Friday, April 25, 2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Directed by Rob Minkoff
Written by Craig Wright and Michael McCullers
Based on the series created by Jay Ward

     The Rocky & Bullwinkle movies have had it rough in the past. The eponymous duo's movie was a disastrous mix of live action and animation, while Dudley Do-Right was odd and dull, both embracing too much darkness that put them at odds with the original series. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, the newest stab at it, goes animated over live-action and, far more importantly, captures the spirit of the shorts that previous movies lacked.
     Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) is the world's smartest dog, not to mention one of the smartest people all around. After conquering everything else in the world, he decides to adopt Sherman (Max Charles) and creates the WABAC Machine to travel through time and teach Sherman about history firsthand. But when Sherman's first day of school has him biting fellow student Penny (Ariel Winter), he could lose Sherman—and things don't get better when Sherman takes Penny back in time without Mr. Peabody's permission.
     The desire to modernize the movie is clearly there in the opening, where Peabody lists off a bunch of modern fads he invented, including a painful scene of him dancing to Zumba. This has killed so many adaptations of older shows that right then I had to brace myself for something awful. And's gone. Almost immediately, it cuts over to a sequence that basically mimics the classic shorts, with all that implies, and sets up the movie much better. And once the movie really starts time travelling, it just takes off. There's intentionally ridiculous portrayals of famous figures, there's fun action sequences, there's plenty of jokes, and there's even some history somewhere in there. It's just pure fun, and although there's some lowest-common-denominator jokes (they really seem to love having characters come out of the butt of animal statues), there's also plenty of jokes that will appeal to the older fans, with mentions of Oedipus and a reference to William Shakespeare's signature.
     And the few times the movie slows down is to look at the very real problem that Mr. Peabody faces. After the opening shows that Peabody himself wasn't adopted, he clearly has a lot of care for Sherman, and losing him would be the worst thing for Peabody. At the same time, Peabody's skills as a parent do come into question. While he's clearly done what he thinks is best, he also has to face the fact that he's almost sheltering Sherman. And that's Peabody's biggest flaw he has to overcome. The early scenes show him able to conquer almost any problem, but when he's finally given something that he's not perfect at, he has to learn how to do it. Rob Minkoff is certainly no stranger to stories of adopted parents (he also directed The Lion King and Stuart Little), but this might be one of the most interesting portrayals of it that he's shown.

     Mr. Peabody & Sherman could've easily failed, but instead it's funny and touching, showing that there's plenty of room to adapt Jay Ward's work without feeling the need to modernize it.

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