Movie Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman
By Matthew Huntley
March 13, 2014
Mr. Peabody and Sherman took me by surprise. What I assumed was going to be a silly, pun-filled children’s movie turned out to be a jolly, witty and relentlessly energetic laugher for kids and adults alike. The filmmakers have done a good job of balancing the entertainment value for both demographics, and that makes it a win for the whole family.
Why was I taken by surprise? For starters, the trailer and ad campaign focused heavily on the fact that Mr. Peabody (voice of Ty Burrell) is a dog, and therefore made us endure such words and taglines as “vale-dog-torian” and “He’s leaving his mark on history.” Wah wah.
But luckily the movie gets over this shtick sooner rather than later. The idea of Mr. Peabody being a dog isn’t just used to harbor cheap jokes; it actually drives the plot. And I suppose in this first installment of what the studio hopes will be a long-running franchise, that’s appropriate, since most viewers will be introduced to Mr. Peabody for the first time. They’ll learn, just as I did, that he isn’t your average dog, but a hyper-intelligent beagle who talks, wears black-rimmed glasses and a red bowtie, and possesses an insatiable thirst for knowledge and culture. He seems to be the only one of his kind, too. What other dogs can rightfully call themselves a genius inventor, brilliant scientist, star athlete, multi-talented musician and gourmet chef?
Yes, Mr. Peabody can pretty much do it all, including one of life’s most difficult tasks: raise a human child. Years ago, as we see in a flashback, he found an abandoned baby boy in an alley and convinced the court system to let him adopt him. Because Mr. Peabody never had a real home of his own growing up (he was always overlooked at the kennel and deemed “too sarcastic” by potential owners), he didn’t want this boy, whom he names Sherman (Max Charles), to go through the same thing. So he volunteers to be his father, though he insists Sherman call him “Mr. Peabody.”
Older viewers may remember Mr. Peabody and Sherman from ”The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” which aired in the1960s, but the characters have been given a 21st century makeover. No longer are they flat and 2D (a format that still has its charm), but sharp, three-dimensional characters living in a computer animated world.
In order to see their old versions, we’d probably have to utilize Mr. Peabody’s WABAC, a highly sophisticated time machine that allows him to provide Sherman first-hand accounts of some of history’s most famous people and events, including Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. These lessons give Sherman an edge over his classmates at school, where he’s able to demystify such beliefs as George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, which Sherman declares is an “apocryphal” fable that was made up just teach kids a valuable lesson.
Sherman’s knowledge annoys his jealous classmate, Penny (Ariel Winter), who resorts to calling him a dog because of his father. As a result, he ends up biting her and the incident calls into question Mr. Peabody’s fitness as a parent by a snappy Child Services agent (Allison Janey), who threatens to take Sherman away pending an investigation.
As damage control, Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann) over to his swank Manhattan apartment for a fancy dinner. Things start out swimmingly until Sherman shows Penny the WABAC machine, leading Mr. Peabody and the two kids on series of space-time misadventures to such places as Ancient Egypt, where Penny is betrothed to King Tut; Italy, during the Renaissance, when Leonardo Da Vinci was trying desperately to get Mona Lisa to smile; and eventually Troy, at the onset of the Trojan War. Of course, each of these times and places yields its own set of goofy send-ups of the respective historical figures.
I’ve never seen the old “Mr. Peabody’s Improbable Segments” from 50 plus years ago, but I imagine “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” maintains its basic structure. In fact, the movie feels like an elongated episode, except that it has to take the time to introduce us to the characters. Even so, I enjoyed it for the way it lampooned history and gave its zany, classical figures modern-day sensibilities.
I also appreciated how the movie attempts to teach kids something, despite the looseness of the facts. I could actually see kids absorbing the history behind Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s wild predicaments and it was nice to see the movie go beyond the usual means to get kids attention. It’s not just bright colors, slapstick comedy and body humor. Who knows, perhaps Mr. Peabody and Sherman could possibly jumpstart kids’ own thirst for knowledge. Plus, the movie has a big heart and director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) makes it touching as well as humorous.
Does Mr. Peabody and Sherman deserve to be ranked in the upper echelons of computer-animated family movies? No, but it’s a funny, cheerful and affecting just the same. If there’s a sequel, I wonder if the filmmakers’ next move would be to provide Mr. Peabody a significant other. His love life is one aspect they don’t touch upon, but knowing Mr. Peabody, if he were to fall in love, he’d attempt to explain it with logic and reason. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I’d welcome the chance.