Back to the future!

Back to the future!

Sherman, time travel and punnery will appeal to kids

By Tim Pompey 03/20/2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Directed by Rob Minkoff
Starring: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter
Rated PG for some mild action and brief rude behavior
1 hr. 32 min.

You know you’re really digging into your ancient archives of animation when you travel back almost 60 years, find a minor cartoon character like Mr. Peabody (and his adopted boy, Sherman), and spend $145 million to turn him into a 21st century glamour dog.

Go on YouTube and you can still find episodes of Peabody’s Improbable History. The TV bit was part of the series Rocky and Friends. It was simply drawn, about five minutes per segment, and featured just the kind of humor that appealed to an 8-year-old kid — puns, corny send-ups and just enough adult humor to make a parent smile.

Talk about a makeover — roughly the same premise: Peabody, Sherman and their ingenious WABAC time machine. But add in the sophisticated (and expensive) graphics, a larger back story and a much bigger cast, and the original time-travelers are barely recognizable.

So, is there still a bit of the old dog-and-boy charm or does it get glitzed over by 21st century technology?

Well, it’s a little of both. There’s an actual storyline as opposed to just jumping into a bit of history and having some fun. In this instance, it’s Sherman’s first day of school and Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) must try to negotiate between Sherman (Max Charles) and his classmate Penny Petersen (Ariel Winter), whom Sherman has bitten because she called him a dog.

Enter nasty child welfare worker Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney), who threatens Peabody with Sherman’s removal if he fails a home inspection because, as everyone knows, a dog should never adopt a human.

To smooth things over, Peabody invites Penny’s parents, Paul (Stephen Colbert) and Patty (Leslie Mann) Petersen, over for a gourmet dinner. Penny as well, to give Sherman a chance to make up to her. Instead, she dares him to show her the WABAC machine, then challenges him to fly it. Against Mr. Peabody’s warnings, the two of them end up in ancient Egypt with King Tut wooing Penny to be his wife.

Mr. Peabody must step in and try to fix this problem, but the more he tries, the worse things get. From King Tut to Leonardo da Vinci to the French Revolution to the Trojan War, it’s a race to put the universe back in order. Also to learn a few lessons about parenthood versus boyhood.

Director Rob Minkoff has lots of experience with animation, including directing The Lion King and both Stuart Little films. To his credit, he keeps things moving, at least from the second act on.

The writing is a little less successful, but not without its moments. There are some humorous bits, including a Bill Clinton cameo, a raging da Vinci (Stanley Tucci) who can’t get Mona Lisa to smile, and a hulk of a Trojan soldier named Agamemnon (Patrick Warburton, who else?) who is just a few cards short of a full deck.

What keeps the viewer engaged is the character of Sherman, played humorously and with great heart by Charles. If you’re going to make a great family movie, you’ve got to have either a dog or a cute kid. Here you have both, but the kid comes out the winner.

A wide draw? Perhaps a Pixar type of hit? Maybe, maybe not, but I suspect the creators of Mr. Peabody & Sherman aren’t really that concerned with viewers beyond a certain age bracket. Their goal is to draw in 8-10-year-olds. Anyone else who walks in the door is just gravy.

Still, for a reasonably good family time, and with young kids in tow, most parents should be content to sit back, let Peabody and Sherman work their magic, then smile as the kids enjoy themselves. It ain’t rocket science but, with Peabody in charge, it’s pretty darn close.


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