Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a DreamWorks animated children’s movie, directed by Rob Minkoff, written by Craig Wright, based on characters created by Ted Key. It runs for 92 minutes and has pulled in close to 300 million dollars at the box office. It is a children’s movie, quite rightly, and it makes no effort to behave otherwise.
I am fascinated by the premise of having a small bespectacled dog strut around on two legs, owning a lavish penthouse on the outskirts of Central Park, arranging cocktails for guests and riding his adopted human son, Sherman, to school on a little red moped. There is clear satire and parody here. The characters in the film know it, and point it out with serene confidence — “If a boy can adopt a dog, I see no reason why a dog cannot adopt a boy”. Yes, this is true, but it just seems so… wrong, doesn’t it?
The dog is Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell), a bright canine who, when told to fetch, asks “Why?”. We learn from the movie that he’s been responsible for many scientific discoveries over time, most amusing of which is his invention of Zumba. I take it dogs get their exercise from running and chasing balls, not from doing strenuous sensual workouts to South American samba music, but then I’m not the writer of this film. Peabody finds Sherman (Max Charles) abandoned in a back alley as a baby, and decides, for reasons never explicitly explained, to take him home and raise him as his own.
Now Sherman has reached the age of most of this movie’s target audience, and it’s his first day of school. But his classmate Penny (Ariel Winter) is a wicked girl, and when Sherman corrects her mistaken knowledge about George Washington in front of the entire class, she retaliates by making him fetch his sandwich off the cafeteria floor.
The trick with Sherman is that he has not read about Washington, nor has he seen a television documentary about him; he has met him in person, and found out all there is to know by having one-on-one conversations with the man, probably beneath a cherry tree. How is this possible? Peabody has constructed a giant time travelling device, called the Way Back, which looks, rather incidentally, like an oversized cherry. With the Way Back, both he and Sherman can zip through time. This, I think, would be a wonderful tool for a student, especially for history class, which it is, but how does it benefit Peabody? The movie shows us that Peabody is good friends with Leonardo Da Vinci and Marie Antoinette, but to what purpose? Were human beings more acceptable of talking dogs back then?
The plot kicks into gear when Penny accidentally finds herself engaged to King Tut (Zach Callison), who is rather morbid for his age — when he dies, Penny will too. It’s a marriage clause. Now Peabody and Sherman must rescue her and bring her back to her present day parents, all before the fuel in his machine runs out. I’ll let you guess if it runs out or not. Let’s just say they have pleasant stopovers in Renaissance Italy and Ancient Greece, and meet a myriad of famous people from the past.
But the plot, I fear, is too murky. Time travel is a tricky subject to tackle, especially when you are trying to dumb it down for the little kids. There is a lot of talk of space/time continuums, and hyperdrives, and black holes and time reversal. Even for the well-educated adult this might be too much. What more for the children, whose primary objective is to smile and point at cute characters and flashing colours? And the characters are cute, especially Agememnon (Patrick Warburton) who, instead of looking vile and ferocious as the leader of the Greeks, takes pride in the aroma of his hairy armpits. Most of these historic icons have been reduced to their trademarks, and they speak as if they were all born in 2000 and grew up at a costume party. It might work for the kids, which I guess is the whole point of this film in the first place, but it might be a tad condescending for the adults, who will find themselves at the cinema with their children, watching Mr. Peabody & Sherman, when they could be next door watching The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Best Moment | Peabody explaining how he escaped the guillotine during the French Revolution.
Worst Moment | Listening to all the historical figures speak like modern day teenagers. It’s a bit unsettling.