Tag: time travel

Film Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

When I was young, between daily corrals of mammoths and making-fire-with-rocks lessons, my mother introduced me to The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. As amused as I was by the antics of the moose & squirrel, the segments that stuck with me the most would have to be Peabody’s Improbable History. I can’t recall exactly, but I think I was introduced to the singular genius dog Mr. Peabody, and his boy Sherman, long before I read The Time Machine or saw my first episode of Doctor Who. It’s entirely possible that these short tales of historical fiction and education were my first exposure to time travel. Many years and several stories later, Dreamworks has set about the task of bringing Mr. Peabody & Sherman forward to our time, before sending them back to the past on more adventures of a modern audience.

Courtesy DreamWorks Animation

The story goes that Mr. Peabody was born in a pound, like many dogs, but had a hard time finding a home. Apparently people don’t like having a dog that talks back, especially about things like particle physics and differential calculus. But rather than let such things get him down, this extraordinary canine devoted himself to intellectual and physical perfection, eventually becoming such a player on the world stage that, instead of a boy adopting him, he instead adopts a boy. To educate the orphan, named Sherman, Peabody invents a machine he dubs the WABAC (pronounced ‘Wayback’) to introduce his boy to historical periods in the past and the figures prominent in them. But when Sherman tries to go to public school, things go awry, and Peabody must show that his home is exemplary, even as Sherman seeks to use the machine to impress a fellow student.

There were a lot of fears that the creators of Mr. Peabody & Sherman would miss the point of the original animation. This is a fear founded in some of the frankly deplorable adaptations of the works of Doctor Seuss and other franchises of yesteryear. Thankfully, despite what seems to be at first a purely aesthetic connection to the source material, within the first few minutes of the film’s opening it’s clear that the writers and animators did more than glance at a few pictures from the original show.

Courtesy DreamWorks Animation
There are some great gags and visuals here.

Not long after the movie opens, the first trip back in time happens, and it easily could have been lifted from the old show. While the look and feel of things has gotten an update, the ‘DNA’ of the core concept is very much intact. Peabody and Sherman learn about where they are and who they’re around, the situation escalates, hijinks occur, and Peabody cracks at least one pun. Even after that, the movie has a consistent tone. Peabody is well-meaning but high-minded, Sherman isn’t the best student in the world even if he is good-natured, and the two of them really do need and compliment one another. What’s interesting is that around the usual space-time shenanigans, we get to see how the world reacts to Peabody. It’s cute, to be sure, and it does feel loyal to the tone of the original shorts.

There’s also plenty of slapstick as our heroes stumble across historical figures doing what made them famous. While Mr. Peabody & Sherman does not fall into the trap of repeating the same gag over and over again for its running time, it does seem that the slapstick outweighs the puns and ‘dad jokes’. It’s definitely helpful to keep the attention of the kids, but it does take something away from the core concept and the interplay of the characters. The gags are funny in the moment, but in retrospect there might have been time for another historical stop if some of the antics had been cut. Then again, the third act of the movie kicks off with a very interesting take on the nature of time travel paradoxes, which I couldn’t help but appreciate.

Courtesy DreamWorks Animation
The relationship is very cute, organic, and endearing.

This is a film that definitely relies on the chemistry between the leads, rather than leaning entirely on its jokes or conceits. In addition to their arch characterizations, the interplay between Mr. Peabody and Sherman is geared in such a way that both characters are equally sympathetic and equally central. Mr. Peabody’s dilemma with Sherman is born out of genuine affection, even if he can’t always fully articulate it, and Sherman’s actions are framed in that same affection being reciprocated, even if the boy doesn’t think his plans all the way through. This relationship feels organic and natural, a feeling backed up by excellent voice work and animation that preserves the general tone of the original material but is most definitely modern and geared towards making use of the overabundance of 3-D.

It’s hard to come away from Mr. Peabody & Sherman and not feel a sense of satisfaction. While it lacks the seemingly boundless energy of The LEGO Movie, and the true emotional punch and poignancy of WALL-E or Up, the film is an utter and unquestionable success in how it modernizes the cartoon shorts on which it’s based. It can be difficult to simultaneously educate and entertain, and while the education merit of the film is somewhat pushed aside by the time the third act begins, the hope seems to be that kids will at least ask questions and hit up Wikipedia after they see the movie. The writing’s smart, the characters are very well presented, the action is slick and inventive and doesn’t feel repetitious, and there are a few gags and jokes clearly aimed at older audience members that don’t feel pandering or out of place. Its tone is consistent and light, it honors and exalts its heritage, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Overall, I’d recommend Mr. Peabody & Sherman, especially if you were a fan of the cartoon growing up. It’s nice to know that not all reworked concepts in family entertainment are going to the dogs.

Courtesy DreamWorks Animation

Flash Fiction: The Displaced Journal

Courtesy retrothing.typepad.com

This week, Chuck invited folks like me to write on one of my favorite sci-fi subjects: time travel.

The office was everything one could want from upper-crust living. He sat behind a wide desk as he monitored the incoming streams of data from various sources on the screen. That was really a secondary concern, however. Mostly his attention was on the antique clock on his desk.

He turned the key in the top drawer of the desk, opened it, and pulled out the journal within. It was bound in leather, the pages yellowing at the edges, and filled the office with a musty, ancient smell. And yet, for its obvious age, it was amazingly well preserved. He opened it to the page marked with a dark ribbon, produced a fountain pen, and wrote down the current date and time. He recorded his current savings account information, the name he’d taken, the degree he’d pursued, and the occupation he used. Finally, after a moment’s pause, he wrote a single name.

The same name appeared on his planner for a meeting in twenty minutes.

He closed the journal and put it in a static-free bag designed for long-term preservation. Any contents of the bag were extremely resilient against the passage of time. Already, he was thinking of the seemingly abandoned tower in England’s countryside, a crumbling edifice of stone along the Prime Meridian, once used as an observatory by druids. They’d known of the place’s power, even if they never fully utilized it.

The journal spoke of the first trip to the tower. In fact, it contained a few entries from before the tower had been built. Transportation was a great deal easier now than it had been back then. Some of the entries in the journal were simple, one-line mentions of a name and a destination. He got a chill when he thought of some of those sojourns. But the alternative was far more horrifying to contemplate.

He put the journal aside and consulted his map of the building again. After the meeting he would leave the room, walk briskly (but not too quickly) down the hall, take the stairs down, hail a cab, and be on a plane to England inside of an hour. A passport in one of the previous names he’d used had been renewed and would allow him to effectively disappear. It was a solid plan, and he had confidence in it, but he looked at the journal again and felt a stab of fear.

Nobody who found it would understand. It would seem like madness. The significance of the names within would be baffling and obfuscatory. Why weren’t the names of anyone famous in there? They wouldn’t know. But he’d learned all too well that it was those who stayed out of the limelight who shaped the course of the future.

Before destinations, account numbers, or any other information, the journal always contained a statement on how things were at home. The world’s population, the state of its powers, how close things were to collapse, the amount of pollution in the sky. With every new entry, things got a little better. The future was improving, bit by bit. He was making it happen.

And he would continue to do so.

He knew that, no matter what, in – what, a hundred and fifty years, now? – he and his colleagues would find the journal, develop the technology described within, and find the next focal point of change in the world. Political movements, men poised to engineer disaster, overzealous crusades… it was difficult, at times, to determine exactly when and whom to target. And once the time and place and target were chosen, there was no going back.

The man now being shown to the conference room had been married twice, supported one child from a previous marriage, and lived with his current wife and three other children. He knew that sympathy for this one man and his family meant the doom of billions. The tragedies in his past needed to become the formless, unwritten future. He thought of the journal, of the atrocities mentioned that never came to pass because of him.

Or rather, because of where and when he’d decided to go, or would decide to go, in a hundred and fifty years.

He took some painkillers. This always made his head hurt. He focused on the mission, his escape plan. He opened the briefcase, putting the journal next to the stacks of cash he’d collected over the past two months. The savings account that would survive was three names away. Static-free bags in the tower had several lives’ identification, an easy matter to renew. He closed the briefcase, stood, and walked towards the conference room.

Waiting for him was someone concerned solely with profits and income. The meeting was supposed to be about stocks and commodity futures. After this, the profiteer would use his money to fuel a political campaign based on fear-mongering and blatant disregard for the middle class, which would lead to a world-wide economic collapse as the underclasses imploded and the upper class fell, having nobody to support them.

He shook the profiteer’s hand, waited for him to sit, and opened his briefcase.

He produced the pistol without saying a word. The profiteer raised his hands in surrender. He was unarmed. He was about to say something.

The silencer muffled the gunshot. And the Mozambique Drill that followed.

His ears ringing, he placed the handgun beside the body. He closed his briefcase, turned away from the scene, and left the room.

He had taken the stairs many nights before, timing himself with each run. He rounded the corner at the base of the stairs to find the profiteer had brought his own security. He turned to run, hearing the gunshots but not really feeling them until he was a block away.

As he fell, he noticed movement by his side, someone taking the briefcase. He looked up. The figure drew a pistol, fired back at the security, and looked down.

He was looking at his own face.

…At least the journal’s safe…

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