Mr. Peabody & Sherman

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Release: Friday, March 7, 2014

[Theater]

Here’s a newsflash: Rover is a really boring name for a dog. You should get creative and name yours something crazy and endearing, you know, like Mr. Peabody. Or whatever suits your fancy.

Put thick nerdy glasses on it, too, if you want. Just don’t expect the pup to transform itself into the brainiac, time-traveling father-figure that audiences will come to know and love in Dreamworks Pictures’ Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Yes, it is possible for old dogs to learn new tricks. It’s probably not even that much of a stretch to imagine a really good trainer being able to teach a dog a thing or two about algebra, perhaps even physics. We’ve managed to make them speak our language. . . What’s next, dogs graduating at the top of their classes as valedogtorians? (I can’t take credit for that pun, it’s in the movie.)

All of this is still less ridiculous than the concept of a dog raising a child, yet these are the kinds of possibilities we are presented with in this fanciful adventure comedy from the director who brought us The Lion King.

Sherman (voice of Max Charles), abandoned by his parents at a very early age, was discovered in an alley one rainy night by a passing dog, a dog who had never managed to find himself an owner and was getting very lonely. Apparently feeling in a generous mood, a federal judge granted Mr. Peabody the right to take care of and raise the child. This is a responsibility he would take extremely seriously, making sure Sherman grows up to be an intelligent, sensible boy who stays on the straight and narrow. He wants Sherman to be just like him, except without the paws.

Because he looks after the boy so intently, his childrearing skills have caused Sherman to be a bit of an oddball. During his first day at school he is teased by a mean girl, Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter) when she learns of his unorthodox upbringing. Feeling cornered, Sherman takes a leaf out of his father’s book and sinks his teeth into her arm in self-defense, an act that would then draw the principal’s attention and that of a nasty woman from Child Services, Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney). In case any adult in the audience was thinking the same, the movie does indeed address the concept of a dog raising a child. We are left to make up our own minds whether the role reversal works. It is indeed a comical idea, at the very least.

Over the course of 90 minutes this endearing but undeniably oddball pair go on many a wild adventure using what Peabody has called his latest invention the WABAC (“way back”) Machine, a device that allows them to travel back in time to any point in history they want to visit. When Penny and her parents come over for a dinner one night in an effort to patch things up between the two kids — thus eliminating the need for Child Services’ intervention — Sherman disobeys his dad’s orders to not show anyone the time travel machine, and they shoot back into the days of ancient Egypt, where the fun jumps into hyperdrive.

Meh. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But this moment does mark a beginning, a point in time where later we might actually remember what was attractive about this movie. The general set-up and story is fairly generic and nothing that will be chatted about excitedly afterwards (unlike some as of late that have become the trendy thing to talk about). However, the time travel element of Mr. Peabody & Sherman diverts our attention away from the conventional aspects more often than it highlights the weaknesses. A pit-stop in Renaissance Era-Italy serves as a highlight, where we get to see the “real” behind-the-scenes of Da Vinci’s painting of the ‘Mona Lisa,’ watch Sherman testing out the very first airplane prototype, and experience the first of many little arguments Sherman has with Peabody, who seems to be going from protective father to overprotective nuisance with each scene that passes.

All while this epic trek is happening we are trying to get back to the original timeline, before Sherman makes the mistake of showing anyone the WABAC, and just after the Peterson’s arrive for dinner. Peabody hopes that all tragedy can be avoided if they can just make it back home safe and at the right time. Of course, if they jump back to that time they will create their own doubles, which will prove to be problematic when it inevitably happens. This is a side effect Peabody had warned of when using the time traveling machine. You can’t blame him too badly, though; he’s a dog that’s basically one-upped Einstein. So there are kinks and flaws in his newfangled contraption, but come on. Stop pretending like this is confusing. . . . .

There is a great deal of heart to it, and even despite all of the interesting scenarios we find our intrepid voyagers getting involved in, the ultimate experience is ironically bereft of the intelligence quota that is suggested by the character of Peabody. A fiercely intellectual animal is stuffed into a movie with fart jokes and lame sight gags as its sales pitch. A good deal of the joke-telling not aimed at kids becomes repetitive and was never very strong from the beginning. But the little ones should find themselves with plenty to do as they analyze ridiculously animated fat people, thin people, famous icons, and of course, the requisite fart jokes and sounds. In essence, it’s nothing like the segment from The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show from the late 50s/early 60s.

If Peabody’s science is meant to be cutting edge, then the product he’s now featured in is a pretty dull blade. Like, plastic knife bad. While the animation is often humorous and perpetually beautiful, this isn’t quite the breath of fresh air as something like (yes, I’m going to have to reference it again) The Lego Movie, where entire families will have something to feast on for the duration; no, indeed this is one for the kids. Apparently they still think you owe them one, even after you took them to that most rare of animated films.

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2-5Recommendation: Kids may forget it possibly quicker than their chaperones. Its hardly a replacement for the segment that aired so long ago (titled Peabody’s Improbable History) but also somewhat disappointingly, Mr. Peabody & Sherman doesn’t surpass even modern animation standards as it features rather lazy writing and storytelling. It has an interesting gimmick but the rest is nothing but predictable, even if there is a lot going on. It certainly won’t be the worst idea to take the family to this, but it’s pretty likely there’ll be much better family outings as the year progresses.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “All sons have had some issues with their parents. Odysseus was going to be left stranded at home. Ajax was going to be in a Greek chorus. And Oedipus. . . . you do not want to go to his house for the holidays! You want to talk about awkward. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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19 thoughts on “Mr. Peabody & Sherman

  1. I was disappointed. It was nothing like the smartly written TV cartoon. Even taken on its own merits, it didn’t do anything interesting with its time travel set up. Glad you enjoyed it so much. I’d give it a 3/8. NEXT!

    • Yeah I actually have forgotten I gave it a positive rating. I guess in the end I had fun, but a lot of it was mindless and could have been better crafted. Just goes to prove that things like Wreck It Ralph and The Lego Movie are truly one-of-a-kind experiences

  2. The one thing this film is sure to do is put children in the seats. And in that regard, it works. Colorful, vibrant, and full of outrageous fun for those too young to care about the conventional plot or lazy antics of the writers. Never seen the original segments that it is based on, but the children watching it these days likely did not either. All in all, it never bored me, so I’ll give it that much credit. Your score is quite accurate.

    • Thanks and I would fully agree. It’s squarely aimed at the chillun, which is cool. I was hoping to connect with it more still, because I do like the immature sometimes. This one was also overly complex to also still be a “kiddie” movie. A very strange blend. I’ll check out your review here shortly

      • That is true, but maybe the kids won’t notice much of the more complex aspects with all the dumb things going on haha. The Lego Movie truly puts its to shame, as you said!

        Have not got around to reviewing it yet. May be a while as I have some that I want to write first. I’m so behind with movie watching and when they are reviewed!

  3. Good review Tom. Made me laugh, get a tear in my eye and had me look forward to a future sequel for these characters, if they decide to go down that road. I think that they just might, I just hope that they don’t screw it up like they’ve done with many other animated-sequels.

    • Thanks dude, I wasn’t overly impressed by it so a sequel wouldn’t probably sell me a ticket. All the same, I had a bit of fun with it, which is really all that matters I suppose with these kinds of flicks. Sounds like you dug it a bit more. 🙂

  4. Peabody and Sherman passed me by as a youngster (must be an American only thing) so knew very little about this. That said, I love an animated film that offers something a little more for us grown ups. Splendid stuff Tom.

    • That’s really damn funny, man. I was about to say it sounds like this show was a British thing, but I think you’re right! It was well before my time, but I actually did manage to catch a few episodes of the show whenever I was visiting my grandparents (who still do live in Chelmsford). This film doesn’t do it justice, what little of the show I remember. But it’s also not the worst animation you’ll ever see. In fact, there are a few quite beautiful scenes.

    • You very well may like it more than I did but I found it to be a pretty average experience. There’s some good fun to be had but unfortunately the majority of the humor is eye-roll worthy. I debated about going to see this, so maybe my initial hesitance set me up to be disappointed. Who knows.

      • Saw it earlier tonight. And so I can now say I don’t really think so. I think it had limited ambition, and so mostly accomplished its objectives, but I also think it a bit without an audience. It was too intellectual for kids and too simple for grown ups.

      • Man. Couldn’t have put it better myself. It definitely seemed like there was no audience or a very well-defined one. It was overly complex but too simple for the wrong age groups. Still a fun, colorful flick but I was def under the impression it was going to be more memorable

  5. valedogtorians – damn I was about to say copyright that too! Not kidding, probably won’t see this. It is extremely difficult to get me to watch animations.

    • I know, right?? Little puns like that make this adventure a good bit of fun but you are totally not going to miss anything at all by skipping Peabody & Sherman.

      See, I used to be like that — it would take the movement of a mountain to get me into a theater showing an animated movie. But since I’ve been going to see flicks consistently, I’ve grown to appreciate the different kind of escapism they provide. And it’s purely that: escapism. Sometimes live-action movies make us feel trapped in reality; animated flicks are a complete escape. Which I have started to appreciate. But I can see why others don’t.

      • Then I might just skip it.

        Oh Tom, I understand that. It is not that I dislike them, it is just like pulling teeth to get me to sit down and watch one… at least you understand hahaha. Hmmmmm, that is one way to look at it. There are a few that I will watch with no issues (yes, Toy Story, I’m talking to you), but then there are others that are just too kiddie for me. I like the ones that have move actual story and backbone to them, if that makes any sense?

      • I think we see eye-to-eye on the matter! Too many times animated movies repel me b/c I look at them and think, “Oh, sweet. Another movie whose only appeal is to those who it’s still okay for them to be pooping their pants.” I, am sadly not one of those people. So I mostly sit those movies out. Once in a while a good one will come along though. Thought this could have been another, but. . . nope.

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