Last week we got to preview Dreamworks Animation’s three 2013 movies, and interview each of the filmmakers. We began with Rob Minkoff for Mr. Peabody and Sherman, the feature length movie about the time traveling characters from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” “Rocky and Bullwinkle” creator Jay Ward’s daughter, Tiffany Ward, was also on the Fox lot for the Dreamworks presentations, and she is an executive producer on the film, consulting on the Ward estate. We got to chat with her on the lawn about bringing Jay Ward back to animation, what went wrong with the live-action movies, and what other Ward cartoons might be in the works at Dreamworks.
CraveOnline: Why do you think the instinct around 10 years ago was to do live-action adaptations, and now it’s back to animation, albeit a different form of animation?
Tiffany Ward: Well, I think certainly animation has come even further than ever before with 3D and it’s certainly been proven that the animated movies seem to have great legs. Sherman and Peabody, it would be very hard to do a dog [in live-action] whereas our other characters, we’ve used half animation, half live-action characters for Rocky and Bullwinkle and Boris and Natasha. So it just lends itself better to the animated feel, and it’s brilliant looking to me. I just fall in love with the 2013 Mr. Peabody and Sherman every time I see a clip or a bit of footage. I’m truly enamored of them.
What was it vital to get right? What would have made it not Mr. Peabody and Sherman if they couldn’t capture that?
A lot of things could have made it not Mr. Peabody and Sherman but I think they captured it exactly. They got the erudite smart dog, he adopted the boy and he’s teaching history and of course their relationship gets to be expanded in the time of a movie which is wonderful. You didn’t see much in the series but we’re doing all the WABACs and time travel and the humor’s there. So I don’t think we’ve lost anything in this.
We saw a little hint of Egypt and the Trojan War. What other time periods do they go to?
Well, there’s a little of Da Vinci and of course the French Revolution which we started the movie with. Trojan Horse, Marie Antoinette, we mentioned Egypt and those are some extended scenes.
We saw Sherman’s nemesis, Penny, as Cleopatra. That’s adorable.
Yeah, she’s adorable and she wants to stay. She wants to be queen until she finds out that she gets to be buried with her husband, King Tut. Then she decides maybe she will take off.
What about the idea of Sherman going to school and getting into trouble with all the firsthand knowledge he has?
Well, I think that’s a wonderful example for kids to see that being smart and educated is really a positive thing. In the old artwork, we even have scene cells of Sherman at school with the board and Einstein’s theory of relativity up there. So I think it’s just a continuing play on how his life plays out, how he’s so enthusiastic about history because he’s actually gotten to partake in some.
Did he go to school in any of the early shows?
Well, in Dad’s series, you don’t actually see that he went to school like we’re doing now. We have the luxury of more time of course. The five minute episodes didn’t have that but it’s all connected to his learning which was what the WABAC machine is about.
Did you have any reservations about giving Peabody and Sherman their own movie, or did you maybe go in baby steps of giving them their own series, and then ultimately a movie?
We have thought of over the years doing series work but nobody really wants to go up against the original series, so I think a theatrical movie is a whole new avenue for us to go and it’s very exciting. It took an amazing amount of time to, as you said, go from five minutes to an 80 minute movie and that took years and years and years. I’ve been led to believe from some of the Dreamworks people, the creative people, that this was the hardest project they had to actually do that, go from five minutes to a feature length film.
Did you see earlier versions of the story that didn’t quite get there?
I’ve been involved at Dreamworks for seven years, but it’s been at least that long. Rob [Minkoff] came to me originally with wanting to do the movie so I’ve been through every iteration and thought process through the whole thing. I’m lucky enough that one of the family rights is to get the consultation, which I get to do. My whole job is to assist Dreamworks and the team because they’re brilliant, but to make sure that it’s pure to Dad’s property because that’s what my job is.
What were some of the hiccups in the story where it didn’t quite land like it does now?
Sometimes it was hard to get as many time travels in as we got in now. We wanted a protagonist and we had different bad guys, Nero and some things that didn’t play as well. We wanted to get more heart from the characters. It’s just a long evolution.
Nero, like from Caesar’s time?
He’s not in the movie anymore?
I don't think he’s in the current movie.
Is there a main villain in this version?
Actually, I think it switched to the Penny character, so she adds the little bit of [trouble] but in each of the historical time periods, there’s a problem to be solved.
Have you had any discussions about revisiting Rocky and Bullwinkle?
What format would that take now?
Animated, how’s that? Can we just stick with animated.
Do you think the live-action movie was a mistake?
You know, I was involved every minute of that one. Everybody at Universal and I believed in it. It was just one of those movies that we thought was going to be good and it came out and it didn’t hit with the public. So I am not embarrassed about that. I think it was a great movie but it didn’t capture the public’s imagination so I think there’s still room for maybe an animated movie.
It’s been over 10 years, so could it reset the series?
That’s what we’re planning on. We’re doing all kinds of exciting things in development with Dreamworks. Nothing I can talk about yet but they’re looking at a lot of the Ward characters which is really wonderful.
Well, the live-action George of the Jungle was great.
Would you take that back to animated too?
Actually, we did a George of the Jungle children’s animated cartoon show for a couple years for Cartoon Network and then they kind of changed direction and we’re now developing a season two of that for television. But it will first go internationally. I don't know whether it’s going to be on American TV but that’s in development right now, so that’s exciting but we did a follow-up, I don't know if you saw it, direct to video George of the Jungle 2.
I did not see that one.
It wasn’t my favorite. I love George 1.
Thomas Haden Church still talks about that, that he came back for the straight to video sequel.
He’s great. Yeah, he did. He was great. We filmed that in Australia so I was over there.
So do Dreamworks filmmakers have an eye on your whole catalog?
I think so. I would like to say yes.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel