If he can sufficiently recover from Ricky Gervais’ cutting drug jokes from last night’s Golden Globes, RDJ will be voicing a talking dog to teach us something about history!
Entertainment Weekly has the scoop that Dreamworks is aiming for a 2014 release of a fully-CG 3D motion picture adaptation of the old Peabody & Sherman segments from Rocky & Bullwinkle. Robert Downey Jr. is set to voice Mr. Peabody- the hyper-intelligent, often bipedal dog who is joined by Sherman (“his boy”) on adventures through time (via the WABAC machine, for which the Archive.org web history utility was named). This feature will be directed by Rob Minkoff, the gentleman behind The Lion King (and The Haunted Mansion, if we’re being less forgiving), and employ a script from Jeffrey Ventimillia and Joshua Sternin (Yogi Bear, The Simpsons).
If you’re not familiar, there are just shy of 100 segments of Peabody and Sherman with each piece focusing on a famous figure from history (invariably male- only 3 female figures were ever featured) and telling a brief story about them. There were usually many little anachronistic flairs, plentiful bad puns, and an overall disrespect for historical accuracy… and yet the cartoon is kind of wonderful and was the only reason I ever watched Rocky & Bullwinkle. It’s charm undoubtedly comes from Mr. Peabody himself (who was loosely based on Clifton Webb’s Mr. Belvedere character from the late 40’s and early 50’s) along with the segment’s uniquely breathless pace of storytelling. Each story sported a rushed narration from Mr. Peabody, which gave each piece a fun energy. There’s even soft racism to hit that “oh, you guys” nostalgia spot for the older audiences.
Minkoff admits in the internal Dreamworks announcement that the show is not likely to ring a bell with younger audiences, but hopes to create a new life for the characters.
“Certainly for Boomers, they’re in the sweet spot of our childhood animation memories, but beyond there it gets a little bit, well, not quite as familiar.”
You can watch a particularly illustrative segment below and consider how this might be brought to the screen for modern audiences. I’m in love with the idea of this movie, and though RDJ is obvious casting for nearly everything these days, but he’s a legitimately great match for Mr. Peabody (just add a hint of stuffiness to that Mr. Peabody voice you’re doing, and you’re set Mr. DJ). I’m also pleased they went with the fully animated approach, rather than the live-action hybrid they apparently considered (I still struggle to think of film in that format that doesn’t blow). That said, I’m wary of Dreamworks on general principle, and I don’t know if the same kooky balance of respect and utter disregard for history will be as key a part of the film- even in a perfect world I know the unique tone of the show is impossible to replicate. If I could change anything or have any affect on this production, I’d team up Kate Beaton with the writing team and see if she could inject some of her brilliant sensibilities for historical comedy into the script. Her Hark! A Vagrant comics are excellent examples of that kind of humor done well, and if Peabody & Sherman is closer to something like that and far far away from something like this, then we could be in for a treat. Not holding my breath for three years on that one though.