Film: ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ is a Surprisingly Fun Reimagining

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
| Directed by Rob Minkoff | Rated PG

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014) movie posterUnlike, apparently, quite a few people in my age range, I actually grew up watching Mr. Peabody and Sherman cartoons.

Granted, they were never my favorite characters within The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, but their quick and witty banter were always a welcomed presence on my television. At the very least, I enjoyed seeing them more than I did watching Dudley Do-Right—nothing against him, though.

With that said, however, I was quite tepid about whether or not Sherman and his canine companion would make a good presence on the big screen. After all, Mr. Do-Right, as well as the flying squirrel and his moose friend, failed to make much of an impression when they came out with their own movies, and the trailers for this animated movie seemed unlikely to capture the charm of the original Bill Scott and Jay Ward creations.

While the trailers have looked like utter dog shit (pun intended), I can thankfully say that Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s transformation from the small to the big screen continues to carry their sharp, droll humor, even when stuffed with modernization.

Renowned, Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) becomes the first dog ever to adopt a human boy, Sherman (voiced by Max Charles). Through his incredible inventions, Peabody has attempted to teach his son about the wonders of the world. But one invention in particular, his WABAC machine, teleports them throughout history, and gives them both a first hand look at the dangers and adventures of the past.

But there is one event that Mr. Peabody cannot prepare his son for: his first day of school. After an altercation, Peabody and Sherman are forced to bring the bratty Penny (voiced by Ariel Winter) into their house for dinner and entertainment. Ultimately, through some deceiving, Sherman ends up introducing her to the time traveling machine, which sends the three of them through a series of troubles throughout time and space.

In a small way, Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a step back for DreamWorks Animation. For years, the studio prided themselves in making movies based primarily on pop culture jokes and draped in today’s pop music. But, since 2008’s Kung Fu Panda, their films have been doing a good joke at moving away from flashy, meandering references in order to tell interesting characters and their stories. Well, I use interesting semi-loosely, but you get the idea.

But Mr. Peabody & Sherman sees them returning to their old ways. This time, though—thankfully— they are better able to transition between pop culture references like planking or auto-tune and the historically relevant jokes that the series supported itself upon. But there is still the need and, perhaps, irrational fear that the producers have to throw these jokes into the movie in order to capture the attention of its younger audiences. A shame, but I guess it makes sense.

With that said, however, what makes this re-adaptation work is its humorous and surprisingly witty script by Craig Wright. Although this is his first feature film screenplay, he is able to capture the spirit and tone of the original cartoons, and also bring it into the 21st century with (relative) ease.

While not every joke is a winner, there are more than enough funny ones to go around, for both kids and adults. Rightfully, the characters make good use of their surroundings, while also not being afraid to bond and show depth and growth in character. Which, in turn, helps to create the movie’s heart at its core, which is where the movie ultimately wins over its audience.

Although I would like to credit Wright for this, ultimately, I feel this was brought mainly through the director’s vision. Rob Minkoff has served as director or co-director on everything from The Lion King to The Forbidden Kingdom, but, thankfully, it appears that his efforts are successful here. Not only is he able to keep the movie going in a quick clip, but he is also able to make sure the movie makes the relationship between the two lead characters feel authentic and significant.

Which is something that is vital, especially given the odd pairing the two characters have upon first viewing. Although Minkoff has an hour and a half to work with instead of the five minutes-or-so Ward and Scott had in their original drawings, he is working with an audience that primarily have no clue who these characters are, let alone why they should care for their relationship together. What is so successful in his reimagining of these characters is that, not only does he make their dynamic feel genuine, but it never feels like it interrupts the story—even when it does.

Most important, though, is its humor, and that is really where this movie strives. In addition to Minkoff and Wright’s efforts, their voice cast helps brings this dynamic duo effectively to the screen. I had my reservations about Burrell being cast as the lead dog. Not that I dislike him, but his voice and mannerisms just didn’t seem right for the character in my mind. Especially considering that Robert Downey Jr. was originally conceived to be the voice of the brainiac dog.

Thankfully, however, although Burrell makes Peabody more of a shouting character than he initially ever was, he is able to bring a good deal of heart and humor to the role, and even, in some small ways, makes it his own. Equally, Charles brings some levity where many, many young child actors would not, which helps in the character’s emotional arc.

But, as hinted before, this is not a flawless reimagining. Alas, much like a lot of family features these days, this animated film falls victim of throwing out bathroom humor for the sake of a quick laugh. And, while this may work well enough for the younger crowd, it does drag this adventure down, and constantly reminded you that this is directed more at children than all-audiences.

Which is understandable, if still unfortunate. Listen, I get that this is a kids movie, and even PIXAR movies have thrown in fart jokes into their movies—I’m looking at you, Finding Nemo—but it still remains cheap, and there’s a reason why I consider that PIXAR movie to be one of their more overrated films. Well, not just that, but, whatever.

Hell, I even made a poop joke in this review, so perhaps I shouldn’t throw kidney stones at glass houses.

Additionally, it feels a little cheap that they make so many supporting characters rely on stereotypes. For example, every-a Italian character speak-a like-a this. Perhaps the original did the same, and I just forgot (it has been several years since I have seen the original cartoons) but my point still stands, I feel.

Although there was the rather intolerable The Nut Job earlier this year, between the awesome The Lego Movie and this, it is shaping up to be a pretty good year for animated movies so far. Mr. Peabody & Sherman may not be equal to the original Ward and Scott characters, but they bring a respectable return to the mainstream that audiences old and young should enjoy, whether they are familiar with these characters or not.

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