Director: Rob Minkoff (Flypaper, The Forbidden Kingdo, The Haunted Mansion, Stuart Little, The Lion King)
Writer: Craig Wright, Jay Ward
Producers: Denise Nolan Cascino, Alex Schwartz
Starring: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Allison Janney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Joshua Rush, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Stanley Tucci, Lake Bell, Mel Brooks
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 92 min.
I should make it clear right out of the gate that I never watched Rocky and Bullwinkle. I’m familiar with the characters in a superficial pop culture sort of way but as far as the intricacies of that universe and the characters that inhabit it are concerned, it may as well be new material. So in the back of my mind, I knew that Mr. Peabody was a character that stemmed from Rocky and Bullwinkle but beyond that, he’s completely new to me and though it didn’t affect my enjoyment of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, it may have some influence on others who are familiar with the character’s origins.
Mr. Peabody is a genius dog who, upon discovering a baby boy in an alley, fought to adopt him as his son. After all, boys can adopt dogs so why not vice versa? Sadly, not everyone is on board with this idea and on his first day of school, Sherman gets into a little trouble with Penny, a smart girl who doesn’t like her intellect being one-upped by the new kid. It ends in a fight and a social worker threatening to remove Sherman from Mr. Peabody’s care. Peabody devises a plan to woo Penny’s parents, a plan that is going smoothly until Sherman and Penny take a ride in the Way Back Machine and kind of mess up the universe.
On the surface, Mr. Peabody and Sherman is a time travel comedy adventure which borrows heavily from both Back to the Future and, most notably Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Peabody invented the Way Back Machine as a learning tool for Sherman, taking him back to meet important individuals and witness historical events. Obviously, when the kids get a hold of it, things get far more complicated than that what it the messing up of historical moments and all but hovering just under the surface is also a great story of friendship, overcoming our differences and most importantly, the bond of family and the struggles of being a good parent.
That’s all well and good but what really keeps Mr. Peabody and Sherman, going are the laughs, of which there are many. For the most part, the really young will not appreciate some of the comedy, content to giggle at the occasional visual poop gag (there was also a very distraught little girl who nearly broke into tears at the movie’s climax suggesting that this is more appropriate for the 8+ crowd) but this is far more effective for the slightly older kids who can get and appreciate the play on words (the “unarm him” joke is still funny when I think about it) and the more elaborate jokes most of which stem from history (the Troy sequence is particularly effective). And then there are observations about history which come out of left field like the idea that being King Tut’s girlfriend would really suck. It’s completely trivial but I found Craig Wright’s screenplay ridiculously fun and an innovative approach to teaching kids about history and science. Heck, there’s mind numbing prime directive type science explored here in a way that’s both fun and easy to follow even if you don’t fully understand it. I could see a future for Mr. Peabody as an afternoon after school cartoon teaching kids about history and science through comedy (can I trademark that?).
It’s chaotic and wacky but Mr. Peabody and Sherman has great energy and a really unique and entertaining story which is both fun and endearing and plays well to both kids and adults – though take note that it might be a little rough for the really little ones.
Mr. Peabody and Sherman opens Friday, March 7th.