Mr Peabody & Sherman Director Interview

Director Robert Minkoff talks about Dreamworks new animated feature based on the cult classic animated series Mr Peabody and Sherman, soon to be released on 7th February. Modern Family star Ty Burrell provides the voice of Mr Peabody, a genius dog who adopt a young boy and take shares a series of crazy adventures thanks to a time machine he’s invented.

Full interview below:

What made this such a passion project and why did you want to invest so long developing it as a film?

When I was a kid I watched the sow Rocky & Bullwinkle, I remembered Mr Peabody a Sherman very well. For me the characters were sort of indelible and iconic. I loved the fact that the boy and his dog relationship was turned on its head. I was really just a fan. Then ten years ago I was asked whether I’d be interested in directing a film about these characters. I immediately said yes. At the time it was suggested it might be a live action film. About a year into it, it started to occur to me that the best and only way to do it was in animation.

How did you decide which periods of history to explore?

It was a bit of a problem actually we had too many good ideas. We started this project with Dreamworks in 2005, so we had many adventures that didn’t end up in the film. But the ones we did end up using had to serve as sort of a cross section of history and tie into the overall story. It had to be about something that helped propel the relationship of Mr Peabody and Sherman. To a degree we tried for the most part to pick events and historical characters that the audience might be aware of at least a little bit.

The original cartoons aired in the 1950s, what aspects of the original shows did you want to preserve and what needed updating for a modern cinema audience?

For me it was really the characters that we wanted to be true to as much as possible. I think if you look back to the old shows you’ll see that we’re being relatively faithful, particularly to Mr Peabody, maybe less so with Sherman because in the original cartoon show he was actually played by like a 40 year old man.  That’s a big change; we decided we were going to go for a real kid. Sherman was a bit of a cypher in the show, he was really just more of a foil for Mr Peabody.

The other thing was that when they met historical figures in the show they were always slightly lopsided and skewed versions of what you might expect. They were invariable always on the verge of their greatest achievement, the thing that would make them famous, but for some reason they were struggling to succeed. Mr Peabody would actually help them and in every episode he would somehow give them the bright idea they were most famous for. So in some crazy way Mr Peabody turns out to be responsible for everything that’ ever happened.

Those were the things we wanted to be true to in this film.

Did you do anything to help find a balance between the old and the new?

One of the things we did early on was produce a piece where we had actual footage from the original show projected onto a screen and then pulled back to show that our 3d Sherman and Mr Peabody were actually watching it. So you got to hear Bill Scott and Ty together. What’s interesting is Sherman says who’s that and Mr Peabody tells him, well that’s us from 1959. You actually heard Ty and Bill Scot exist in the same universe. That piece of footage is around somewhere. For me that was important for fans of the original show to prove that we could embrace both aspects and that they didn’t have to be exactly the same to feel the same.

Mr Peabody still seems to be a big fan of bad puns?

Puns are a very specific kind of comedy. You do find some devotees of the pun, but it’s not for everyone, which makes it kind of a highbrow thing.

He also seems to be a good fit for Ty Burrell who provides the voice? Once he was cast did you model the character at all on your leading man?

In animation that’s very common, you go through a design process for the character before casting. But once you have a real actor you actually soot video of them in all the sessions, so the animators have a chance to do reference for what Ty’s doing.

How did you cast the voice of Sherman?

It’s an interesting story; Jonathan Lipniki was in the movie Jerry Maguire as I’m sure you remember. I saw that movie and he was so little and so amazing. So when I was doing Stuart Little I was looking at everything you could imagine. So I suggested what about using him for Stuart Little, the studio said are you crazy he’s too young. By this time he was 7. I knew it was probably going to be hard, because of the old showbiz adage “Never work with animals or kids”. With that movie I did both.  The same thing happened in this movie, when we found Max Charles who is the voice of Sherman he was 8. Again people thought he was maybe too young, but we’d searched high and low to find just the right actor. Kids are particularly difficult, because you can find some kids who are actors and they’re unnatural. They know how to perform but there’s something slightly artificial and unnatural about it. You want kind of a genuine charm.

The relationship between Mr Peabody and Sherman can be seen as an analogy for modern family units. Were you conscious that it might provoke discussion about issues like single parenthood and gay adoption?

When we were developing this as a film we just simply asked ourselves what it would be like to be in this kind of a family today. So that was very much in our minds. In fact the cornerstone of the piece is the core conflict that the evil social worker isn’t supportive of this relationship at all. She thinks a dog adopting a boy is wrong. So yes there is that. What’s interesting to us is how old these characters are and in its own way it’s dealing with these issues despite it being perhaps a more innocent time.

Were you conscious of balancing making a film for adults and kids?

I think so. But if you look at the original, on the surface it looks like it’s for kids but it’s actually made by adults. I have the good fortune to have been mentored by Chuck Jones who was one of the greats of animation. He was responsible for some of the best Bugs Bunny or Daphy Duck cartoons. I met him when I was 18 years old as a student and he became very important to me. The first question I asked him was did they know when they made those films that they were going to be so well loved and have such longevity. I also asked about whether they specifically made hem for kids and he said no, they never made them for kids they made them for themselves. You have to make yourself laugh first of all, you have to enjoy it and then it has that without being overly intentional.

You traumatised a generation of children by killing Mufasa in The Lion King, will there be any similar moments in this one?

First of all I apologise. This is a very different movie. There are certainly some twists and turns that I don’t want to give away… but yeah Mr Peabody does die. (grins mischeviouly)

After working on this project for such a long time did it frustrate you at all the there’s another animated film called Free Birds that coming out with a similar time travel theme?

What’s funny is that I was actually offered the chance to direct that movie. At the time it was actually called Time Turkeys. When I heard that I thought… you can’t make a movie that is called turkey, it’s too easy. I haven’t seen the film so I can’t really speak for it. But yeah it was kind of uncomfortable having another time travel movie, but we feel like this project has the history behind it.

Will there be a Rocky and Bullwinkle short to accompany the film?

I keep asking whether or not it’s going to be shown before the feature and the studio hasn’t quite decided whether or not it will yet. I think they’re trying to decide the best place to premiere it. Rocky and Bullwinkle may actually pop up in the film itself, but very subtly, it’s like playing where’s Waldo.

How’s this going to compare to the Rocky and Bullwinkle movie which came out a few years ago?

Hopefully favourably!


Leave A Comment