Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid vs. Splash

You can go all around the world and find mermaid stories. The earliest tales go as far back as around 1000 BC, in ancient Assyria. Christopher Columbus thought he saw some. PT Barnum claimed to have one, but it was just a hoax. And of course, millions of people see mermaids every day on their coffee cups!

A chance showing on TV of the Ron Howard romantic comedy Splash, a favorite from my childhood, reminded me of another mermaid movie, one I hadn't seen: Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. I doubted the latter was as good as the former, but I watched it on YouTube anyway, thinking it might be fun to compare the two. Well, I was right; Splash is better by a country mile.

I believed the romance in Splash more. Tom Hanks, a young man, is set up as a lovelorn guy, someone convinced true love was out of his reach. Darryl Hannah seems like a dream come true to him, but of course, she's got a secret: she's a fish. When he finds out, he has to learn to look past that, and with effort, he does.

In Peabody, William Powell meets Ann Blyth, the mermaid, as a much older man, a married one at that. For all his poetic waxing to her, he never struck me as going through anything more than a mid-life crisis, precipitated by his wife casually flirting with another man. Even when wifey goes conveniently missing, I never believed in Powell and Blyth as a couple; partly because of the age difference, which the movie, to its credit, doesn't ignore, but also because the wife, flirting aside, was a decent person, and Powell is not presented as a cad. Might've made for a more interesting movie if he was, but as it is, everything is milquetoast.

There's some talk in Peabody of the ruts marriages go through, which cause the eye to wander. As if a mermaid wasn't enough, there's another young chick who catches Powell's attention. She's not a mermaid, but she sings a song and swims a little. Powell actually implies at one point he prefers a woman he can feel superior to - and along comes Blyth, who can't speak, knows nothing of the world, and is totally reliant on him. Again, if his character began as more of a sleaze, and his dalliance with Blyth made him realize he really loved his wife after all, I could buy that, but this movie is too slight to go in that direction.

Hannah, by contrast, learns how to speak to Hanks on her own and was willing to give up her mermaid superpowers to be with him. She's a more active character than Blyth, and Hanks is way less paternalistic than Powell.

Peabody is a Blyth movie, so that means we gotta get Jacqueline's opinion:
...the 36-year difference between [Powell and Blyth] did not really make for any awkwardness in the crush the mermaid and the man had for each other on screen, mainly because the crush was so innocent and so was the mermaid. For his part, William Powell strolled through his character's midlife crisis with the panache and bemused sophistication of The Thin Man [movies], with that sly humor that uses discretion as a springboard to irony. He's perfect in the role.
She calls Peabody an "offbeat charmer." (Many behind-the-scenes pics at her post; take a look.) I was bored to death. It certainly wasn't as funny as Splash, which has lots of Noo Yawk character moments, plus it has the wonderful John Candy and Eugene Levy. Powell and Blyth fans should stick to his Thin Man movies and her musicals instead.

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