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The Wayback Machine: The WABAC Machine

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Posted by: Byron Brewer, Managing Editor
created 05/10/2012 - 2:02pm

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“The Wayback Machine?” the emails I receive in the offices of CBN say. “Where the d’ast did you get that as a name for a column looking at old TV shows and movies?”

Well, for the very young or uninformed, the title of this column is a salute to the time machine called WABAC (pronounced “wayback”) invented by Mr. Peabody, a fictional dog and smartest being in his world (a segment of the early 1960s animated series Rocky and His Friends and later The Bullwinkle Show).

Mr. Peabody (voiced brilliantly by Bill Scott) always appeared in these segments accompanied by “his boy” Sherman (voiced by Walter Tetley). As the initial storyline goes, Peabody is a genius who adopted Sherman for company. Sherman is a naïve but inquisitive and energetic lad who's always one step behind getting his friend's dreadful puns.

Living in a big city apartment, Peabody was worried about exercising his “boy,” so he built the WABAC time machine so Sherman and he could go traipsing about the time continuum.

The WABAC Machine is a take-off on early computer acronyms such as UNIVAC and ENIAC. With the WABAC Machine, Peabody and Sherman travel back in time through a door right there in their urban apartment and witness various historical events.

Peabody always narrates key background events as he and Sherman whiz back in time. This not only moved the story along, it saved a great deal of work for the animator and a lot of money for the sponsor. Upon arrival at any place on the globe, Peabody's technological genius is able to tune in on any language and convert it to English, thus saving the expense and distraction of inserting subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

The WABAC Machine had many quirks when first invented. In the episode “Show Opening,” Peabody and Sherman go back in time to see a Roman speaking in Latin; Peabody then adds a translator circuit to the machine so that everyone seems to speak English and see the Roman again finding out he is a used chariot salesman.

Their next trip is to see Ben Franklin flying his kite but find out they cannot interact with the past so Peabody makes some more adjustments turning the WABAC from time machine into a sort of “should-have-been machine.”

Time turns totally cockeyed. For example, Paul Revere is unable to make his famous ride through Boston because his horse is actually a statue. In another trip, Robin Hood has suffered a head injury causing him to behave the opposite of normal -- shooting bows (rather than arrows) at peasants and wanting to steal from the poor so as to give to the rich.

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At the end of each episode, back in “our time,” Peabody and Sherman discuss the event they just witnessed, with Peabody always offering a bad pun related to the occurrence or the people just encountered. For example, when “Battle of Little Big Horn” is complete, Peabody directs Sherman's attention to a hot dog vendor and his pushcart at Little Big Horn in the present, taking care to mention that this was really “Custer's Last Stand.”

The great news for Peabody fans (we know who we are) and time-travel nuts is that an animated feature film based on the characters of Mr. Peabody and Sherman has been in development at Dream Works Animation at least since 2007. The feature is being directed by Rob Minkoff, who is famous for co-directing The Lion King for Disney.

In January 2011, it was announced that a 3-D computer animated film titled Mr. Peabody & Sherman will be released in 2014. Peabody will most likely be voiced by Ty Burrell with Max Charles, the actor who plays young Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man, voicing Sherman.

According to the film’s released plot, when Sherman's use of their time-traveling WABAC Machine results in disastrous and comical results, it is up to them to put things on track before the space-time continuum is irreparably destroyed.

And now you know!

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