MOVIE REVIEW: MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN
April 10, 2014
For those of you who are fans of or remember Jay Ward's legendary "The Bullwinkle Show"/"The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show" and particularly the "Peabody's Improbable History" segments created by Ted Key, you're in for a howling good time as everybody's favorite talking canine Mr. Peabody, his adopted son Sherman and the infamous WABAC machine are resurrected, reimagined and brought to the big screen in DreamWorks Animation MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN. And for those of you experiencing Mr. Peabody and Sherman for the first time, you'll quickly find MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN a doggone delight! Veteran animation director Rob Minkoff and screenwriter Craig Wright not only pay homage to the original cartoon series and characters, but under the watchful eye of Jay Ward's producer daughter and keeper of the flame, Tiffany, stay true in core visuals and storytelling to the spirit of Ward's original tales while punctuating and pumping up the volume of animation quality and making great use of 3D technology.
In short: PEABODY IS PERFECTION!
Mr. Peabody is the smartest beagle on the planet; actually smarter than any human. Abandoned as a lonely pup, Mr. Peabody had a lot of alone time but used it wisely, studying everything and anything. As a result, he became an inventor, a scientist, a master chef, musician, Nobel laureate, Olympic gold medalist, confident and counsel to world leaders. But there was something missing in his life. A family. Stumbling upon a young bespectacled orphan named Sherman with whom he immediately bonds, Peabody decides to adopt him.
A perfect pair, Sherman has all the enthusiasm of a young boy, but also all the smarts of Peabody. Exposed to living history thanks to Peabody's invention, the WABAC machine, Sherman is often bullied and picked on by kids his own age for being "a nerd". When Sherman's first day of school rolls around, things really take a turn for the worse when Sherman gets into a heated argument with classmate and school prima donna, Penny Peterson.
Summoned to the principal's office, Peabody is shocked and ashamed at Sherman's behavior as he was taught not to fight and to resolve conflicts amicably. But there's more to just Sherman's outburst here. Adoption agency worker/counselor Miss Grunion threatens to have Sherman taken away from Peabody. Knowing that he must smooth over the situation, Peabody invites Penny and her parents for a fun evening of gourmet food, masterfully mixed drinks, musical entertainment and hopefully, pleasant parental chats to "break the ice."
While the parents get to know each other, Sherman and Penny are off on their own, getting into another spat over the truth of history. This time about George Washington and the cherry tree. Defiant and proud of his true knowledge, Sherman does the one thing Peabody warned him to never do - talk about the WABAC machine. Uh, oh.
Now wanting to impress Penny, and given her own buttinsky spirit, Sherman and Penny had back in time with the WABAC. But there's a problem. Penny doesn't want to return from ancient Egypt and a boy named Tut leaving it up to Sherman and Mr. Peabody to perform a comically daring rescue. Unfortunately, in so doing, the space-time continuum is thrown into chaos with everyone travelling back and forth in time trying to right a wrong and Sherman doing what all boys do, pushing the envelope with his dad.
Beyond joyous, the fact that the franchise has been lovingly cared for and tended and not exploited makes my heart leap. The characters are true to the legacy and iconography but also true to a new generation of fans. The story is smart, historical eras visited are visually captivating and allow for not only visual, but action laced story sequencing.
Craig Wright has written an intelligent script, finding a common ground for all ages - something that is tough to do. While kids are gonna go nuts for "butt" jokes and visual references (Trojan horse with men dropping from the butt entrance like horse poop on a parade route; Peabody and Sherman shooting out of the butt of the Sphinx - HILARIOUS!!!!!), adults will even be peeing their pants with laughter. Even the basest jokes are handled with such an off-the-cuff casualness without being slapstick that the humor is elevated by the very organic nature of the script, resonating for kids and adults alike. And while steeped in kid-friendly dialogue and visuals, the script is so rich with adult humor rooted in life, history, politics, society that is never "in your face", "stupid" or "ignorant", so as to be beyond engaging.
The heart and life lessons that are imparted are brilliantly incorporated into the story - bullying, friendship, parenting..... and the reverse love of a boy and his dog. You will get teary in multiple scenes.
Key, of course, is implementing the WABAC machine on a trip through history. In the original cartoon series, snippets of Mr. Peabody's time travels into history were inspiring and made me want to go to the encyclopedia and history books and learn more. Now, with stops to visit Tut, Leonardo daVinci, Marie Antoinette, the first Continental Congress, the Trojan War, and all done with more visual and fun history rich detail, the same is true for not just a new generation, but even adults who may want to revisit history themselves beyond the film.
Animation is pure and perfect. Maintaining the integrity and spirit of the 1960's stylings of Ward, DreamWorks animators and director Minkoff then embrace the technology and advancements of the 21st century without turning the animation too high tech or sci-fi and allowing the story, actual history and the WABAC to command front and center. Achieving what Ward and Ted Key did in the tv series, every element of MR PEABODY & SHERMAN spurs the imagination, makes history and learning fun and will get kids inspired to learn.
Use of color is nicely done. Essentially primary colors are used in present day animation which are then complimented and offset by richer palettes for the historical travels. So often, movies and tv series that have time travel backwards go for a more desaturated color palette with the past, making the present more vibrant. With MR PEABODY & SHERMAN, it's the reverse with the richness infusing history, making it come to life. There is great dimensionality infused into the visual design. A fun animation are the wormhole-like routes by which the WABAC travels; very similar in design to that in the live action "Contact". The design of the WABAC itself also bears strong animation detail to the "Contact" space pod with its octagonal honeycombed panels and design.
Pacing is perfection. Editor Tom Kinnon keeps everything keeps moving , allowing nothing to stagnate - key to keeping even the youngest moviegoer enthralled and engaged. Editing is judiciously executed to greatest effect, fueling the infectious wide-eyed wonderment of Sherman.
Voicing is spot on and not only honors the original series and its voicing but thanks to Ty Burrell and Max Charles, respectively, maintains the cadence of Mr. Peabody and enthusiastic wide-eyed wonder of Sherman. Animation embraces the physicality and personality of not only the characters but the voice actors themselves, wonderfully capturing vocal intonations. Max Charles is as much a delight in person as he is as Sherman. In person, Max has the same inquiring exuberance that he brings to Sherman. Ty Burrell is magic as Mr. Peabody! He nails the tonal inflection and cadence of the character as we remember from the original cartoon while adding a bit more tone and depth to the parental aspect of Peabody. It's a wonderful voicing balance to capture history without mimicry or mockery and then elicit the depth of heart and emotion that Burrell delivers. Burrell truly embodies the fun, heart and parental spirit of Peabody that Burrell brings. Allison Janney is divine as Mrs. Grunion. Similarly, Patrick Warburton as King Agamemnon, Mel Brooks as Sigmund Freud, Stephen Colbert as Paul Peterson and Stanley Tucci as Leonardo DaVinci are a joy. It's almost as much fun to listen to the voicing and try to identify each voice actor.
And as comes as no surprise, Danny Elfman delivers a soundtrack that captures time and space not only of the true spirit of the characters' origins with a present day vibe, but the fun.
MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN and their WABAC machine took me "way back" to the joys of childhood, of education and entertainment and fun all rolled into one, to the purity of animation and cartoons, to the spirit and truth and magic of Jay Ward. I am sure that Jay is looking down from above on Tiffany right now, going "That's my girl!" Let it take you there, too.
Not a mis-step to be found, MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN is perfection, destined to be the Best Animated Feature of the Year! You'll be begging for more!
Directed by Rob Minkoff
Written by Craig Wright
Voice Cast: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Allison Janney, Leslie Mann, Stephen Colbert, Mel Brooks, Patrick Warburton, Ariel Winter