By Bob Garver
Hollywood is really scraping for franchises now. I doubt many kids today have even heard of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” let alone the “Peabody’s Improbable History” segments contained therein. They haven’t missed much; the segments were little more than filler while the moose and squirrel were on break. I guess it doesn’t matter. The film, for all its faults, does not require knowledge of the cartoon to be enjoyed.
The animated film follows the adventures of world’s smartest dog Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) and his adopted human son Sherman (Max Charles) as they travel through time getting into all sorts of trouble. The whole thing is set in motion when a classmate of Sherman’s named Penny (Ariel Winter) teases him for basically being a dog since he has one for a father. Sherman bites her, and Mr. Peabody has to invite her and her parents (Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert) over for an apology dinner. Penny dares Sherman to show her Mr. Peabody’s time machine known as the WABAC, they take a joyride, and Sherman promptly loses her in ancient Egypt. It’s up to the dog and his boy to set things right, both with Penny and with history.
We take trips to Egypt (where Penny wants to marry King Tut because she knows he’ll die young and she mistakenly thinks she’ll inherit the kingdom after he croaks), France during the Revolution (where Sherman wants a piece of cake, but Marie Antoinette is hogging it all), Italy during the Renaissance (where Mr. Peabody has a mishap that causes an otherwise unhappy Mona Lisa to smile for Da Vinci) and Troy (where Sherman wants to be the youngest member of the Greek army, and yes, he invades in that big wooden horse), among others. The film is never consistent on whether or not the trio actually affect history with their antics. On one hand, Mr. Peabody is single paw-edly responsible for the Mona Lisa’s smile, but there are no reports in the future of a talking dog showing up for important historical moments. Another thing I found odd is that Sherman corrects Penny for believing the legend that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree, but practically the next scene shows him and Mr. Peabody flying a kite with Benjamin Franklin, which is equally fictional. Is the movie interested in an accurate version of history or not?
The film spends a lot of time on the adoptive relationship between Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Several people, including a meddlesome social worker (Allison Janney) don’t believe a dog is fit to raise a boy. I’m not sure what lesson we’re supposed to be learning from this storyline, is it that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge anthropomorphic talking dogs? Got it, I guess. One common complaint I’ve heard about the movie that I do not share is that Mr. Peabody is an unlikeable character because he’s an arrogant know-it-all. While he does sometimes venture into this territory, he’s above all a loving parent and it’s hard to stay mad at him.
The humor is hit and miss, mostly miss. The gags tend to center around Mr. Peabody being an expert at everything and the fiddling he and Sherman do with history. The film’s target audience is young kids and there’s just not that much for adults to enjoy too. I found myself laughing at the darker gags (my favorite involve the violent practices in Egypt), which probably isn’t healthy. Viewers of all ages beware: Mr. Peabody uses puns more painful than anything about the mummification process.
“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is an admirable enough movie, especially for the loving relationship between the two leads. Parents probably won’t enjoy it on the same level as their kids, but it’s not so cutesy that it qualifies as insulting. It won’t go down in history as a classic, but it’s an okay way to get in some family bonding.
Two Stars out of Five.
“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is playing at Hershey Cocoaplex. The film is rated PG for some mild action and brief rude humor. Its running time is 92 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.