As the winter wasteland of cinematic releases begins to clean up, audiences can expect a gradual turnaround in the quality of films being released. The animated Mr. Peabody & Sherman, while uneven, serves as an indicator that decent movies can be found even this early in the year.
Based on the cartoon that first appeared as part of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, the film follows the brilliant dog Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) and his adopted human son Sherman (Max Charles). This is, of course, a thinly veiled commentary on the validity of unconventional families. Something that is commendable and works to an extent, but at times feels heavy-handed.
Aside from the canine/human dynamic, what makes these two unique is the fact that they use a Way-Back machine to venture into different historical time periods. The geeky Sherman has been urged by his father not to speak of their time traveling capabilities to anyone. But while seeking to lessen the torment he’s receiving from his bullying classmate Penny (Ariel Winter), he mistakenly introduces her to the practice of time-jumping.
Unbeknownst to her parents (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann), Penny uses the Way-Back Machine to travel to ancient Egypt where she becomes King Tut’s fiancé. Sherman and Mr. Peabody rush to intervene, and it’s here that the film is at its most educational.
Directed by Rob Minoff (The Lion King), Mr. Peabody & Sherman took a whopping twelve years to get off the ground. During that time, a physicist was consulted to outline the possible methods of time travel and screenwriter Craig Wright worked to assure that the characters in the story had a fair amount of depth. The intense work and care that was put into every detail is apparent in almost every scene and it’s clear that this film wasn’t just rushed out the door.
It may be argued that one of the definitive qualities of an animated movie is its ability to appeal to both younger audiences and adults. This is something that last month’s The LEGO Movie did masterfully but one of the areas in which Mr. Peabody & Sherman unfortunately falters. Much of the humor, including a slew of ridiculous puns, won’t appeal to anyone over the age of ten, and the overstuffed jokes only serve as an indicator of just how hard the film is striving for laughs–that ultimately feel forced. So, older moviegoers expecting to enjoy the film the way they may enjoy something like Despicable Me will be disappointed.
What people may also find fault with is the fact that the film deals with some uncomfortable themes and thus, fails to provide the escapism that an animated adventure typically does. At times, the plot struggles to balance being a message story and a light-hearted adventure flick, which provides for some sections that feel a bit uneven and underdeveloped.
That being said, those looking to for inventive, family-friendly fare will no doubt walk away pleased. The 3D works quite well here, too, especially in the farcical fight scenes. Throw in a strong supporting cast (Allison Janney as a hammed-up villain and Lake Bell and Stanley Tucci as Leonardo da Vinci and Mona Lisa, respectively, are highlights) and a couple clever scenes and you definitely have a recipe for some family fun. It might not be very memorable and likely won’t stick with you long after you leave the theatre, but Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a mostly welcome relief from the steaming pile of cinematic dreck that we’ve been plagued with over the last couple of months.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman might be well-executed and educational, but it struggles to juggle very adult themes with its over-the-top humor.