Candi's Corner: Interview with Mr. Peabody & Sherman Director Rob Minkoff

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tinsel & Tine Intro: It's nice having a staff, wish I could pay them, but at least when I can't cover an interview or event, it's fun to be able to send someone who I know will represent Tinsel & Tine as I would. For the interview with the director of DreamWorks Animation's Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Rob Minkoff, T&T was represented by both Candace "Candi's Corner" Cordelia and Draw-tographer Diane Roka. Thank you Ladies!

A Dog and His Boy - “The Original Modern Family”

In the late 1950s into the early 1960s, there was once a cartoon dog named Mr. Peabody who transported audiences to times were historical figures like Napoleon and Harriet Tubman were alive. History lessons were woven into tidy television segments and for a few moments out of a child's (and their parents) day, learning was fun! 

Now in present-day 2014, Mr. Peabody is back with his sidekick Sherman, thanks to director Rob Minkoff’s imagination. Just in case you need a little background information on Rob Minkoff, he directed The Lion King and did some character design for Ursula of The Little Mermaid, based on renowned film actor Divine. Yes, he is quite legendary. 

As he was interviewed during an intimate roundtable session, Minkoff’s passion for Mr. Peabody & Sherman was noticeable from the very beginning. When asked about the main theme behind the movie, Minkoff made it very clear that the two characters represent “the original Modern Family.”(Note: Ty Burrell and Ariel Winter, Phil and Alex Dunphy from ABC's Modern Family voice Mr. Peabody and Penny respectively in the movie) “For me, it’s about a father and a son… it’s about an adoption relationship,” he states. “I’ve made a movie about adoption, but it was a human adopting a mouse, called Stuart Little. Now I’ve turned it around. Now it’s the dog who is adopting a human boy… It’s about what it’s like to raise a son.” 

Artwork by Diane Roka - Portrait of Rob Minkoff during Interview at Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia

As a new father to a 1 ½ year old boy, as well as a viewer of the original Mr. Peabody cartoon in his childhood, Minkoff wanted to make a movie that was both educational and enjoyable, keeping the vision of Ted Key’s TV show, but also injecting his own fresh take for moviegoers who didn't grow up on Mr. Peabody and/or not keen on history lessons outside of the classroom: 

“I think I may have become a history buff entirely due to ‘Mr. Peabody and Sherman’... when I was a kid, I remember seeing them going on these historical adventures, and I don’t think I knew anything about who they were meeting. But all I knew was that if Mr. Peabody thought it was important, it probably was important… 

I always saw history simply as just a story being told. It was about characters, it was about heroes and villains…it was about these great things! We see many movies that are certainly made of historical subjects and we don’t think of them particularly as like ‘Oh, I’m learning history.’ But, you know, history is just stories that are important to tell. It [“Mr. Peabody & Sherman”] seemed kind of relevant and contemporary, even though it was from 50 years ago… "The WABAC (pronounced “wayback” machine) and time travel and all those different things seemed like they were worth bringing back. and this idea of a dog adopting a boy just seemed so funny, and fun, and odd in a great way", mused Minkoff . 

Drawing by Diane Roka - of Rob Minkoff  "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" Director

There are many tales about movies taking years or several decades to come to life. (Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt’s triumphant “12 Years a Slave” took 20 years to be realized!) and Mr. Peabody & Sherman took 12 years to finally be shown on today’s silver screens, so it was only natural to ask its director why he stuck with the production of this movie for so long?

“I think it’s because I’m crazy (laughter). I don’t ever like to give up on anything. Perseverance, for me, was key.” Minkoff noted that even while it looked as though he stepped away from the animated movie world, that was, in fact, not the case. The length of time it took for #MrPeabodyandSherman” in between other projects, just may have made it appear that way. “I was actually, probably, just finished with the first Stuart Little movie, a live action movie, with an animated character in it. So, it wasn't really so much thinking that I stepped away from it for so long; it wasn't really intentional… it was just a matter of how long it actually took us to get it to the screen.” Minkoff went on to describe the process of the pre-production work for  Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which, for a movie geek like me, was very attention-grabbing.

Rob Minkoff and Candance Cordelia
In short, the movie was brought to DreamWorks Studios in 2005, and finally in 2010 a script was written that DreamWorks liked. Yet, it went through another big transformation when screenwriter Craig White was hired to do further work on it. “[In] the draft that had been written prior by two writers, Sherman’s nemesis was a boy...the two screenwriters had written a TV show that sold and they had to go away and showrun the show. So, we met with Craig, and Craig had this great brainstorm of an idea. He said, ‘let’s make the boy a girl, let’s make Sherman’s nemesis a girl’, because it’s going to change Sherman and his relationship with his dad and it seemed like suddenly there was much more there in the storytelling. As a further result, “the whole story changed. Entirely, so much so, that if you read the script which was written that the studio greenlit, you’d be shocked, because it wouldn't look anything like the movie we made.”

Penny, Mr. Peabody & Sherman from DreamWorks Studios

If you end up going to see “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”, and come out of the theater wondering if there were any places visited and historical figures met that unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor, you will be pleased to know that Ancient Rome with Emperor Nero and Ancient China with Confucius are on that list. But, Rob Minkoff has a good explanation. “There were just one too many places to go. We just couldn't have quite so many, so maybe it will make an appearance in another episode.”

In doing my research, I gasped a few times reading the IMDB list of featured actors cast for this movie, so I had to ask about the process of working with them, especially Mel Brooks (voice of Albert Einstein):

“It was a lot of fun. Working with Mel Brooks is always a particularly amusing kind of thing. He’s a larger than life personality. He acts exactly like you would expect him to act. He sort of takes over when he does his work. And it was kind of great for me because I had worked with him so many, many years ago in a short film that I directed for Walt Disney World [“Mickey’s Audition”]. It was about Mickey Mouse coming to Walt Disney studios in the ‘20s and being discovered in a screen test. Mel Brooks played the director of the screen test. It was the very first live action movie that I directed. I was 27 years old, maybe 28, and I got to work with Mel Brooks and it was incredibly intimidating, as you might expect! I remember him putting me through my paces. I mean, really challenging me in every possibly way you can imagine, but I sort of stuck with it. It was a trial by fire. So having overcome that and now making this movie [“Mr. Peabody & Sherman”] and getting to work with him again was a lot of fun.” stated Minkoff.

Also worthy of note, was learning that Robert Downey Jr. was going to voice the character of Mr. Peabody from the start! However, he became too busy with other roles to commit to Minkoff’s project: “We were going to use him…we weren't able to audition him so we could only base it on what we knew about his other work…thinking about Sherlock Holmes and Tony Stark, those characters are kind of exceptional…so Mr. Peabody sort of felt like it would a good fit for him…the problem was he was getting started on The Avengers and got so busy that we literally were trying to get him into a recording studio and could not…it was getting on to be too long and we all got kind of frustrated and said, ‘We have to make the movie, so we’re going to have to look elsewhere."

Artist/Draw-tographer Diane Roka  with Rob Minkoff

Minkoff hopes to shoot many projects in the future, one of them being a fantasy live-action film called “Chinese Odyssey”. A dream project he would love to work on is “Calvin & Hobbes”, but he would not make it as a live-action movie. Sadly enough, according to Minkoff, the creator of the beloved comic strip, Bill Watterson, does not want his characters to be adapted onscreen.

In my time spent listening to the Mr. Peabody & Sherman director, I surely learned that it's a movie meant “for everybody.” Even more so Rob Minkoff really enjoys his line of work...

“I love animation. There’s something about it that I feel connected to.”

Judging from the discussion, waiting 12 years for “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” was well worth waiting for.
Tinsel & Tine: Even though, I wasn't available to meet director Rob Minkoff  :( I did get a chance to screen Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and I really liked it. It's not a laugh riot like a Madagascar or Despicable Me, but I can honestly say, it's super clever, completely entertaining and heart warming, with just the right amount of angst and Sci-Fi action. T &T's LAMB Score: 4 outta 5 Lambs

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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