“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” may not be the best animated feature in theaters right now, but it’s easily the most educational.
Parents will be happy to get their children a crash course in history along with the price of admission. But luckily for the kids, it’s a pretty fun movie too.
Based on the popular segment from the old “Rocky & Bullwinkle” cartoon, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” follows the adventures of a super-intelligent talking dog (Peabody, voiced by Ty Burrell) and his adopted son Sherman (Max Charles). Through the use of the WABAC machine, a red orb-shaped time machine invented by Mr. Peabody, the father-son team is able to crisscross the space-time continuum, learning firsthand about major events in history as not-so-innocent bystanders.
The plot for this particular adventure stems from Sherman’s first day of “normal” school, when his intellectual advantages lead to a fight with a classmate named Penny (Ariel Winter). The fight raises concerns about the wisdom of a dog (albeit a genius dog) raising a boy, and to dissuade the powers that be from separating boy and dog dad, Mr. Peabody invites everyone involved over for a dinner party.
But despite the best of intentions, an evening meant to display quiet sophistication winds up in chaos. One thing leads to another, Penny winds up marooned in ancient Egypt, and “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” becomes a dramatic rescue quest as our heroes bounce from one historic era to the next, encountering key historical figures such as King Tut and Leonardo da Vinci as they work to set things right.
Buried under the barrage of historical figures lies a positive message about self-confidence. It seems that, like most human parents, Mr. Peabody sometimes struggles to let Sherman do things on his own, and one main theme of the film is the boy’s journey to find that confidence.
If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because a more apt title for the film could be “Peabody and Sherman’s Excellent Adventure.” There’s more than one resemblance between this film and the late-’80s hijinks of those righteous dudes from San Dimas. So if the rumors of a third “Bill and Ted” movie prove untrue, fans can at least look here to get their nostalgic fix.
Seriously though, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is a well-made film that carries a broad appeal. Like the “Rocky & Bullwinkle” original, the adventures of Mr. Peabody and Sherman are loaded with sly references for the adults in the audience even as they are entertaining the kids. In fact, if there’s any serious shortcoming in the film at all (aside from a string of groan-worthy puns), it’s that the brainy, time-traveling plot and generous joke supply might fly a bit too far over the heads of the youngsters. Then again, if watching my 3-year-old niece working an iPad is any indicator, I could be wrong on that one.
Actually, parents and “Bill and Ted” fans might not be the only adult audiences happy with the results here. After the disappointment of 2000’s live-action “Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle,” fans of the original cartoon will be relieved that DreamWorks and director Rob Minkoff delivered a more respectable product to the big screen.
“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is rated PG for animated mayhem and some crude humor. It is available for screening in 3-D, but should be every bit as enjoyable at the lower 2-D price.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.