VOCAL WORK BY
Allison Janney, Leslie Mann, Max Charles, Stephen Tobolowsky, Stephen Colbert, Ty Burrell, Dennis Haysbert, Lake Bell, Mel Brooks, Patrick Warburton, Ariel Winter
Based on the Series Produced by Jay Ward, Andrew Kurtzman, Craig Wright, Jason Clark, Rob Minkoff, and Ted Key (Writer)
Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) is a titan, an inventor, a two-time Olympic medalist, a scientist, a gourmand, and a genius.
Mr. Peabody is also a dog.
With his most invention, the WABAC Machine, Mr. Peabody and his adopted boy Sherman (Max Charles) travel back in time to experience life-changing events for themselves and to meet some of history's greatest characters. When Mr. Peabody breaks the rules of time travel, he and Sherman find themselves in a race against time to repair history and save the future while also tackling his biggest challenge yet - being a parent.
Director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, The Haunted Mansion, Stuart Little) directs the film with a definite reverence for the source material, the writings of Jay Ward (Rocky & Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, George of the Jungle). In other words, if the film is to be faithful it should have a bit of a retro feeling to it with an abundance of goofy, nerdy fun to be found.
While Mr. Peabody & Sherman doesn't come close to hitting a home run, it's a shame that Mr. Ward is no longer with us because it certainly is one of the more successful cinematic adaptations of his work. For those of you who do recall Mr. Peabody & Sherman's adventures through history, you will likely at least somewhat lament the ways in which the stories have almost out of necessity been expanded. A good majority of these original adventures were under five minutes in length, so it stands to reason that crafting a feature-length film out of them requires taking the essence of the original material and broadening it. While the film has also been expanded into the almost inevitable 3-D conversion, the film's 3-D is at times quite effective and adds to the sense of fun and adventure. It's not really necessary to see it in 3-D, but it's justifiable.
This version is also significantly more sentimental than the original source material, with even the history lessons having quite a bit more emotional resonance than did the original adventures. Much of the film centers around the human encounters that Mr. Peabody and Sherman will share along the way, starting with an intrusive social worker (Allison Janney) and one of Sherman's classmates, Penny Paterson (Ariel Winter), the latter whose parents (Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert) are a tremendous source of distress that will trigger adventures involving Sherman and Penny. Of course, there will be plenty of historical figures along the way including a young King Tut (Zach Callison), Leonardo Da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), Agamemnon (Patrick Warburton) and, in one of the film's best delights, Mel Brooks as Einstein.
Minkoff and his animation team have done a nice job of balancing the simplicity of Ward's original works with an upgrading of the technology that does add a nice depth to the characters. Minkoff also, for the most part, provides a nice balance between aiming the film at young children and serving up just enough pop culture for adults to remain interested.
While it's ending is a bit of a disappointment, Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a formulaic yet fun adventure that may very well have folks young and old rushing home to check out the old cartoon segments on Youtube and in other places. While this film isn't likely to warrant the same affection and devotion as did the original source material, it's faithful enough and entertaining enough to likely introduce a whole new generation to the works of Jay Ward.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic