I did not watch Rocky & Bullwinkle growing up, and so my familiarity with its Mr. Peabody and Sherman segment is practically limited to knowing what the characters look like. Yet I possess knowledge as to how classic 2D cartoons are normally treated when adapted to hip and modern 3D comedies, and can thus guess that the cartoon wasn’t much like this movie.
There’s nothing inherently special about the plot of Dreamworks’ Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and it features no great characters of big laughs to compensate. Ty Burrell, the voice of Peabody the dog, gives it his all but we ultimately end up with a generic super genius that feels like one we’ve seen in many cartoons before, this time with an irritating kid by his side.
Peabody is Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory mixed with Dogbert, and since his true origins are older than those of the other two characters I’ve mentioned, perhaps he was once beloved for his originality. Along with his adoptive, non-canine son/sidekick Sherman (Max Charles) he explores human history with the help of his trusty time machine. Sherman flaunts his acquired knowledge of history in school, which earns him a rival named Penny (Ariel Winter), whose desires to be seen as the true child genius are ruined by Sherman’s knowledgeability. So now we have a dash of Jimmy Neutron baked in as well, if Jimmy Neutron was a dumber kid but better animated. Either way, Sherman gets in a fight and the school staff begin to question whether Mr. Peabody, a dog, should raise a human child. Me too.
After Peabody invites Penny and her parents (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann) over for dinner as an attempt to make amends, Sherman clumsily decides to impress Penny by showing her Peabody’s time machine. Needless to say, things get nutty, and amongst other things, we get to meet Leonardo Da Vinci as voiced by Stanley Tucci, see Penny make a young Tutankhamun her boyfriend and hear Patrick Warburton do his regular voice, this time in the role of King Agamemnon.
Naturally, a film like this wouldn’t be complete without featuring even more cameos by historical figures. These cameos include Mel Brooks as Albert Einstein, Tom McGrath as Odysseus, and Jess Harnell as Sir Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Bill Clinton. Yes, they’re all voiced by him.
This all feels like things that have been done in the past, even in children’s films. Again, I know next to nothing of the source material, but to quote a review by Bill Goodykoontz of The Arizona Republic: “It retains the main characters, the WABAC machine, the trips through history – but not the sense of nuttiness that made the TV cartoon so delightful.” I can almost see it. The original show, what little I’ve seen of it, strikes me as something significantly more zany than this film, which feels more like a typical family animation. Is that a bad thing, or have I just been spoiled by children’s films like Wreck-It Ralph?
In any case, the movie is predictable and not especially funny. There are some historical in-jokes and genius bonuses to appreciate here and there, but one might wish there was more of that in the stead of all the “poop ‘n pee” humour. Perhaps the writers figured that children would be bored if the movie was too clever.
I didn’t feel much of anything during Mr. Peabody & Sherman. For kids, though, it’s passable entertainment that at least doesn’t insult their brains on the same level as 2012’s The Lorax, but my disdain towards the fad of modernizing old cartoons remains unchanged. I haven’t seen much footage from the recently announced Popeye reboot by Genndy Tartakovsky, but I’ve seen enough of it to note that they’ve apparently removed his trademark pipe and tattoos. Just when you think there might be a chance. Oh well.
Here’s the trailer and my score: