– Summary –
Director : Rob Minkoff
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Allison Janney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Stanley Tucci, Patrick Warburton, Zach Callison, Dennis Haysbert, Mel Brooks, Lake Bell, Jess Harnell, Tom McGrath.
Approx Running Time : 92 Minutes
Synopsis: Mr Peabody and his adpoted son Sherman must travel through time to prevent the destruction of our galaxy and an angry Adpotion Agency lady from removing Sherman from Peabody’s custody.
What we think : Solid animated film delivers the required laughs, energy and action to keep kids occupied, adults entertained and the wheels of Hollywood greased. Hardly a stand-out classic, or indeed warranting excessive re-watching, but worth a look for a throwback to the original cartoon series.
It’s all about the WABAC.
Weirdly, my childhood must have missed this one. Apparently, Mr Peabody & Sherman is based on a cartoon from the 60’s, one which was inserted into The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show (which was a cartoon I never got into, with it’s middling screenings in 80’s Australian regional television). Without that baggage, I wondered if I’d find the film as enjoyable as I probably should – it’s definitely a film for kids, although adults will enjoy the mild humor and vague (very vague) inappropriate sexual propositions – and whether it’s a film for fans of the original series. Mr Peabody & Sherman’s bright, shiny exterior had a fair challenge ahead: it had to compete with the multitude of other talking-animal-animated-kids-films on the market today, and even with it’s lineage stretching back well before Hollywood’s pop-culture chum bucket mined it for modern “updating”, the film’s cross-generational appeal surely had to be limited. The kids watching today probably have no idea about the ancestry of this film, while the adults who do would more likely give this a casual view, rather than make it a must-see event. With its canine lead and angular humanoid companion design, Mr Peabody & Sherman needed to deliver; so does it? Or, like a good doggy bone, does it need to be buried in the back garden where noone can find it?
Mr Peabody (voice of Ty Burrell) is a walking, talking genius dog, who has adopted a human child, Sherman (voice of Max Charles). With his exceptional intelligence, Mr Peabody uses his knowledge to construct a time machine (called the WABAC – pron. way-back) in order to teach Sherman about history, as he begins his first term of school. After being teased by local girl Penny (Ariel Winter), Sherman and Mr Peabody are investigated by unscrupulous and vindictive Adoption Agency officer Mrs Grunion (Allison Janney), who seems hell-bent on having Sherman removed from Mr Peabody’s care. During a dinner party for Penny’s parents (voices of Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann), Sherman and Penny steal away in the WABAC, causing ripples through time that threatens to tear apart the very fabric of our universe. With Mr Peabody in tow, and a slew of famous historical figures all making an appearance, Mr Peabody must use all his wits and ingenuity to stop Mrs Grunion, save human history, and prevent the collapse of all reality. Just a day’s work, really.
One expected a lot from director Rob Minkoff. The man directed The Lion King, one of Disney’s greatest modern successes (both financially and critically). Did Mr Peabody & Sherman deliver? Yes, it did. As an animated feature it’s a delight, a whizz-bang accomplishment of artistry and typically frantic storytelling, jammed with references to all manner of historical factoids and teeming with a sense of humor that skirts its crazy premise without batting an eyelid (like how in the hell does a talking dog adopt a human child?); the film’s whacky, slant-sideways insouciance towards those who might disparage it is a breath of fresh, time-traveling air. While many of its historical characters are conventionally “modernized” for today’s audiences (Greek warrior king, Agamemnon, voiced by go-to-guy Alpha Male Patrick Warburton – sigh, again – is a case in point) and the technicalities of time travel, the laws of physics, and even pure logic are just brushed aside in the name of an eye-catching action sequence or slight giggle, there’s a sense of fun about Peabody & Sherman that shines through.
In saying that, there’s also an undercurrent of nasty too. The odious Mrs Grunion, who for reasons unknown has a mad-on for Peabody’s adoption of Sherman, is cast as the villain, and her constant desire to split up the dog and the kid are written in such a way that might cause angst to the younger tots – especially those kids who are adopted and understand what’s going on – so parents should be aware that the film touches on some pretty heft emotional material. Grunion’s a villain without a backstory; she just is, because the film needs a villain, but she’s a convincing one thanks to great vocal work by Allison Janney. And now that I mention it, this whole “dog’s shouldn’t adpot kids” storyline does tend to dominate much of the film, dragging down some of the film’s lovely, friendly, trippy charm.
Generally, though, Mr Peabody & Sherman delivers some solid laughs, more than it’s share of dazzling animation, and terrific vocal work by the entire cast. Modern Family co-stars Ty Burrell and Ariel Winter pull duty on voicing Mr Peabody and Penny respectively, while the kid who played a young Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man films brings a nice childlike sense of wonder to the voice of Sherman. Kudos to Minkoff for snagging Stanley Tucci as Leonardo Da Vinci, in one of the film’s best ancillary characters, while Lake Bell cameos nicely as Marie Antoinette, and even Mel Brooks bobs up as one of the worlds greatest modern scientific minds. It’s all rapid-fire delivery and wry, charismatic work, while the animation keeps the eyes darting around the screen lapping up all the candy. This film looks stunning, make no mistake, so even if the story hobbles your children’s attention spans, the bright lights and splendid – albeit frantic – pacing and visual style deliver the requirement to re-watch this one more than twice.
I doubt the kiddies will appreciate the history of Mr Peabody & Sherman’s evolution from 60’s cartoon tidbit to full blown animated feature, nor will adults who remember said show, and are keen to see the big-screen translation, find anything here particularly controversial; as a modern animated feature, it’s as heartwarming and carefree as you require, and as skewed towards zany as kids demand. While the subplot of the story treads into dangerously all-too-uncomfortable viewing for the really young ones, particularly the adoption and removal-of-care material, the rest of this film is a conglomeration of sweet-natured humor, sparklingly clever animation, and a zesty, full-blooded sense of adventure. Is it Lion King good? Nahh, what could be, but it’s still a decent film regardless.