‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ Review
“I forbid you from fighting in the Trojan War!”
It's something any father would say to his son, provided that the pair regularly traveled through time. In the case of 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman,' Sherman, the adopted tyke just old enough to start attending school and form his own personality, suits up for battle after he has “ran away” from his father – a Nobel Prize-winning polymath and dog.
Yes, Mr. Peabody, the bespectacled, highly-cultured and pun-happy pooch (voiced by 'Modern Family' star Ty Burrell) is not only the inventor of the WABAC machine, which can send you to any point in the past to observe how history actually went down, but he's also the first canine legally allowed to raise a human child. Whether or not he's also the only talking dog in this world goes unsaid. Frankly, there's a lot of the “world building” in this very pleasing animated film that just gets steamrolled. By and large, it's OK. The pace is extraordinary, as are the zings. This is possibly the funniest and most antic animated film since 'Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs.'
If you aren't old enough to remember the 'Rocky & Bullwinkle Show' (produced from 1959-1964, though often rerun), the tales of the moose and squirrel were mixed in with supporting, recurring features. "Peabody's Improbably History" was a zing-heavy school lesson with Borscht Belt humor and racially insensitive voiceover that, let's face it, taught us the greatest hits of world history before any teacher ever did. Each little episode ended with a forehead-smacking pun.
The opening of this new film follows the formula well, with the know-it-all dog and the upbeat kid zipping around through the French Revolution. While the 3D animation is new, the rimshot gags remain. (Marie Antoinette wants to "have her cake and edict, too.")
Mr. Peabody has been taking his boy to meet Shakespeare and Gandhi and George Washington, but now he's finally old enough to enter school. It takes just a few minutes until he's bullied by a "mean girl" who accuses him of being a dog. As absurd as this character arc is, Sherman's ability to accept that he is, indeed, being nurtured by a mutt is oddly touching.
To get to that point, though, there must be adventures. They kickoff with Penny (the girl) convincing Sherman to take her to Ancient Egypt, the first in a series of bad ideas that ends with the space-time continuum being severely damaged.
The plot is rote but the dialogue isn't. Kids will be dazzled by the time-travel special effects and the funny dog wearing glasses; adults will be blown away by some of the “over-their-heads” one-liners. I can't say the end will have tears streaming down your face, but the message of father-son affection is oddly touching.
Like many kid films, 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' leans a little heavy on the fart humor and, unfortunately, there isn't much of a visual stamp in the animation. The look is just generic CG -- even middling recent films like 'Despicable Me 2' and 'The Croods' have more panache in the visual department.
This is one that doubles down on the humor and outrageousness of the script, building to pure mayhem as all the major players from history are sucked into the present. There isn't anything reinventing the wheel here, but like the stories from our collective past, 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' is deserving of your time.
'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' opens in theaters on March 7.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.