Mr Peabody (Ty Burrell) is a super intelligent scientist, musician, dancer, chef and historian – among other things – who just happens to be a talking dog. When his adoptive son Sherman (Max Charles) gets into a fight with a girl named Penny (Ariel Winter) on his first day of school, Mr Peabody tries his best to reconcile the situation with a meeting between the families. The trouble is that Sherman is determined to impress Penny, even if it means showing her Mr Peabody’s most highly guarded secret; a time travel machine.
Mr Peabody and Sherman are characters who featured on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show in the 1950s and 60s; Sherman and his pet dog – Mr Peabody – travelled through time in an educational segment of the larger show. The format of the film differs somewhat from the TV characters, but the educational aspect of the concept remains.
There is a warmth at the centre of Mr Peabody and Sherman that holds the entire film together, Ty Burrell’s voice not only suits the slightly Frasier-esque character of Mr Peabody, but his genuine love for his adoptive some Sherman sets the entire film in motion. The film excels in the time travel segments, and manages to make history engaging and fun, essential for younger viewers, and funny enough that even the adults in the audience will have the odd chuckle. The time travel element of the film may be set off maybe a rather weak link, and there is perhaps one too many historical destinations for the younger audience members to keep their interest in the educational side of the film, but there are enough pratfalls and puns to keep most viewers engaged.
The film suffers slightly through a lack of familiarity with these characters, even though they have influenced everything from The Simpsons to the internet itself, and the fact that the show has been paid homage to many many times over the years, means that there are times when Mr Peabody and Sherman feels derivative of the shows that it actually inspired. That said, however, Craig Wright’s screenplay has a warm heart and plenty of comedy, and director Rob Minkoff recovers from his few directorial missteps – Stuart Little 2, anyone? – to make Mr Peabody and Sherman an action packed adventure with a strong educational vein that may pique kids’ interesting in history.
Mr Peabody and Sherman feels like it was deposited in our time from a bygone era, but the odd mix of unfamiliarity and familiarity aside, the film is engaging and fun, even if it jumps around, a little like the time travellers themselves. The animation is great, the jokes land and this is a far cry from some of the superficial and thin animated films we have seen lately.