Directed by: Rob Minkoff.
Written by: Craig Wright & Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon based on the series produced by Jay Ward.
Starring: Ty Burrell (Mr. Peabody), Max Charles (Sherman), Ariel Winter (Penny Peterson), Allison Janney (Ms. Grunion), Stephen Colbert (Paul Peterson), Leslie Mann (Patty Peterson), Stanley Tucci (Leonardo da Vinci), Lake Bell (Mona Lisa), Patrick Warburton (Agamemnon), Lauri Fraser (Marie Antoinette / Egyptian Woman), Stephen Tobolowsky (Principal Purdy), Dennis Haysbert (Judge), Zach Callison (King Tut), Steve Valentine (Ay), Leila Birch (WABAC Machine), Tom McGrath (Odysseus), Mel Brooks (Albert Einstein).
I never really watched Mr. Peabody & Sherman as a child – I wasn’t a fan of Rocky & Bullwinkle, and this pair got their started on their program, so I only have the vaguest recollection of the pair from growing up (in all honesty, I remember their cameo on The Simpsons better than their actual show). So I have no real nostalgia for these characters, and approached the feature film version as a newbie into their world. The film follows Dreamworks standard issue format for their animated films – provide a lot of brightly colored, fast moving action and juvenile humor for the kids, and some jokes for the parents that will go way over the children’s heads (this one for example has a joke about Oedipus). It’s a formula that has worked for Dreamworks in the past, and while Mr. Peabody and Sherman doesn’t really add anything new, it pretty much works this time as well. I had fun at the movie, without ever really getting involved with it. It kept my 2 ½ year old daughter entertained though – although I suspect that popcorn also played a role (when she sees the movie theater now, she points to it and yells “Popcorn” – trust me, it’s adorable).
The movie is about the world’s smartest dog – Mr. Peabody (voiced, excellently, by Ty Burrell) who was never adopted as a pup, because while all the other puppies ran around happily, Mr. Peabody saw nothing except futility in chasing a stick that his owner would simply take away from him and throw it again. Instead, he has dedicated his life to improving humanity through his genius inventions. Eventually, he wins the right to adopt Sherman – a child he finds abandoned in the streets – because he wants to give him what he never had as a youngster – a real family. Sherman inspires Mr. Peabody’s greatest invention – the WABAC machine, a time machine, which he uses to teach Sherman history first hand. Sherman eventually has to go to a real school – where he becomes the immediate target of the mean girl – Penny Peterson – and responds in a not very civilized why. If Mr. Peabody and Sherman cannot smooth things out with the Peterson family, Sherman may be taken away for the only father he ever knew. And, of course, Sherman and Penny will head out in the WABAC machine, screw things up, and come to Mr. Peabody for help in fixing it.
Thus begins a journey through time, where Peabody, Sherman and Penny travel from Ancient Greece to Egypt to Italy to visit Leonardo Da Vinci and some other stops along the way as well. The movie doesn’t really grapple with the possibility of changing the past changing the future – the only real rule is that you cannot travel to a time period where another you exists, because that may cause a rip in the space time continuum. Everything else is pretty much fair game – which is probably a good thing, as we don’t need children trying to piece together a complex series of timelines a la Looper or La Jetee.
For the most part the movie works. It’s fast paced and fun – it will keep the children amused – and if you’re an adult dragged along, there is enough jokes to keep you entertained as well. It doesn’t rise to the level of the best animated films – it’s nowhere near Pixar level, and doesn’t really come all that close to Dreamworks either for that matter. But as fun, lightweight family entertainment, it will do. And that’s all it really aspires to be.