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Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014)

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014)

Directed by: Rob Minkoff

Premise: A feature film version of the 1950s cartoon. A super intelligent dog (voice of Ty Burrell) and his adopted human son (voice of Max Charles) travel through the ages using a time machine.

What Works: The quality of DreamWorks Animation’s feature films has been irregular with better titles such as How to Train Your Dragon offset by less impressive films such as Turbo. Mr. Peabody & Sherman is one of the better films to come from Dreamworks Animation and on a technical level it is among the studio’s best work. The rendering of the objects and locations is among the best in their catalogue of animated films and the characters have a wider range of expression and a greater capacity for subtlety than the people and creatures of other movies. Mr. Peabody & Sherman also benefits from its sense of humor. Following the release of the original Shrek, many of DreamWorks Animation’s films attempted to appeal to both children and their parents by combining lovable characters and physical comedy with in-jokes that frequently made reference to popular culture as seen in movies like Shrek 2 and Shark Tale. These attempts at humor frequently didn’t work, instantly dated the movies, and often made them obnoxious. The premise of Mr. Peabody & Sherman puts its characters in various historical moments like the Trojan War and the French Revolution and since the humor riffs on moments of the distant past the jokes will play long after this movie’s release. The humor is frequently dorky but in a way that is endearing even while it elicits groans. That uncool appeal works for the film and the title characters of Mr. Peabody & Sherman are a lot of fun to watch. The source cartoon didn’t have deep or interesting characters but the filmmakers fill that in, emphasizing the father-son aspects of the story and putting them on a series of adventures in which they bond. The storyline is thin but it is enough to pull the various set pieces together and give the picture a satisfying ending.

What Doesn’t: The challenge of family films is to appeal to both children and their parents but the makers of Mr. Peabody & Sherman are only partially successful at that. At times it is unclear who this movie is trying to entertain. The characters travel through time to major moments in history but the younger crowd isn’t going to recognize these settings and so the historical humor and many of the film’s deliberately bad puns are going to be lost on the kids in the audience. The plotting of the movie is also going to be confusing for younger viewers. This is a time travel story and the film plays on paradoxes and other philosophical concepts frequently seen in this genre in movies like Back to the Future and television shows like Star Trek.Part of the problem is that time travel stories are inherently sophisticated, and probably too complex for young viewers. But the challenge is made worse because the filmmakers of Mr. Peabody & Sherman don’t tell this time travel story very well. Expectations for storytelling in family films are low but even a movie about a talking dog ought to make sense. The time travel story of Mr. Peabody & Sherman is full of inconsistencies and illogical sequences of events. The overall impression of the film is one of randomness.  Every historical sequence in Mr. Peabody & Sherman seems disconnected from the others. The father-son relationship largely saves the movie in this respect but the rest of the story does not seem to be leading anywhere.

Bottom Line: Mr. Peabody & Sherman is fun and fairly entertaining. A lot of the story may go over the heads of small children but younger viewers will be probably be engaged by the fun characters and the constant action. Despite considerable flaws, it is a satisfying movie. 

Episode: #483 (March 23, 2014)