Editor’s Notes: Mr. Peabody and Sherman is now open in wide theatrical release. For an additional perspective, please read Daniel’s review (65/100).
I was incredibly skeptical when I saw the first trailer for Mr. Peabody and Sherman. I’ve been a fan of that segment of Jay Ward’s classic Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends since I was a kid (no, I didn’t see it in the first run, they were repeated a lot in the early and mid-80s). The trailer seemed to make look stupid, dumbed down for modern audiences but when I sat in the theater with my son and my wife, the film that ran was smart, witty and made jokes based on history and literature that if you aren’t well versed in both the jokes won’t make a lot of sense.
The story is of Mr. Peabody (voiced by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell), a hyper-genius dog and his pet boy, I mean adopted son, Sherman (voiced by Max Charles). Mr. Peabody has achieved many great honors and invented countless things, but the greatest invention was the WABAC Machine (in the original, it was made for Sherman as a birthday present, but in the film it was constructed earlier). The WABAC Machine is a time machine which takes Mr. Peabody and Sherman back in time to educate Sherman on real history first hand.
…On top of the wonderful humor, the plot gets really complicated as it weaves in time travel theories like crossing your own timeline and having two of you in one place at the same time and nature working to undo the paradox.
This vast information lands Sherman in some trouble on his first of school (apparently he got to skip the compulsory year of Kindergarten). He knows a little too much about George Washington and draws the ire of Penny (Ariel Winter) because he corrected her. She starts picking on Sherman at lunch, which leads to her beating him up and then he bites her. Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney) of child services is called in and is determined to take Sherman away from Peabody because of a bigoted mindset against Peabody.
So, Peabody decides to invite Penny and her family over for dinner in an attempt to smooth things over between them. Sherman is obviously displeased because he and Penny pretty much hate each other. And Sherman isn’t to mention the WABAC. While Peabody is entertaining Penny’s parents (voiced by Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann), Penny confronts Sherman about his knowledge of George Washington and he of course tells her about the WABAC. He loses Penny in ancient Egypt, comes back to get help from Peabody and the situation gets worse from there.
One of the things I liked most about this film is how close to the spirit of the original shorts the film keeps. It alters things to bring the concept into the 21st century and does not tell the same jokes, but it is true to the original nevertheless. Peabody makes some great puns and the humor coming from the surrounding characters is very smart (one joke, made by Patrick Warburton’s Agamemnon when describing family issues in Greece is “And Oedipus, well let’s just say you don’t want to go to his house for the holidays!”) and the film achieves a delicate balance between intelligent humor and crude humor (there’s a masturbation joke that is really funny and veiled enough for the parents to have to awkwardly answer their kids when they say “why was that funny?”).
The film follows Dreamworks attempts to get away from their films that just go for the obvious jokes and create something worthwhile with real emotion…
On top of the wonderful humor, the plot gets really complicated as it weaves in time travel theories like crossing your own timeline and having two of you in one place at the same time and nature working to undo the paradox. Even while getting complicated, the film never gets confusing (at least it didn’t for me, but I am an avid Star Trek and Doctor Who fan so perhaps I’m not the best judge of that). It takes the time to explain the situation, but isn’t just worked in like boring exposition. Peabody is the only one who understands fully what’s going on and he explains it quickly so others can process it and he can work on fixing it.
Director Rob Minkoff (who also directed The Lion King) and his team have created a vivid world wherein talking dogs and time travel is perfectly acceptable to all they encounter. The historical figures know they are from the future and don’t reject them as crazy or constantly probe them for what is to come. They work with Leonardo Di Vinci (wonderfully voiced by Stanley Tucci), whom they’ve visited and befriended long ago, to repower the WABAC with no mentions of what the future is like. They also have the pacing just right. I thought that formatting the series would be difficult to keep interesting because it would feel episodic, but each adventure flowed well into the next and each one was so different that it didn’t feel repetitive.
Another big surprise to me was Ty Burrell. I’ve never seen Modern Family, so I had no idea how talented he is. He steps into the voice of Peabody expertly, mimicking the voice created by Bill Scott but still putting his own stamp to it. He inhabits Peabody incredibly well and makes me look forward to any future installments with these characters (though a sequel would be tough, considering they threw everything at this endeavor).
When all is said and done, the movie is quite a marvel. They took a clever idea from 55 years ago and didn’t lose any of the cleverness when they updated it. The writers clearly knew the shorts well and respected them a great deal because they took care to not just take the concept and go for every cheap joke they could find (though there are a few). They kept the concept and the humor intelligent, which may be off-putting for some who recognize that the joke that was just told was for them and not their kids and they don’t get it either, but there are enough jokes for everyone to keep the young and the old entertained. The film follows Dreamworks attempts to get away from their films that just go for the obvious jokes and create something worthwhile with real emotion, like How to Train Your Dragon (2010). The ending is heartfelt and genuine and reinforces themes of family and love that are woven in throughout the film. Mr. Peabody and Sherman is funny, smart, genuine, emotional and a good time to be had by all.
[notification type=”star”]85/100 ~ GREAT. Mr. Peabody and Sherman is funny, smart, genuine, emotional and a good time to be had by all.[/notification]