Mr. Peabody & Sherman doesn’t quite know what kind of movie it wants to be, but your kids won’t care. They’ll like its fast-paced action and potty humor, and you’ll probably appreciate at least some of its messages (and ludicrous puns).
Voice cast: Ty Burrell (Mr. Peabody), Sherman (Max Charles), Penny (Ariel Winter), Stanley Tucci (Leonardo da Vinci), Mrs. Grunion (Allison Janney)
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There’s a lot to feel old about when you review movies for a living. Hollywood loves to remake classics from your childhood and adolescence that you grumpily think should be left alone. There’s always a new It Actor or Actress breaking onto the scene, and they get younger and younger each year. Stars you grew up with begin to receive “Lifetime Achievement Awards.” D’oh.
But when I heard about Mr. Peabody & Sherman, I felt young for once. The characters are originally from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show of the 1960s, which was before my time. Rejoice!
This is all to say that I didn’t have any expectations or preconceived notions going into the film, except that I figured there was no way it could be as good as The Lego Movie. And it isn’t. But after the dismal year for animated movies that was 2013, there is now hope. Because while Mr. Peabody & Sherman‘s animation was generic and it may not be inspiring enough for you to end up owning or watching several times, it’s still fun, smart, and enjoyable for both kids and adults.
Director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) and writer Craig Wright begin the tale with a brief introduction to the genius dog Mr. Peabody, who lives in a glamorous penthouse high above Manhattan with his seven-year-old adopted son, Sherman. Yep, theirs is the first-ever official dog-human family, complete with a judge’s blessing. Since he’s a brainiac inventor, Mr. Peabody has of course created a time machine called the WABAC (pronounced “way back”), which he’s used to give Sherman firsthand history lessons throughout the years.
But after the young boy bites mean-girl Penny Peterson for taunting him at school, Mr. Peabody’s custody of Sherman is thrown into jeopardy. Sherman’s violent act causes even Peabody himself to question whether he’s an appropriate guardian, which leads to my favorite sequence in the movie. Note that while there are more than a few tender “father-son” moments in the film that may have some parents blinking back tears, the one that got me the most was a flashback montage of Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s adventures through time set to John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy).” (That’s the same song my husband and I used for a video compilation of our son, so there ya go. I was doomed from the first note.) After this walk down memory lane, Mr. Peabody regains his confidence and concludes he’s done a fine job raising Sherman. Now he just needs to make amends with Penny’s family and school counselor Mrs. Grunion.
So Mr. Peabody plans to wine and dine the Petersons and Mrs. Grunion at his penthouse in the hopes of defusing the whole messy situation. But while Peabody is busy mixing cocktails for the adults, Sherman and Penny sneak off and use the WABAC . . . and Penny gets stuck in ancient Egypt.
From that point forward, the pace picks up and the 3D effects kick in as Mr. Peabody, Sherman and Penny race through the centuries, dropping in on significant historical figures (Leonardo da Vinci) or moments in time (the Trojan War). Unfortunately, however, it’s at this same point that the plot starts going off-track. I know it’s not the biggest deal in the world for a kids’ movie to be unclear in its purpose, but the thematic tug-of-war in Mr. Peabody & Sherman was somewhat distracting. Is it a movie about being yourself? Is it about facing bullies? Is it about figuring out the appropriate time for a kid to become more independent? Is it making some weird quasi-political statement about who is and isn’t fit to be a parent? Or is it about finding the perfect balance between high-brow historically based puns and poop jokes? I don’t know.
Like I said, this muddled narrative isn’t going to faze your kids one bit, and it didn’t significantly dampen my enjoyment of the film overall. But it’s hard not to compare Mr. Peabody & Sherman (and really any other kiddie flick that comes out in 2014) to The Lego Movie, which did have a crystal-clear theme and is the kind of film that adults could go to without kids and not feel weird.
The bottom line: Mr. Peabody & Sherman is significantly better than most children’s movies as of late, but it is still very much a children’s movie.
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