The fourth film wrung out of Jay Ward Productions’ The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, although the first to be animated like the source material, Mr. Peabody & Sherman is easily the most successful (it’s an ultra low bar to clear). The film briefly tells the origin story of the world’s smartest being and his boy, and then jumps off of Peabody’s challenges when Sherman finally starts school.
The film opens with Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) explaining his backstory to the audience, including his adoption of Sherman (Max Charls), and the invention of the WABAC machine, a time machine he uses to educate Sherman about history and life lessons, much like the original cartoon. Things start to get haywire when Sherman is bullied at school by Penny (Ariel Winter) and doesn’t know how to handle it. Mrs. Grunion (Allison Janey) threatens to remove Sherman from Peabody’s care, while he tries to win over Penny’s parents (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann). Inevitably, strife and time travel follows, and the cast includes a parade of characters including Leonardo da Vinci (Stephen Tucci), Agememnon (Patrick Warburton), and Albert Einstein (Mel Brooks).
Mr. Peabody & Sherman definitely stays true to the spirit of the source material, with puns like “You can’t have your cake and edict too!” sprinkled throughout. The historical figures are exaggerated versions of themselves, though the film never expressly hammers the “lessons from history” angle of the cartoon, it is there in spirit. In the end, however, the film is far more concerned with time travel tropes and pseudo-science magic than the history, although those who know their facts will be delighted by some of the allusions.
While the overall execution is fine, the film’s biggest failing is being too beholden to the modern kid’s film formula. Mr. Peabody & Sherman augments the jokes with a nice dosage of heartfelt pathos (a montage set to John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy”) and corresponding family strife. Action beats come in at regular intervals, but only one of them is actually exciting, since it riffs so closely on the tomb raiding exploits of one Dr. Jones.
A pleasant enough diversion, and sure to make kids giggle, but there’s nothing special enough about this extraordinary dog to reward viewers over the age of 8.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman opens today in Philly area theaters.