Reel Critics: 'Peabody' fun despite padding

My childhood memories of "Rocky & Bullwinkle" cartoons are personal treasures. The sarcastic observations of the smart aleck characters were a giant leap beyond the silly humor of other kid fare on TV in the 1960s. Pop culture, history and the Cold War were featured targets of the entire cast.

Sharpest among them was the wise and scientifically minded canine, Mr. Peabody. Creator of the Wayback Machine, he traveled through time with his boy Sherman to revisit the great events of history with intelligent comic results. The new DreamWorks version of this concept is "Mr. Peabody & Sherman."

Of course it has with the first rate animation you would expect from this studio. Director Rob Minkoff ("The Lion King") captures the built in appeal of the inventive series. Adventures focusing on ancient Egypt, Greece, Renaissance Italy, Revolutionary America and Albert Einstein's theories propel the head spinning pace.

But the screenplay is packed with topical sideshows that take away from the charm of the original. An elaborate and unnecessary subplot has a social worker trying to take custody of Sherman from Mr. Peabody. But there's still plenty of action and snappy dialogue to keep kids and their parents well entertained.

—John Depko


Cartoons for grownups

Animation isn't just for kids. When properly done, it can be a true work of art, a feast for the eyes, heart and mind. These two Oscar-nominated imports are a banquet indeed:

"Ernest & Celestine": This charming French import about a big hungry bear and a little mouse who likes to paint made me think back to my favorite illustrated books as a child. The watercolor, hand-drawn imagery is delightfully whimsical without being too saccharine.

This English-language version features the voice of Forest Whitaker as Ernest, a big clumsy oaf who finds a kindred spirit in Celestine (voiced by Mackenzie Foy), who is anything but mousy by nature.

This movie has a lot to say about prejudice, acceptance and being true to oneself in a straightforward way that is sure to capture your heart.

"The Wind Rises": Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki has created his final feature film, another beautifully hand-drawn, 2D masterpiece based on the life of another Japanese genius.

Aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi (voiced here by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dreamed of creating beautiful airplanes. Growing up in the early part of the 20th century, Jiro ultimately designed fighter planes for the Japanese navy used in World War II. We admire the machine, not its purpose.

Hiyazaki's story is fascinating and the visual detail is astonishing, making Japan's lush landscapes a gorgeous background to be savored. Even Jiro's slide rule becomes a work of art as surely as those fantastical flying machines.

"The Wind Rises" is also a tender love story, but the real love here is for old-fashioned, lyrical images that inspire without the need for songs, gimmicks or merchandising.

—Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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