When the adventures of the brainiac, time-traveling dog Mr. Peabody and his adopted son Sherman first entered public consciousness in the late 1950s (as part of the Rocky & Bullwinkle world), my own children were forty years from being born. Does that matter, as Mr. Peabody & Sherman hits theaters this weekend in all its 3D, digital splendor? Not really. In fact, it might as well have just been a movie about turkeys who travel through time to disrupt the first Thanksgiving. Oh wait.
Truth is– as long as it’s splashy and colorful with ample amounts of humor (including plenty of groan-worthy puns), any animated movie these days instantly becomes my children’s favorite. And Mr. Peabody & Sherman fits the bill.
It may not be the unqualified success that Frozen and The Lego Movie are, but as a kid-friendly diversion, you could do a lot worse.
After a prologue that tells us how the bespectacled and bow-tied pup (voice by Ty Burrell) grew up to learn a handful of languages, broker international peace deals, and meet everyone from Gandhi to JFK before inventing his WABAC time machine and adopting little Sherman (Max Charles), we get to the meat of the story.
Sherman is being bullied in school by precocious Penny (Ariel Winter), and in the wake of a biting incident, Social Services threatens to take the boy away from his dog-dad. To help prove his paternal worth, Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents over for dinner. (The mutt’s also a five-star chef, we learn.) And while the parents are enjoying quail and mixed drinks in the other room, Sherman spills the beans to Penny about the WABAC.
It’s here that Mr. Peabody & Sherman finally finds its legs. Trips to Ancient Egypt, the Italian Renaissance, and the Trojan War ensue, and though they end up feeling a bit like disjointed episodes (which they were, in the original cartoon), there’s quite a bit of entertainment value here. Oddly enough, there’s actually a wee bit of educational value, too. The film will never serve as a study guide, but at least kids will hear the names King Tut, Da Vinci, and Agamemnon for the first time.
Working from a script by Craig Wright (TV’s Lost and Six Feet Under), director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) does his best to keep things moving along, and the visuals are certainly enough to keep young minds occupied. Along with the requisite 3D flying scene, there’s also a trip through outer space, a waterslide-like ride through the sewers of Paris, and more sight gags than you can throw a stick at. (Fetch, boy!)
As for the voice cast, ten-year-old Charles is whiz-bang great as Sherman, and Burrell is fine, even though the foppish-ness and charm that made Mr. Peabody so fun way-back-when (WABAC when?) is missing. The real joy comes with the cavalcade of cameos, including Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Allison Janney, Mel Brooks, and Stanley Tucci.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is one of those animated films that kids will love and parents will borderline-enjoy, but in the end it will ultimately be remembered (if at all) only as a nifty little holdover until the next big thing came along… which in this case will be Rio 2 in a month’s time.