Mr. Peabody & Sherman review: timey-wimey doggy-waggy

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Mr. Peabody and Sherman green light

Wonderfully, sweetly geeky, and full of charm, authentic humor, and the sort of goofy yet intriguing adventures that inspire kiddie curiosity in history and art and science.
I’m “biast” (pro): love time-travel stories…

I’m “biast” (con): …but they’re often terrible

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

He’s the other bowtie wearing time traveler, but he predates even the original 1960s incarnation of Doctor Who. Mr. Peabody and his son* boy, Sherman, first appeared in the late 1950s in segments on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and in what one can only imagine is Hollywood desperation to find some previously unmined existing material –for the built-in name recognition, doncha know — they have finally gotten their own feature-length cartoon.

(ETA: *Sherman was called only Mr. Peabody’s “boy” in the original cartoon; the conceit of Sherman being Peabody’s adopted son is apparently new to this film.)

Fortunately for us, no one involved took the easy, lazy, way out of assuming that that built-in name recognition was enough, and they made us a movie that is wonderfully, sweetly geeky, full of charm and authentic humor that will delight the little ones but won’t make grownups want to poke their eyes out. In fact, Mr. Peabody & Sherman features one of the best balances between two opposing forces — the child’s desire for poop jokes and the adult’s task of policing that nonsense — that I’ve ever seen in a kids’ movie. For when Sherman, who is only seven and a half, after all, cracks a poop joke — or was it a fart joke? — Peabody rolls his eyes at the boy in appropriate parental disapproval. Brilliant!

Mr. Peabody (the voice of Ty Burrell: The Incredible Hulk, National Treasure: Book of Secrets), for those not in the know, is kind of like Buckaroo Banzai: genius inventor, scientist, musician, athlete, gourmand, mixologist; he’s a gentleman and a scholar. Oh, and he’s a dog. I don’t know if there’s any historical explanation for how this is possible, and this new film never broaches it. But there is, in a move that represents how deeply nerdy a flick this is, a great deal of explanation for how a dog was allowed to adopt a human boy; precedent-busting court cases were involved. Which we learn because poor Sherman (the voice of Max Charles, who played four-year-old Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man) has gotten into a fight at school with mean-girl Penny (the voice of Ariel Winter: ParaNorman), and now social services is involved.

What’s so perfectly plausible that it requires no explanation? Time travel. Peabody’s invention the WABAC — pronounced “way back” — machine gets in the way during a dinnertime makeup get-together with Penny and her parents at Peabody and Sherman’s house. Sherman and Penny take a quick jaunt — she goads him into it, mean girl that she is — and that causes some disturbances in the timestreams that Peabody must repair. So off the three of them go again, into the distant past…

Ancient Egypt and Renaissance Italy are but two of the places we are whisked away to, with much good-natured silliness and tons of glorious bad puns along the way. These are the sorts of goofy yet intriguing adventures that could well inspire kiddie curiosity in history and art and science; I know this is just the sort of movie that would have sent eight-year-old me running happily to the library to find out more about the likes of King Tut and Leonardo Da Vinci (whom we meet here, such as they are in exaggerated animated form). But the marvelous script, by veteran TV writer Craig Wright — though he’s a veteran of grownup stuff, including Lost and Six Feet Under and United States of Tara — isn’t only silly. Names from Ghandi’s and to Stephen Hawking’s are dropped in clever ways, and the film even explores the concept of the uncanny valley (how we get weirded out by replicas of humanity, as in “realistic” CGI animation, that aren’t quite perfect enough) without calling it such, in a running joke of Da Vinci’s invention of a mechanical child. There’s sophisticated stuff happening here.

(The animation here? It’s gorgeous, and so stylized that no uncanny-valley problems could possibly crop up.)

Director Rob Minkoff has a checkered cinematic past: his The Forbidden Kingdom is a cheeky action fantasy; his The Haunted Mansion is a horror in the way it shouldn’t be. But Minkoff also gave us the lovely part-animated Stuart Little movies. Mr. Peabody & Sherman is closest in tone to them: cute and kind and absolutely cheer-worthy in its delightfulness.

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Jim Mann
Jim Mann
Fri, Feb 28, 2014 8:51pm

I loved the cartoons when I was younger. I’ve been of mixed minds watching the trailers. I want to like a Peabody and Sherman cartoon. But I find the way Mr. Peabody is referred to as Sherman’s dad, and Sherman as his son, grating. In the cartoons, Mr. Peabody referred to him as “my boy, Sherman,” but with no implication of “boy” meaning son; it was simply a play on how most boys would refer to “my dog.”

But perhaps I’ll give this a try, based on your review.

bronxbee
bronxbee
reply to  Jim Mann
Fri, Feb 28, 2014 10:48pm

yes, i thought the same thing. It was “Mr. Peabody and his *boy* Sherman.”

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  bronxbee
Mon, Mar 03, 2014 4:01pm

I made a little alteration to my review to explain the boy/son thing.

MisterAntrobus
MisterAntrobus
Fri, Feb 28, 2014 9:30pm

Color me shocked. In a very nice way. I’m a big Jay Ward fan, so it’s good to see someone’s taking care of his legacy.

bronxbee
bronxbee
Fri, Feb 28, 2014 10:48pm

yay! i loved Peabody & Sherman when i was a kid — they were clever and time travelled… i loved Fractured Fairytales and even Rocky & Bullwinkle — the clever word play was something you could grow into with re-watching. i’m gonna see this, even though it will be without child.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  bronxbee
Fri, Feb 28, 2014 10:51pm

I saw it without a kid and I laughed like a loon.

Jan_Willem
Jan_Willem
Sat, Mar 01, 2014 12:48am

I saw it on Thursday with my nephew and niece (aged 7 and almost 9) and thought it was amusing and beautifully made, with excellent 3D effects, but some of the charm and the groan-worthy puns were lost in translation and dubbing – we living in the Netherlands and all. Socially inept Mr Peabody – in his Dutch vocal incarnation – actually started to rub me the wrong way rather badly. I was afraid my young relatives would be scared of the guillotine and Trojan warfare, but no. I’ll guess I’ll have to wait for the DVD release to be completely charmed myself.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jan_Willem
Sat, Mar 01, 2014 10:31am

Oh, that’s a shame. Ty Burrell is absolutely perfect as Peabody’s voice.

Jan_Willem
Jan_Willem
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Mar 01, 2014 12:56pm

I had similar issues with the Aardman Pirates! film. As it happens, I watched it at home this Saturday morning with the British/American cast soundtrack – to much, much better effect!

Jonathan Roth
Jonathan Roth
Sat, Mar 01, 2014 4:25pm

Going to be another couple of weeks before I can see this. Looking forward to it though!

Scipio Garling
Scipio Garling
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 5:34am

Those of you who are complaining about Peabody being Sherman’s adoptive father as being ‘inaccurate’ are wrong. Do your homework. The very first episode of “Peabody’s Improbable History” is the story of how Peabody adopted Sherman from an orphanage. The first time Sherman calls him ‘daddy’, the dog bristles and says, “please address me as Mister Peabody”. Go watch it for yourself on Hulu.

LJS
LJS
Sat, Mar 15, 2014 1:58am

I liked it, more than the Lego Movie in many ways. Laughed aloud at several points — and got the “I don’t get it” look from my young’un when I did. (Sadly, still at the stage where the fart-joke is the height of humor.)
My few complaints — the antagonist (Ms. Grunion) is a cypher. She’s got a visceral dislike for Mr. Peabody, but no hint about why. And I’m disquieted about her fate — yes, she seems happy where she ends up, but does no one else see anything wrong with how she gets there?