Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Dinner and a Movie

From Peabody to Sea Bodies

By Steve Herte

As years are added to my life I appreciate more and more the power of memories. My niece Julie and her husband James are on a mission to visit all of the national parks and will be touring Badlands National Parks and Mount Rushmore this year with my sister Kathy and her husband Rob. My travel memories were stirred as I searched through my multitude of photo albums for a picture of RoseAnn to post on Facebook. It was an Easter Sunday on the island of Montserrat (before the volcano blew for three years) and we were all there on a glorious Eastern Caribbean day to attend her husband Tony’s graduation from the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. While searching for this photo I found the album of our cruise along the West Coast of Mexico in 1984 (Yikes, 30 years ago!) on Sitmar Cruise Line (now Princess) aboard the Fairsea. Now that was a real cruise ship! Not like these top-heavy floating cities where everyone has a balcony. (Frankly, I’m scared to board one of those.)

Memories make elders repetitive because they love to relive them over and over. But that’s also how family histories are passed down. I think I’ve memorized my father’s entire life by now and that of every family member he knew. But I have my own memories as well. The cartoons of my childhood still remain funny when I think back on them. I can set myself laughing at any moment. (Sometimes inappropriately so.) I can quote them and recall famous pieces of music from them. Of course Mr. Peabody & Sherman are among these and I was curious to see what today’s writers would do with my cherished memories. I was most pleasantly surprised. Enjoy!
Mr. Peabody & Sherman (DreamWorks, Bullwinkle Studios, 2014) – Director: Rob Minkoff. Writers: Jay Ward (based on the series produced by), Craig Wright (s/p), Robert Ben Garant, and Thomas Lennon (additional dialogue). Voices: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Lauri Fraser, Guillaume Aretos, Patrice A. Musick, Ariel Winter, Karan Brar, Stephen Tobolowsky, Allison Janney, Dennis Haysbert, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Zach Callison, Stanley Tucci, Patrick Warburton, Mel Brooks, & Jess Harnell. Rated PG. Color, 92 minutes

Where are we going today Mr. Peabody?” “The more correct question, Sherman, is when?”

Followers of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show remember these lines from every episode. And then off they would go on an adventure in history via the marvelous “WABAC” machine. We could always expect some famous character to be helped into greatness by them and a grand pun from Mr. Peabody at the end. What we didn’t know was how Mr. Peabody became the most brilliant dog in the world and how and when he met and adopted Sherman. This movie cites the beginnings for both.

Nobody wanted to adopt Mr. Peabody as a puppy because he wouldn’t do all the required, pointless things every dog does when commanded i.e., bark, fetch, beg, shaking hands. When he realized this, he turned to the pursuit of knowledge instead, eventually gaining all possible degrees and finishing several PhDs. He mastered all martial and culinary arts, became proficient in hypnosis, and became truly international in language.

With this background we see Mr. Peabody (Burrell) taking Sherman (Charles) for his first day in school. It doesn’t go well. He corrects Penny Peterson (Winter) about George Washington and the cherry tree and alienates her. She bullies him in the lunchroom and in the struggle he bites her, which brings Mr. Peabody to Principal Purdy’s (Tobolowsky) office and under the scrutiny of Ms. Grunion (Janney), the Child Welfare Agent. Peabody is shocked that Sherman would do such a thing. “She called me a dog!” says Sherman. This sets Mr. Peabody thinking and reminiscing. So, to the tune of John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” we travel back in time with him to the day he found Sherman abandoned in a cardboard box as a baby and see him making his case for adoption before a judge (Haysbert).

Peabody has a brainstorm and organizes a fancy dinner party, inviting Penny and her father Paul (Colbert) and mother Patty (Mann) hoping to smooth over this sibling hostility by bringing everyone together for a pleasant evening. Warning Sherman not to tell Penny about the WABAC machine only lasts until Penny finds out that Sherman actually spoke with George Washington. To prove it they travel to pharaoh-ruled Egypt and Penny decides to stay, becoming King Tut’s (Callison) girlfriend. In the hilarious process of getting her back, Peabody, Sherman and Penny make Mona Lisa smile for Leonardo DaVinci (Tucci), get involved in the Trojan War when Sherman joins with Agamemnon (Warburton) and cause a rift in the space-time continuum when Sherman and Penny return home before they left and Sherman meets himself. Then all craziness breaks loose as various historic people and things drop out of the sky into the present, including Albert Einstein (Brooks).

The puns fly throughout the film and sight gags abound. Many of these are beyond the comprehension of small children. I only heard the children laugh once while I was chuckling several times. And strangely, they only understood one of the scatological jokes. The animation is smooth and beautiful and I would expect no less of Dreamworks. The formerly flat cartoon characters are now three-dimensional and more believable. The story is well written and provides not only a prequel to the cartoon, but follows a critical time in the relationship between a dog trying to be a father and a boy learning what they mean to each other. Yes, there’s even pathos in the movie. The only jarring moment for was towards the end, when past meets present, Washington steps forward and says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men – and some dogs – are created equal.” Meanwhile Abraham Lincoln is among the throng as well (both voiced by Harnell). A word of advice to parents, tell your children your memories of the cartoon before taking them to the movie. They’ll either enjoy it more or not want to go.

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

L & W Oyster Co.
254 Fifth Avenue (28th Street), New York

The Lenten season is here, which means seven Fridays of seafood or vegetarian restaurants.

A black and white striped awning shades the entrance to a high ceilinged, antiseptic white restaurant leading the sequence. Inside, the minimal décor features a fish scale holding the menus, votive candles suspended over diners in the front window, and caged light bulbs illuminating the walls. Even the bar on the left is simple. The tables are white without cloths or paper, only ornamented by the placemats describing Japanese oysters. The chairs are silver aluminum patio chairs (though a few are red) and definitely not created with the American posterior in mind. I had to rearrange mine a few times before I was remotely comfortable.

After receiving a glass of water and the single-page brown paper menu I ordered my Beefeater martini. My waitress, Katie, brought my drink in an impressing graceful-stemmed glass (not the usual martini glass), and it was delightful. The menu listed food items on one side and wine, beer and drinks on the other. The food is organized into categories starting with “Raw Things” (oysters), “Small Things,” “Medium Things,”, “Bigger Things” and “Snacks.” I took these definitions to be appetizers, first courses, main dishes and sides. I discovered I was correct when I consulted Katie and she told me a serving of oysters, a medium thing and a bigger thing would not be too much food.

He is a bold man that first ate an oyster.” (Jonathan Swift) It was many years ago when I had my first, in a Japanese restaurant and deep-fried. It is indeed an acquired taste and texture. Now I have no trouble eating them on the half-shell. I ordered three East Coast (in this case Barnstable) and three West Coast (Samish Bay). As I’ve learned over the years, the West Coast delegates were sweeter and easier to remove from the shells. The East Coast oysters were saltier, and clung to their shells. However, when they were topped with horseradish cocktail sauce and a little lemon sorbet, they were all wonderful.

From the wine list I chose the 2011 “Le Cigar Blanc” from Bonny Doon vineyards, Santa Clara, California. Are you surprised I ordered “White Stuff”? (Yes, the wine list is entitled similarly to the food menu and includes “Red Stuff,” “Booze Stuff,” “Brewed Stuff” and “Sparkly Stuff.”) Having been introduced to this particular wine by Mark Lahm of Henry’s End, I knew it to be a reliable, crisp, tannic white with delicate nose and almost crystal color. It was all that and perfect with the meal.

The Baked Brie En Croute was my “medium thing” – a phylo dough-wrapped piece of heaven, piping hot served with thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, apple butter and three shiny-topped Parker House rolls. It was one of those memorable dishes you wish were “bigger things” so that you could enjoy more of it, longer. I know, ripe, soft cheeses – another acquired taste – I’m glad I acquired that taste in Paris.

My “Bigger Thing” was Broiled Mahi-Mahi (dolphin fish) served with halved Red Bliss potatoes stuffed with bleu cheese and accompanied by roasted fennel. The fish was crisp outside, flakey inside and the stuffed potatoes tender enough to cut with a fork. Even the fennel was great (I normally do not prefer fennel.) After a few bites I knew I could handle a “snack,” as the portion was not as big as I imagined. It was a close tie between two, but the Vinegar and Salt Home-made Crisps won over the Lobster Deviled Eggs. This good-sized basket contained potato chips that were thinner than any I’ve had before. Nevertheless, it was addictive and outlasted my main course.

Not only a snack, but dessert as well: L & W’s unique twist on Baked Alaska was irresistible (Peanut butter and Jelly Baked Alaska) and an amusing decadence. Then, after a double espresso and a glass of Busnel Calvados, I was happy and ready for the check. L & W Oyster Company has made good use of the time since they opened in November 2012. It was never empty the whole time I was there. I think I will have to try those deviled eggs someday.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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