Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014)

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Director: Rob Minkoff
Screenwriter: Craig Wright
Based on Peabody’s Improbable History by Ted Key
Voice Cast: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Allison Janney, Stanley Tucci & Patrick Warburton
Runtime: 92 min // Certificate: U

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hy6oD7BZw50]

Before today, my only interaction with the characters of Peabody and Sherman came via their cameo appearance in one of the greatest half-hours of animation ever; The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror V. As such, I’m not really qualified to comment on whether or not this modern take on their adventures manages to capture the “essence” or the “spirit” of the original cartoon. What I can comment on however is whether the film appeals on its own terms. In effect the question is simple; is Mr. Peabody & Sherman a decent film?

The answer to this is a reluctant “yes”, albeit one that doesn’t come without its reservations. Though it’s a far-cry from the ground-breaking animation that was The Lion King (another film Minkoff helped to direct), Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a sweet, inoffensive, light-hearted animation that will appeal primarily to young children, though their parents might also be won over by the film’s plea to nostalgia. Based on the same concept as the cartoon, it tells the tale of a genius, time-travelling dog – Peabody (Burrell) – and the young human son – Sherman (Charles) – that he has adopted. Shit goes down, Sherman disobeys Peabody and before you know it the entire space-time continuum is threatened. Yeah, for a children’s film, its approach to time travel is surprisingly complicated…

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The time travel aspect of the film is its biggest strength as it not only allows the audience to indulge in some cheap jokes about the Greeks and the Egyptians, but it also allows for some education. Children in particular (though perhaps a few adults too…) will learn while they’re being entertained, which is always a good thing. The film visits three major eras / events – the reign of Tutankhamen, Renaissance Florence and the fall of Troy – which allows children to learn a little bit of history. Sure, it’s hardly complex but if it gets children interested in these eras then, for me at least, the film has done a reasonable job.

Of course, thanks to its “U” certificate there isn’t all that much that Mr. Peabody & Sherman can do to appeal to adults and, as such, most of the jokes are lame and childish. Nevertheless, humour is humour and though the film survives primarily on fart jokes and absurd situations, there are a few opportunities for the older members of the audience to sink their teeth into some clever gags about the Oedipus complex and Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky… no, seriously! The appeal for parents, I imagine, will come more from the film’s tale of a Father who feels like he’s losing a son rather than from the jokes. Nevertheless, I still laughed a few times which, to be quite honest, is a few times more than I was expecting to laugh…

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On a more critical note, I do think the film wastes its opportunity to explore history in more detail but I’m not a member of the target audience so I doubt children will mind too much. It might have been nice to see the characters go to a few more places and maybe do a few more interesting things but on the whole it’s not a major problem. The film is sweet, for a lack of a better word. It’s passable, it’s inoffensive and it does what it wanted to do, which is to bring Peabody and Sherman into the 21st Century. The voice performances are all decent, the script is fine and the characters are amusing; what more can you ask for than that?

If you’ve got children, this might be worth seeing with them. If not, it probably won’t tickle your funny bones enough to justify a trip to the cinema, but you might like it if you’re a fan of the original cartoons – though as I said, I’m not qualified to comment on that really. Either way, Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a fine animation with a few laughs. It’ll pass the time and it might make you smile. In fact, if your expectations are as low as mine were, you might even find yourself pleasantly surprised.

★★½

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