Wit and wisdom makes for memorable Peabody and Sherman

It was only a matter of time before Jay Ward’s beloved characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman would make it to the big screen. Having kicked around Hollywood for a while, certainly not helped by the disaster that was 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, it finally found a home at DreamWorks Animation … in 2007. Yes, another seven years would pass before Mr. Peabody & Sherman would finally appear and in retrospect, it’s probably a good thing they took their time. Today’s digital 3-D technology gives the film the distinct visual va-va-va-voom it needs during its trippy time-travel sequences, while the script by Craig Wright (Six Feet Under) perfectly captures the lighthearted, ironic feel of the show. Obviously, the screenwriter poured over each episode of the original cartoon with great attention. Allusions to it pop up again and again.

Moving at a brisk 92 minutes, we meet genius dog Mr. Peabody (voice by Ty Burrell) and his adopted son, Sherman (Max Charles). They take a trip in the canine’s WABAC machine to Paris just as Marie Antoinette is about to make her ill-advised comment about starving peasants and eating cake, thus setting off the French Revolution. This opening sequence quickly sets the template of the entire film. Our heroes stumble upon a key moment in history only to have to hightail it outta there before timelines are altered and dog and boy become history themselves.

They return to present-day New York for a truly momentous occasion – Sherman’s first day of school. He easily impresses his teacher but soon runs afoul of Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter), a bright young girl threatened by her classmate’s intelligence. She purposely picks a fight and before you know it, child protective services are summoned in the form of the overbearing Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney). In an effort to show that he is a good parent and that Sherman does not have canine tendencies (he bit Penny on the arm you see …), Peabody invites the Petersons and Grunion over for dinner to calm the waters. However, the two young ones slip away and before you know it, they’ve taken the WABAC for a spin; Penny is stranded in ancient Egypt and Peabody and Sherman must travel back in time to save her.

This allows Wright to have the characters trip through time, encountering one key figure after another. The WABAC develops mechanical problems, which forces them to stop in Florence, Italy, during the early 16th century, while a near escape from a black hole catapults them back to the battle of Troy, among other places. Along the way they help da Vinci (Stanley Tucci) solve a problem he’s having with Mona Lisa (Lake Bell) and meet a rather dim Agamemnon (Patrick Warburton) inside a really stinky Trojan Horse. It’s all done in a very clever way. The humorous takes on these historical events are fashioned to appeal to those who know nothing about them, as well as experts in these matters. The cartoon’s trademark puns are tossed about with reckless abandon while dynamic visuals, especially during the climax when a tear in the time-space continuum allows the Titanic, the Sphinx and other historical objects to cascade down upon Manhattan, give the film a distinctive visual flair.

The film is everything that the cartoon was, which will appeal to those of us old enough to remember it and will certainly garner it legions of new fans. However, the one thing Wright and director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) add, is a sense of sweetness. A flashback sequence that shows how Peabody and Sherman meet, as well as all of the early adventures and people they’ve met (Sherman learned to ride a bicycle at the Wright Brothers’ shop, they flew kites with Ben Franklin, etc.), provides an emotional foundation the film sorely needs. While the young boy instinctively knows how to love, the cerebral canine must learn how to be less analytical and more in touch with his emotions. He may be able to traverse through time on a whim, but Peabody’s real journey is toward emotional awareness. In the end, we do see that an old dog can learn a new trick or two and that an innocent little boy can be the best of teachers.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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