A hyper-intelligent dog adopts a little boy and discovers parenting is a tricky business in the computer-animated adventure Mr Peabody & Sherman
MR PEABODY & SHERMAN (U)
Man is a dog’s best friend in Rob Minkoff’s computer-animated time-travelling yarn based on characters created for segments in the 1960s TV series, The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show.
Mr Peabody & Sherman harnesses the latest digital trickery to propel the hyper-intelligent canine protagonist and his adopted son on a rip-roaring adventure, including pit-stops in besieged Troy, 18th century France and the Italian Renaissance.
As a potted history lesson, the film shoehorns facts and figures including the mummification rituals of King Tutankhamun (voiced by Zach Callison) between breathlessly orchestrated action set-pieces and slapstick humour.
Craig Wright’s smart script refuses to roll over for sugary sentiment, charting a less obvious route to our heartstrings as the four-legged lead character learns that when his son says, “I love you”, it’s unacceptable to respond, “I have a deep regard for you as well”.
Mr Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) is a talking dog, whose myriad achievements include a Nobel Prize, two Olympic medals and the invention of Zumba.
He has captains of industry on speed-dial but Mr Peabody’s greatest triumph is his adopted son, Sherman (Max Charles), who has nurtured a fascination with history by accompanying his father on time-travelling expeditions using the top-secret Wayback Machine.
On his first day at school, Sherman antagonises class swot Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter) and the youngsters get in a fight, which culminates in the lad biting his nemesis.
Dastardly child protective services officer Mrs Grunion (Allison Janney) threatens to take Sherman away from his father and insists on a home visit to gauge Mr Peabody’s suitability as a carer.
The plucky pooch invites Penny and her parents Paul (Stephen Colbert) and Patty (Leslie Mann) to his plush New York home in the hope of patching up the children’s differences in front of Mrs Grunion.
Instead, Sherman lets slip about the Wayback Machine to Penny and the classmates accidentally create ripples through time.
So the enterprising pooch and troublesome tykes leap back into the device to repair the temporal damage.
With limitless possibilities for sequels, Mr Peabody & Sherman maintains a pace brisk to ensure younger audiences are constantly engaged.
A prelude detailing Mr Peabody’s difficult puppy years is hysterical – he refuses to chase a stick thrown by one boy because, “You’ll just throw it again. It’s an exercise in futility”.
Mr Peabody’s groansome puns, the stock in trade of any parent, elicit a bewildered response from Sherman – “I don’t get it” – that provides the film with one of its running jokes.
Famous figures including Leonardo da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), Mona Lisa (Lake Bell) and Agamenon (Patrick Warburton) litter the haphazard narrative.
However, it’s the touching central relationship that anchors the picture and ensures Minkoff’s colour-saturated romp is a well-groomed pick of the animated litter.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (15)
Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Dallas Buyers Club is a profoundly moving biopic of a hard-drinking Texan electrician, who refused to passively accept that his HIV-positive diagnosis in the mid 1980s was a death sentence.
Instead, Ron Woodroof smuggled a cocktail of unapproved drugs into America in direct defiance of his physician, who believed clinical trials were the only way to combat the virus.
Woodroof established a club to sell medications to other HIV-positive patients but his actions drew the attention of police and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which at that time took eight to 12 years to approve a new drug.
Ron didn’t have time on his side – doctors expected him to be dead within a month – so he bent the rules to stay alive.
His inspirational crusade became a beacon of hope: Woodroof died on September 12, 1992, several years after he was diagnosed with the virus.
Jean-Marc Vallee’s well crafted picture opens at a rodeo ring where Ron (Matthew McConaughey) is engaged in unprotected sex with two women in the bull stall.
A few days later at work, he is electrocuted and regains consciousness at Dallas Mercy Hospital where Dr Nathan Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and colleague Dr Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) deliver the hammer blow: blood tests have confirmed that Ron is HIV-positive.
“Based on your condition, we estimate that you have about 30 days to get your affairs in order,” Dr Sevard tells Ron.
“I got a news flash for y’all,” barks the patient, “there ain’t nothin’ out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days.”
Very quickly, Ron accepts the diagnosis and travels to Mexico to source non FDA-approved AZT from Dr Vass (Griffin Dunne).
The medic shatters Ron’s hopes.
“The only people AZT helps are the people who sell it. It kills every cell it comes in contact with, good and bad,” confides Dr Vass, who prescribes other drugs and vitamins.
This cocktail keeps Ron alive and he goes into business with an HIV-positive transvestite called Rayon (Jared Leto) to peddle the same pills to gay men living with the virus.
Dallas Buyers Club doesn’t sugar-coat a bitter pill. Woodroof isn’t portrayed as a flawless, morally robust hero.
However, the friendship with Rayon opens Ron’s eyes to the lasting good he can achieve through his business.
McConaughey is mesmerising, shedding 40 pounds to convincingly portray the emaciated sandy-haired hustler, who dared to live only when he had a death sentence hanging over his cowboy hat.
Leto is equally compelling, concealing his character’s pain behind the armour of fake eyelashes, earrings and painted nails.
Screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack exercise some artistic licence: Rayon is a fictional creation.
However, these additions don’t detract from the emotional wallop of Jean-Marc Vallee’s film, or from the daring of Ron’s enterprise.