Adapting a simple, line-drawn cartoon from the 1950s and 1960s into a feature-length, computer-generated 3D movie for a new generation of kids involves a surprising amount of nuance.
Director Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King,” “Stuart Little”) says it took myriad decisions and about 11 years to get “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” green-lit, funded, made and released.
Visiting San Francisco to promote the film, which opens Friday, Minkoff was accompanied by Tiffany Ward, whose late father Jay Ward created the time-traveling dog Mr. Peabody and his adopted boy Sherman (as well as Bullwinkle and Rocky and other characters).
The original “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” which first featured Mr. Peabody and Sherman, is known for its simple animation and clever writing. Minkoff says that reality was more likely the result of a limited budget than an artistic choice on the part of Jay Ward.
“He was never happy with the animation,” says his daughter.
“If he’d had money, what would he have done with it?” Minkoff wonders, explaining his decision to go with computer animation in the film. He says, “We were trying to be true to the content — the humor, the puns, the dynamic between the father and the son — rather than the form.”
In that vein, Ward (a producer on the movie as well as overseer of her father’s estate) initially was not sure about casting Ty Burrell (TV’s “Modern Family”) as the voice of Mr. Peabody.
“I grew up with these characters, and they’re like brothers and sisters to me,” she says. “Ty was a great actor, but he didn’t sound like my Mr. Peabody. There were some people who sounded like Mr. Peabody, and I held out for awhile, but then I realized that it was about the acting. And now I’m very happy.”
Minkoff ultimately was pleased that Ward nixed a new pair of glasses created for Mr. Peabody.
“The square glasses sort of lost something. Peabody and Sherman both have round glasses, and it sort of unites them. They were so iconic,” explains Minkoff.
But the most important part of the new movie was finding an emotional center for Mr. Peabody.
“Mr. Peabody is so exceptional in so many things, but he’s got to have an Achilles’ heel... he can’t be perfect,” says Minkoff, who decided that the character’s biggest challenge would be being a father.
“Raising a boy,” he says, “is much harder than being an astrophysicist or inventing a time machine.”
IF YOU GO
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Starring Voices of Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Allison Janney
Written by Craig Wright
Directed by Rob Minkoff
Running time 1 hour, 42 minutes