Starring: Ty Burrell (Dawn of the Dead), Max Charles (The Amazing Spider-Man), Ariel Winter (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Allison Janney (American Beauty), Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games)
Director: Rob Minkoff (The Lion King)
Writer: Craig Wright (Lost)
Runtime: 1 hour 32 minutes
Release Date: 7 February (UK), 7 March (US)
I’m not sure how many kids today (or many adults for that matter) remember Mr. Peabody & Sherman, the main characters from Rocky and Bullwinkle segment Peabody’s Improbable History. Except maybe that time they showed up on an episode of The Simpsons (“Quiet, you!”). But Dreamworks SKG have decided to create an animated adventure about the dog and his boy travelling through time for educational purposes, so here we are.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman has a lot of the tropes of your standard kids’ film. It’s got bright colours, fast animation, pop culture references, toilet humour, you know the drill. But luckily, this isn’t one of those films that completely rely on the clichés. There is a decent story here, one that is somewhat hackneyed at points, but it’s got a good heart and does get across a genuine message about parenting. The humour works for the most part as well. It maybe relies on a few too many puns, but even their overuse and lameness is pointed out. But when the jokes hit, they really hit. During the entertaining climax where all these historical figures end up in the same place, there are some really funny moments (even though many of them will go over the kids’ heads). The film also doesn’t ignore the original show’s purpose of being educational, providing some basic but fun information about the historical periods they visit without bogging the fun down (on a side note, I find it funny that the depiction of the siege of Troy here is probably more accurate than it was portrayed in the movie Troy). It’s really great when a film doesn’t pander to kids and actually teaches them something, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman does it better than most. My main problem with the film is the villain. I hate it when villains are just mean for no real reason other than the plot says so and have nothing outside of that, and the character of Mrs. Grunion (Allison Janney) is just that. She isn’t even allowed to be funny; I’m okay with a one-note bad guy if they are at least humorous in some way. But nope. She just goes about being evil because we need some kind of threat to Peabody and Sherman’s relationship because the plot says so. It didn’t need to be done this way, and every time Grunion showed up I just groaned.
Other than the humour and the history, a big reason the film works is because of the strong voice cast. Ty Burrell does a good job as Mr. Peabody, playing the genius dog that could be best summed up as a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Buckaroo Banzai. Max Charles is endearing and sweet as the somewhat dopey Sherman; it’s rare that a child actor gets to be in an animated movie when they could easily hire an adult, but Charles sounds professional enough that it seems genuine. The way he and Peabody play off each other works really well, especially considering their voices were probably recorded far apart. Ariel Winter’s Penny could have easily been a clichéd know-it-all bully, but the film is luckily smarter than that. The burgeoning relationship between her and Sherman works and luckily they don’t go too far with it. The rest of the voice cast is fun as well. Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann are entertaining as Penny’s parents, Stanley Tucci is having fun as usual playing Leonardo Da Vinci, and then there’s the old reliable Patrick Warburton as Agamemnon. Come on, when is Warburton not worth a laugh? Even Allison Janney looks like she’s trying, but ultimately it’s the script that fails her.
Dreamworks SKG’s animation has always had a much more cartoony feel to it that its contemporaries, but for this type of film it works. It’s not exactly jaw dropping, but there’s certainly nothing to complain about. The major standouts in the animation are an early escape scene during a visit to the French Revolution, and an action beat during the Troy segment that amusingly riffs on 300. All the characters look well designed and are very expressive, helping the comedy stay amusing. The musical score by Danny Elfman isn’t exactly memorable but it certainly helps keep things flowing.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is an entertaining animated film that does just what it needs to. It’s got a good heart, a great cast, and throws in some history lessons to sweeten the deal. It’s not a groundbreaking piece of work worthy of high praise but if the kids want to see it, you could do a lot worse than this.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10