Rob Minkoff may always be best known as the co-director of The Lion King, one of the biggest animated hits of all time, but long before he brought Simba, Mufasa and Scar to life, he was a fan of a dog named Mr. Peabody.
Mr. Peabody is a beagle in the world of humans — imagine Family Guy’s Brian with less attitude but more PhDs. He’s a Harvard grad, a Nobel Prize winner, advisor to heads of state and in his spare time he invented planking and auto tune.
With his adopted human son Sherman, he’s also a time traveller, taking the WABAC machine — “It’s not WHERE we’re going, but WHEN!” — to various spots in history in a weekly segment on the show Rocky and His Friends called Peabody’s Improbable History.
“Whenever it came on, I would watch it,” says Minkoff, director of the new animated film Mr. Peabody & Sherman, “so I’ve seen all the episodes multiple times.
“I was always a fan but I don’t recall thinking, ‘Oh, that would make a great movie one day.’ It didn’t occur to me that way. It all started 12 years ago with a conversation I had with (executive producer) Jason Clark. He came to me and said, ‘What do you think of Mr. Peabody and Sherman?’ My answer was, ‘I love them.’ He said, ‘What about making a movie out of them.’ I thought, ‘They’re great characters. There’s a lot to them. There is an unexplored well of stuff, like the time machine and time travel.’”
That was 12 years ago. “Once you get your teeth into something creatively,” he says, “you never really let go.”
Over the years the idea for the film has shifted and changed. At the very early stages it was suggested that the movie could work as a live action story.
“It didn’t take very long for me to come around to the idea that I would prefer to do this as an animated movie because I didn’t understand how it would work as a live action thing. It would lose some of its appeal, some of the quirkiness of it.”
The film retains the eccentricity of the original series: It’s probably the only kid’s movie with an Oedipal joke. But Minkoff hopes the movie will appeal to all ages.
“The original show was always popular among college educated, smarter people, and that was something we thought was important but at the same time, we wanted to) make it kid friendly.
“I didn’t want to copy (the TV show) exactly because I couldn’t possibly do that. So it was taking the spirit of it and letting that be. Trying to get to the core of what it is rather than the surface.”