Coming off their new distribution deal with Twentieth Century Fox, DreamWorks Animation is now upping their yearly output to three films per year. Last week, we had the chance to see previews of the three films they’re prepping for their 2013 slate including The Croods, Turbo, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
First up, director Rob Minkoff — best known as the director of The Lion King and Stuart Little – presented his film Mr. Peabody & Sherman, a 3D re-imagining of the segments of the same name from the 1960s animated classic Rocky & Bullwinkle. Mr. Peabody is the world’s smartest talking dog who, along with his adopted human Sherman, travels through time in a machine he calls the WABAC. The pair travel to famous historic places and meet famous historic people first hand, getting in adventures along the way.
The short teaser that started things off began with animation from the 60s cartoon that then panned out to the computer animated Sherman in the WABAC asking Mr. Peabody who those characters were. Peabody, busily turning dials and pressing buttons, explains that’s what they looked like in 1959, and now they’re going to have to travel to 2013. Sherman turns to Peabody and asks quizzically, “What’s there?” Peabody then looks up and says, “Our movie,” as the logo and the release date of November 1, 2013 flashes across the screen.
An unfinished scene with rough animation was shown next of Mr. Peabody and Sherman getting into trouble during the French Revolution. Peabody is sent to the guillotine with a panicked Sherman looking on, but Peabody easily escapes by using his intellect to calculate his daring escape. They both flee to the sewers of Paris while being chased by the dastardly Robespierre and his guards, culminating in a hilarious sword fight between Peabody and the villainous Frenchman. They narrowly make it to the WABAC machine, ending up at Peabody’s swanky high rise apartment where Sherman has to get ready for his first day of school!
It’s a pretty thrilling scene even in this rough state, mixing history and humor in a way that promises similar unseen adventures for the duo when the film comes out next year. Though it seems that Modern Family actor Ty Burell is basically doing a Ty Burell impression as Mr. Peabody, the real gem out of these clips was the vocal performance by young Max Charles who voices Sherman. He delivers the right amount of youthful wonder and innocence to make the character enjoyable as opposed to other normally grating kid actors.
The next scene at school introduces Penny Peterson, the former top student and Sherman’s classmate. She is none too pleased as Sherman proceeds to answer every single question the history teacher asks of him – mostly because he’s seen what she’s talking about firsthand. Penny and Sherman get into a fight, causing Mr. Peabody to be called to the principal’s office. There he learns from Mrs. Grunion, a stern disciplinarian character voiced by Allison Janney, that after Penny called Sherman a dog, he bit her. Grunion then questions Peabody about how suitable a dog is to be a parent.
To reconcile, Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her family over to dinner. While Peabody regales the family with his intellect, Sherman is trying to make amends with Penny by sneaking away to show her the WABAC machine, but when Sherman returns to dinner alone Mr. Peabody knows something is definitely wrong. Embarrassed, Sherman explains to Peabody that he lost Penny in ancient Egypt, and the two must go on a rescue mission through time to such destinations as the Italian Renaissance and ancient Troy to get her back.
Next up was Turbo, the most bizarre of the three films, presented by director David Soren. Turbo is the underdog story of an ordinary garden snail (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who dreams of speed. His one wish is to be fast enough to win the Indy 500. The first scene shown has the titular character pretending to be in a race on a TV screen in the house near the garden where he lives with his brother, Chet. Chet, who is voiced by Paul Giamatti, tells him to stop fantasizing about the races and tells him to go to bed.
Next we find Turbo looking down on LA traffic, resolved to the fact that he will never be able to go as fast as the cars whizzing by. Suddenly, a gust of wind from a truck passing by whips the little snail up in the air, bouncing him from car hood to car hood until he ends up on a suped-up car about to begin a race in the canals of Los Angeles. Turbo is sucked into the engine, and somehow is infused with the nitrous oxide the driver uses to juice up his car. He falls from under the engine and is surrounded by a strange blue glow.
We find out he miraculously has car-themed powers – like headlights in his eyes, a caution beep whenever he backs up, and the ability to go extremely fast when he revs up his shell. It all seems like a clumsy mix of storylines Pixar has already done – the bugs from A Bug’s Life, the character design from The Incredibles, the cars from Cars – but also the superhero origin story from Spider-Man, and the modified car culture from The Fast and the Furious. The awkward and overstuffed premise is a bit ridiculous to say the least, and though I doubt that the conceit of a snail yearning to go fast will make itself into a good movie, I’m sure the kids will eat it up.
It gets even clumsier when Turbo and his brother are snatched up by Tito — voiced by Michael Pena — the driver of the “Dos Bros” taco truck, and taken to a secret underground snail race. There, Turbo is pitted against similarly suped-up snails — voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph, Snoop Dogg, and Ben Schwartz — who are outfitted with an array of car related designs like spoilers and racing stripes. Just how the owners of a taco truck and underground snail races make sense are yet to be seen, but maybe it will pan out once the movie is complete, though that’s doubtful.
After showing off his new powers, Turbo and the new snails get into a fight, trash-talking each other until they propose a new race – the first snail to the top of a nearby neon sign wins. The speedy snail takes off up walls and power lines, confident that his powers will let him speed by the competition, but just as he makes it to the sign he realizes the cables don’t reach all the way. As he panics, the rest of the gang bounce and swing by him to victory. The new group has put the young snail in his place and the competition has begun! The film opens next year in 3D on July 19, 2013.
Last up was basically the most interesting of the bunch – The Croods, the story of a family of cavemen who venture out of their cave for the first time and discovers a whole new world of adventure and possibilities. 35 minutes of the 3D feature were presented by directors Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco who explained that this is “the last chapter of the caveman, where humans left their caves and ventured out forever.”
The core of the family is the father and mother team of Grug and Ugga voiced by Nicholas Cage and Catherine Keener, followed by Emma Stone who plays the teenage cavegirl protagonist Eep. Rounding out the family is the brother, Thunk, voiced by Clark Duke, Gran the grandmother and comic relief voiced by Cloris Leachman, and finally the silent feral youngest daughter, Sandy. Each fit in their roles nicely, with Stone bringing her obvious charm and Cage sounding like he’s actually trying.
Set in the “Croodaceous era,” the initial cave and landscape designs remind me of the overly CG parts of Tatooine from the Star Wars prequels, and when the family escapes from their cave they encounter weird and colorful creature designs and scenery reminiscent of Pandora from Avatar.
There’s everything from four-legged whales to giant ferocious looking cat badgers. Sanders explains that it’s a time where the creatures “are on their way to becoming extinct” and some crazy looking creatures should make for a unique aspect of the film. The humanoid designs of the family again remind me of the pudgy and cartoonish inverted triangles of “The Incredibles,” except here the gorilla-like shapes tend to make more sense as cavemen because they sometimes walk on all fours.
The opening exposition explains that cavemen are taught to always stay close to or in their cave at all times, and that strange new things on the outside are meant to be feared. We then launch into the day-to-day tribulations of the family finding food to eat. They work as a team to steal eggs from a weird looking ostrich-like animal and other beasts along the way. For some reason the family has super speed and super strength. I sort of get the strength part, given that the cavemen are portrayed as large and oafish, but for whatever reason they can outrun the large animals that attack them. It’s curious to wonder why two out of the three films on the DreamWorks slate have characters with super powers, but I suppose we’re not meant to ask such questions.
While on one of their brief daily hunts, Eep comes across a strange looking and more evolved human named Guy, who is voiced by Ryan Reynolds. Guy has advanced tools and knows how to build fire, and even more important is his knack for exploration and curiosity. Grug is weary of the newcomer at first, especially in the company of Eep, but when their cave is destroyed by a massive earthquake the family sets off with Guy in tow across the new landscape to a far away mountain looking for a new place to call home.
All of the films will be released in theaters next year. The Croods is first on March 22, followed by Turbo on July 19, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman rounds out the year on November 1.