Smarter kids humor that will make kids perk up and try harder to get the jokes. Mr. Peabody & Sherman is not a brand name team that I’m overly familiar with, I’ve only seen scant references to them on “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” But what a refreshingly witty and clever animated film this is. The plot is merely serviceable and there is no great underlying meaningful message, but the wordplay humor is rather audacious and sophisticated. Peabody’s time travel machine device is used to go back to several notable episodes in time: The French Revolution, the time of the Pharaohs, the Leonardo DiVinci art scene, and the battle for Troy.
The Peabody dog is a beagle brainiac in glasses with a Wallace Shawn meets Niles Crane kind of intellect (he’s voiced by Ty Burrell) who raises his 7-year old adopted boy Sherman (Max Charles). What I know is that the characters are derived from the Rocky & Bullwinkle TV cartoon from the late 1950’s, in fact, they were supporting characters. The Peabody we see here is an adventurer and intellect, a scholar and mad inventor. The WABAC – pronounced “Way Back” – is his time machine that he uses to teach his son about Marie Antoinette, William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, and more.
On the first day of real formal school, Sherman has a fight with a female classmate who will first become a competitor to him and then a first-love romantic interest. Penny (Ariel Winter) gets nosey when she makes her first visit to the Peabody home, and pushes Sherman to demonstrate the WABAC, landing them in trouble in ancient Egypt. Peabody has to entertain Penny’s parents (Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert as dolts), while going back in time to rescue the kids.
The animation of the trio travelling in the wormhole through time is awesome to look at, it feels as if 1980’s sci-fi got resurrected. While the story jumps around to different periods in time, there is a general depiction that Peabody criticizes and chides his son which eats away at Sherman’s individual confidence. If there was any message to be found in the film, ultimately, it was if you let Sherman make a few mistakes, he will overcome and succeed them and prevail on his own with enough practice. Sherman is a zero self-esteem nerd at the beginning, a confident go-getter by the end. This of course appeals to Penny, too.
Out of the “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” playbook, several historical figures such as George Washington, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Agamemnon make their way to modern times and collide amongst the contemporary folk. The plot has worked in a lot of hubbub at this point with Peabody appeasing Penny’s parents and a cranky school counselor who wants to declare our hero dog as an unfit parent – and Peabody has to keep the time space continuum on continuity track so the universe doesn’t implode, too! – but despite all the time-worn regularities, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” makes you forget the clichés and feels fresh while you are watching it. The smart tangents and witty asides are throughout, did I mention yet Mahatma Gandhi and Stephen Hawking are referenced? A few inquisitive kids in the audience will begin to gather who Gandhi was. In a wit-flowering entertainment like this, learning can be fun.
92 Minutes. Rated PG.
FAMILY ANIMATION MOVIE / INNER NERD APPEAL / WEEKEND FAMILY MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Flight of the Navigator” (1986); “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989); “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” (2000); “The Last Mimzy” (2007).