission for an extended time, life spins out of control. Lena leaves and takes up with a local law enforcement officer played by Forrest Whitaker, and Rodney, under the reluctant tutelage of small-time crime boss John Petty, takes a gig bare knuckle fighting for the dangerous Harlan DeGroat, played by Woody Harrelson. As you can imagine, things go from bad to worse.
Most of the pieces of “Furnace” are top notch. The acting, though certainly minimalist, is well done, especially by Harrelson and Affleck. Christian Bale, in trying to play “real” barely says anything at all, but it works. It was also nice to see Willem Dafoe in a completely non-disturbing role, for once, as Petty. The problem is that the movie fails to really grab the audience. Everything is so muted, from the performances to the music, that even when the stakes are rising, the tension level seems to stay the same. In the end, you’re left with the feeling that you’ve just watched two hours of backwoods lowlifes butting up against each other and nothing ever really comes of it. It’s not that nothing happens – plenty does, but the stakes feel low and there is little consequence to it all. The performances are impressive in a non-impressive way. Unfortunately, the movie only seems impressive until you realize it isn’t.
“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is rated PG for mild crude humor and cartoon action. “Out of the Furnace” is rated R for language and strong violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.