MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN
*** (out of 5)
March 7, 2014
Ty Burrell as MR. PEABODY
Max Charles as SHERMAN
Ariel Winter as PENNY PETERSON
Stephen Colbert as PAUL PETERSON
Leslie Mann as PATTY PETERSON
Allison Janney as MRS. GRUNION
Directed by: Rob Minkoff
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Even though I have been very aware of the original cartoons of Mr. Peabody & Sherman, it has been decades since I watched one. I remember not being wild about them when I was much younger, which is probably because the whole staple of characters surround the Rocky & Bullwinkle show were more irreverent than my grade-school mind could fully comprehend.
In the interest of being fair, I tracked down several episodes of “Mr. Peabody’s Improbably History” to refresh my memory. As an adult, and as one who had a better grasp of history as a whole, I found these to be far more enjoyable than they were when I was a young child. Sure, they were formulaic – involving Mr. Peabody and his adoptive boy Sherman traveling in the WABAC machine to important points in history to discover ridiculous situations, always resolved with a pun from Mr. Peabody – but they were fun and oddly educational.
When I had first seen trailers for the CGI animated feature “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” I was a bit hesitant. After all, Hollywood – and particularly the animated film establishment – has a history of grossly changing classic characters to fit a standard mainstream mold. After all, look at what Disney did with the story of Pocahontas, and you’ll end up weeping.
Fortunately, those early trailers were a bit too broad, and the actual story that the film follows falls much more in line with the spirit of the original Mr. Peabody. Things have been updated a bit, and there is a greater story about Peabody’s relationship with Sherman, but that was understandable to make a full-length feature from what amounted to a short 10-minute sketch on the Rocky & Bullwinkle show.
In “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” we learn about the genius dog Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell), who decides to adopt a son, Sherman (Max Charles). After receiving a comprehensive and stellar at-home education, Sherman starts to go to school, only to be bullied for being the son of a dog. The bully is a girl named Penny (Ariel Winter), whom Sherman ends up biting in a fight. To try to smooth things over, and to appease an overzealous social worker (Allison Janney) who wants to take Sherman away, Mr. Peabody has everyone over for a dinner party.
While Mr. Peabody is entertaining Penny’s parents, Sherman shows Penny the WABAC. They end up traveling through history and causing several problems, necessitating Peabody trying to save them and fix history.
There are elements of this film that I really did enjoy, and I’d even go as far to say they are important to kids. The biggest advantage of “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is that it helps ignite an interest in history in children, and if only a few of them walk away from this film wanting to know more about Leonardo Da Vinci, the Trojan War or ancient Egypt, the film has done its job. Similar to the original show, there are plenty of silly and anachronistic moments in the history of the film, and Peabody does throw in a clever pun now and then. In the end, the spirit of the original cartoons is retained enough to honor the source material, even if things are expanded and embellished in the new 3D CGI medium.
As the voice of Mr. Peabody, Ty Burrell does a fine job, though I have always thought David Hyde Pierce would have been the most appropriate choice. Still, Burrell embodies the mix of warmth, arrogance and intellectualism in the original character.
The biggest problem with the film is that once you get past the moments of improbably history, the story begins to turn in on itself. The entire plot device of the social worker trying to take Sherman away seems very forced and very trite, and the weirdly dysfunctional relationship between the dog and his boy never quite gels when examined too much in the film.
Still, as a lark for children that might give them some interest in the history of the world, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” definitely does its job.