Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Directed by Rob Minkoff
Voices of Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Leslie Mann, Stephen Colbert, Allison Janney
DreamWorks animation, 92 minutes
Mr. Peabody is a talking dog and the inventor of a time machine, who is the dad of a human orphan, Sherman. Father and son share secret extraordinary adventures, but that does not stop one of Sherman’s classmates, Penny, from cruelly teasing Sherman about his unusual dad. The fight gets so out of control that Sherman ends up with the head of the school so Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents over for dinner for some damage control. When his son shows Penny their time machine and the little girl ends up in ancient Egypt, Mr. Peabody has no choice but to go back to the past with Sherman and try to save the world.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a pleasant children’s story that adults might have appreciated more if movies like Up, Frozen, and The Lego Movie had not set such a high narrative bar. It is based on characters from the “Peabody's Improbable History” segments of the 1960s animated television series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
Technically, the film is an episodic tale, where gags and historical scenes follow one another, without ever interweaving organically. Mr. Peabody, Sherman and Penny get repeatedly lost in space and are forced to stop first in a Renaissance Italy and then in Troy. Every stop is an interesting short history class for children, but it clumsily links itself to the heart of the story, the relationship between father and son.
It is never made clear what internal struggle the two protagonists are about to face. At the beginning Mr. Peabody is a present and affectionate parent, who might be anxious at times, but never over the top. Similarly, Sherman is the good and loving kid every dad would be proud to have. The problem is clear: neither of them has much to learn.
The movie seems to realize its mistake and half-way into the movie creates a problem which had not hitherto existed. Mr. Peabody becomes so terrified at losing Sherman that he does not allow him to make his own mistakes and to learn from them; his son interprets this as mistrust. It is an interesting authorial choice that the writer should have developed from the very beginning.
The second and more interesting theme is a not-so-subtle critique of the notion of a “normal family”. Sherman is teased because he has been raised by a dog. The final speech about the importance of having a loving parent, no matter what kind of family you may have, seems to be leaning towards a discussion of marriage equality.
However, aside from possible hidden themes and a clumsy script, the movie resembles more a TV cartoon than an animated feature in its simple and not so ambitious storytelling.
In conclusion, was it funny? Sure, but not for children older than ten years old.
Problematic elements: none.
Gaia Violo did her undergraduate studies in Classics at University College, London (UCL) and is now a graduate student in Screenwriting at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Historical note: here is an episode from the original carton. Despite the crude graphics, some regard it as funnier and more creative than the DreamWorks animation.