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'Lion King' director thrilled to unleash 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman'

Published On: Mar 10 2014 09:16:55 AM CDT
Sherman and Mr Peabody

DreamWorks

Sherman (Max Charles) and Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman."

It's only appropriate the classic characters of Mr. Peabody and Sherman go back in time to rewrite history effort to save the universe. After all, the past -- 55 years ago, to be exact -- is where the characters were born in classic Jay Ward cartoon series "Rocky and His Friends."

Without question, time has rewritten the way cartoons have been done since the intellectually-advanced dog and the mischievous boy made their small-screen debut in 1959. Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since the time characters were drawn by hand.

Although it was a consideration to go retro, heralded animation director Rob Minkoff said the he found no need to try to replicate what had been done before with the new feature film version of "Mr. Peabody & Sherman," but move the concept forward in computer-animated form instead.

"When I first started on the film, people would ask me, invariably, how we were going to do it. 'Are you going to do it in 2D? Are you going to intentionally make it look primitive and simple?' But I never really thought of that as an option," Minkoff told me in a recent interview about the film, which opens Friday in theaters nationwide. "I thought what we were doing was taking the content of the characters and the content of the storytelling, yet doing it in a way that would make sense for a feature film."

That's not to say Minkoff wanted to dispose of the spirit and charm of the original cartoon -- in fact, it was a high priority. "It was very important to us to make true to the spirit of the original, so that people who did remember it and loved it, would feel the nostalgia of revisiting characters that they remembered," Minkoff explained. "So we did that, and made it relevant to a whole new generation who hasn't seen or even heard of the cartoon."

One way Minkoff thought he would advance the concept was by casting "Modern Family" star Ty Burrell as the voice of Mr. Peabody. While Burrell has unique pipes, he doesn't necessarily have the voice reminiscent of the character from the cartoon.

"When we first thought about figuring out who was going to play Mr. Peabody, we thought about using a sound-alike to the original. But I'm not a fan of that. It's always bugged me when I've heard other actors voicing characters that I know well, like Bugs Bunny, or even Kermit the Frog. I can tell that it's not Jim Henson," Minkoff said. "So I didn't want to get into that trap, which was just to try to be an imitator."

Minkoff admitted there were some risks with, though, given Tiffany Ward, the daughter of the show's original creator, the late Jay Ward, needed to be on-board with the voice Burrell was bringing to the character.

"We played Burrell's audition for Tiffany Ward, who's been the gatekeeper of all the properties her father produced, and she didn't think it sounded enough like Mr. Peabody," Minkoff recalled. "So, we promised her that Ty was a great actor and 'We'd get him there,' and after a couple more sessions he found the voice and found the character. Mr. Peabody is very different obviously that Phil Dunphy on 'Modern Family,' and now that we've been living with the voice for so long (three years), I can't imagine anybody else doing it."

Hail to the 'King'
Minkoff -- the director of the Walt Disney hand-drawn animated classic "The Lion King" -- said he feels comfortable using computer-animation now because the art form lends itself to more emotional depth now.

"Things of come a long way," Minkoff observed. "I remember back in my days at Disney, when we were doing hand-drawn animation, CG was just getting started. I remember seeing the tests, and finding them a little cold. They didn't convey the sort of emotion and warmth that you could convey in a drawing. I've just been surprised year after year how it's developed -- how the tool has become so much more pliable. You can really see the hand of the artist much more in the soul of the CGI than we did 20 years ago."

However, in reflection of the film's upcoming 20th anniversary, Minkoff said if he were given the chance to remake the hand-drawn "Lion King" as computer-animated film, he'd leave it alone.

"It's an interesting idea, but if you just remade the film, like they did with a color, shot-by-shot remake of 'Psycho,' I don't think it would ultimately work because people have an emotional attachment with the original," Minkoff said. "We did go so far as to convert it into a 3D version and that was a lot of fun. It was fun to see it again, and hopefully people who had seen it before could re-live like they were seeing it for the first time because it was so different."

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