Mr. Peabody & Sherman started life in the late-50s as part of the Rocky & Bulwinkle cartoon series. However they soon became popular in their own right with their mix of the silly and the educational. I don’t know whether the characters are still that popular in the US, but in the UK few kids will know them, which made it a surprise when DreamWorks Animation announced they were making a Peabody and Sherman film.
The idea behind the film is that Mr. Peabody is a super-smart, Nobel Prize-winning dog who has adopted a human boy, Sherman. Peabody’s greatest scientific accomplishment is his time machine, the WABAC, which he uses to take Sherman all across history, introducing him to the great figures of the past.
Now though it’s time for Peabody to pass the educational baton to the school system, although he’s sure to warn Sherman not to mention the WABAC or the fact he’s met the likes of George Washington to his anyone at school. Inevitably the secrets spill and during an evening where Sherman is supposed to reconciling with mean bully Penny, she ends up using the WABAC and getting stuck in Ancient Egypt.
Mr. Peabody and Sherman head off to rescue her, and end up on a journey that takes them to renaissance Italy and Ancient Greece as they try to get home and not destroy the space-time continuum in the process.
There’s nothing wrong with a good time travel story, but Mr. Peabody and Sherman suffers from never quite finding that good story. There’s a constant sense that the first ideas anyone would have had for a Peabody & Sherman movie are exactly what they went for, and that a lot more thought and story development was needed.
Like several other recent DreamWorks Animation movies, it’s difficult to escape the sense that the movie feels more like a race than a story. It’s almost as if there’s a hope that by throwing constant movement and action at the screen so that nothing stays still for longer than a millisecond, nobody will notice the flaws.
And there are quite a lot of flaws, from the endless logical inconsistencies (which admittedly kids won’t care about) to the fact Mr. Peabody himself often comes across as an insufferable know-it-all, not helped by the fact Modern Family’s Ty Burrell, who provides the voice, has retained the character’s slightly odd way of speaking from the original cartoon, but he doesn’t quite pull it off so it always sounds like somebody doing a daft voice.
There is fun to be had though. Some of the action sequences are quite inventive, and individually a lot of the scenes are entertaining, as is the entire section where they meet Leonardo Da Vinci, but when it’s when it’s all strung together into a plot it starts to come unstuck. It would have been better to find a stronger central plot, rather than something that’s essentially an excuse for a series of cartoons taking place at different times in history. These shorts are related to one another but not in a particularly great way. Those behind the film obviously have a massive fondness for the original Mr. Peabody toons and they have stuck to their template more than they should have, rather than taking the concept and creating a full-on movie around it.
Admittedly though, the issues are more likely to bother adults than children, who may well respond to the fact its endless chase structure means there’s always something different on the screen and it never stays still for long. While adults will appreciate that there’s a vague attempt to be educational (and I mean vague), youngsters won’t feel like they’re being force-fed a history lesson.
Those who don’t know much about the original Mr. Peabody & Sherman will be pleased to hear some of them are included on the Blu-ray, both as part of a complete episode of The Adventures Of Rocky & Bulwinkle and on their own. Alongside those are some featurettes, which are worth a look, including one with scientists looking at the physics of the WABAC and stretching their minds to find reasons why it isn’t totally silly. There’s a very good selection of extras, even if they’re supporting a not particularly great film.
Overall Verdict: There are fun sections and plenty of actions, but Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a bit of a messy affair that has a huge love for the original cartoons but never quite finds a good way to turn the brief animated shorts into a satisfying movie.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac