Get out your time machines and togas, we're reviewing Mr. Peabody and Sherman!
Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) adopts a boy, Sherman (Max Charles), and together they have wondrous adventures through time. But when Sherman gets into a conflict with a schoolmate, Penny (Aeriel Winter), they'll have to travel back in time to save her and fix the time stream!
I remember seeing the original cartoon a few times in the middle of Rocky and Bullwinkle but I was never a HUGE fan of Mr. Peabody and Sherman. I'm curious who was really pining for a 3D movie adaptation. Was there a big pull for it? In any case, it's pretty good. Nothing amazing, but at least they don't have a dance party at the end.
I'm not really sure who this movie is for, because it retreads all the clichéd history spots while doing a bunch of semi-intellectual history jokes. I'd imagine any history buffs watching would roll their eyes at all of the historical events/characters that most people already know, making all the same history jokes they've been making in historical comedies for years (“Oh look, Leonardo Da Vinci and Mona Lisa.” “Oh, is that how the Sphinx lost its nose? You don't say!”), without getting into any information that debunks all the more widely known historical myths (No, Marie Antoinette didn't simply have a strong love of cake). They try to stick to general history without making it so ridiculous it pushes it over the top, like the old cartoons Hysteria or Time Squad. But at the same time, for all the people and kids who aren't really into history, the specific jokes they make about historical events will go right over their heads, like they do for Sherman listening to Peabody’s quips. So I guess this is for the middle-tier history buff? I don't know, it's odd.
I was actually really excited that they were going to include a girl on their adventures. Because when you think about it, sure one half of the team is dog, but they're both just two dudes going on adventures. Why not throw a cool new female character into the mix? Unfortunately, Penny's used at best as a device for Sherman to grow and fight with Peabody and at worst a damsel in distress for Peabody and Sherman to save. Not to say I mind that the main emotional conflict is between Peabody and Sherman, but I wish Penny was a stronger, more interesting character, and had more to do than be a bully, love interest, and damsel. Also, they do that thing where her and Sherman start out hating each other but then grow to like each other and that trope just annoys me to no end.
Speaking of conflict between Peabody and Sherman, I find it odd that they focus so much of the story on the idea that a dog can adopt a boy. It's a fine story and creates some nice emotional tension, but it's weird that a movie with a talking dog and a time machine (both of which people in their world seem to be pretty okay with) the movie felt it needed to explain their relationship and why it's not weird for Mr. Peabody to be Sherman's dad. Why only pick one weird thing to explain? I always thought they were friends on the show, but it wasn’t a stretch to fully accept that Mr. Peabody is actually Sherman’s father. It's just a weird sub-story to focus on. You'd think it would be explained in a one-off joke, if at all.
The main story focuses on Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney) wanting to take Sherman away from Mr. Peabody. She is very adamant about the idea that dogs should not raise children (even talking dogs that win Nobel prizes) and we never understand why she has such a grudge against him. Did she get bitten by a dog when she was a kid? Does she come from a family of cats? It's a missed comedic and/or emotional opportunity. Instead, she's just this evil character for no reason.
Setting aside the odd choice for plot, it's a pretty good story; plenty of opportunities for conflict, action scenes, and comedy. It's a very enjoyable affair and has some nice pacing, along with some time travel humor. I think kids will enjoy the humor more than adults, but I still laughed at a few dumb, silly things. I actually really like the story conflict between Sherman and Peabody, and how it's resolved. Peabody is kind of a Mary Sue, being a genius and the best at everything (including every musical instrument ever). Half of me is okay with it, because it's a cartoon and why not, but part of me wishes he was a bit more over-the-top analytical and needed Sherman's whimsy and fun to balance him out. But it's a cartoon and he's still fun and silly.
The animation is very good. It's not anything breathtaking or groundbreaking like a Pixar or Laika movie, but the animation is smooth and cartoony, and the designs are aesthetically pleasing. It's nice. Although, I can't help but wonder what could have been if they had kept the roughness from the original cartoon and added that to the designs and style. Something that looks 2D but moves like 3D, say like the Clone Wars cartoon or the Walking Dead games. Something really rough and weird that alluded to that carefree animation style, though that might have been more suited for an older, more nostalgic crowd. But it's not; it's a pretty standard 3D aesthetic and it gets the job done.
Although now that I think of it, this might be the first movie where any 3D character has armpit hair, so hey, that might be a first, right? There are a number of good chase and action scenes that are fun to watch, and I enjoyed Peabody's "science vision" (he goes into it whenever he runs into a problem). Visually speaking, with all the time travel wormholes and rushing chase scenes, it looks like it would be a fun movie to watch in 3D, but I did not see the 3D version, so I can't say how well the conversion is.
The cast has a lot of fun in their respective roles. I never once heard any Ty Burrell in Peabody and always thought of him as Peabody. Patrick Warburton is always fun and he's a laugh as the burly Agememnon. Stanley Tucci pulls out a great Leonard Da Vinci, and it's always a joy to hear Stephen Colbert. And even Mel Brooks has a small part! Man, what's he doing in this movie? Props to Allison Janney, because I REALLY got to hate Ms. Grunion.
Oh! I almost forgot: there's this weird alien short in the beginning, and it's – ok? It feels like it's trying to be a Pixar short but fails to pull it off, even though it stars Steve Martin. It’s mainly that the punch line is pretty easy to see coming, but is still ambiguous. It happens, but I still don't know what it means after that. You will most likely forget it after the movie as I just did.
So there you have it, a fairly fun 3D romp for kids. The Mr. Peabody and Sherman you didn't ask for but will no doubt probably enjoy.
THE GOOD: Funny, fun story, good for kids, good pacing, some good action scenes, includes a girl on their trip, pretty good animation, nice story.
THE BAD: Girl is mainly used as a love interest and damsel in distress, animation style isn't amazing, history buffs may be annoyed by history clichés, weird choice of story, main villain just evil, weird short.
THE VERDICT: $$$ It's a pretty good animated movie, but I don't know if it's one you necessarily NEED to see. Any fans of the original cartoon might get a kick out of it, but history buffs will likely get too annoyed at the already-tread ground. But if you have kids and you're looking to watch something instead of Frozen for the 17th time, this is a good choice.
MOVIES LIKE IT: The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Madagascar, Despicable Me, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: It starts off with Mr. Peabody and Sherman narrating to the audience (which isn't done throughout the movie and is a weird storytelling choice) as they go back to visit Marie Antoinette before the Reign of Terror. Her big thing is that she really loves cake – which, no, didn’t have anything to do with her saying, "Let them eat cake." It's a little silly but doesn't push the limits of ridiculousness, nor does it teach kids anything that really happened. It just is.