Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Jay Ward’s anarchic, pop-culture skewing, TV cartoons have not had comfortable transitions to the big screen. There was the good-natured, but not that good, George of the Jungle. The equally genial, but even less good, Dudley Do-Right. The long (and best) forgotten Boris and Natasha movie and the sadly difficult-to-forget Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle (that’s the one where Robert De Niro says “You talkin’ to me?” in a faux European accent).

 

With so many live action disappointments, it’s probably a smart choice to go back to animation for Mr Peabody & Sherman, the time travelling dog and boy that you may well not remember from regular Rocky & Bullwinkle segment, Peabody’s Improbable History. 

 

Surprisingly, consider the duo have spent almost seven years in development at Dreamworks Animation, both dog and boy remain remarkably similar to their original TV incarnations. Peabody still talks in deadpan tones and is a multi-talented genius adept at science, art, sport and, well, pretty much everything. And Sherman is still just a kid. Though now he’s more like a son than an employee. 

 

The two still visit major figures and events from history in their WABAC (pronounced Way Back) machine and, while the film deals in far more spectacular visuals than the TV show, director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) retains a few of its design aesthetics, lending the film a certain charm.

 

The script also reasonably ingeniously expands the time travel premise from five-minutes to feature length, finding a way to have Peabody, Sherman and new addition, Sherman’s classmate Penny, interact with the likes of King Tut, Marie Antoinette, Abraham Lincoln and Leonardo da Vinci while also adding some emotional stakes when Peabody’s adoption of Sherman comes under threat from the meddling Mrs Grunion (voiced with relish by Allison Janney).

 

Only in the final half hour does the plot threaten to disappear up it’s own logic, with a few too many Back To the Future 2-style timeline complications and the unwelcome return of Dreamworks Animation’s old bad habit of cramming in way too many pop culture references masquerading as jokes. 

 

Nonetheless, given the calamities that have befallen previous Ward creations, it’s fair to term this a success. Peabody and Sherman are likeable characters (ably voiced by the ubiquitous Ty Burrell and The Neighbors’ Max Charles respectively). And their frequent trips through history offer genuinely colorful adventure, which might even be sneakily educational.

© 2020 by Aubrey Day.