12 February 2014


There's a whole essay to be written about how animation studios have transitioned away from referring to folklore, mythology and fairy tales in the Disney mould, and are now contributing to the same wholesale nostalgia trading that has been indulged in mega-budget tentpole movies. But I'll save that for a lesser movie than DreamWorks' Mr. Peabody & Sherman, an action adventure which happens to be based on cartoon shorts that first appeared in the 1950s.

Mr. Peabody is a dog with a genius IQ, who has dedicated his intelligence to enriching everyday life, and become a captain of industry in the process. He also has a 7-year-old adoptive son, Sherman, with whom he goes on educational adventures through history. When Sherman starts school, his dad begins to worry that his unconventional upbringing means he won't fit in. However, an attempt to help him make friends leads to a massive crisis in the space-time continuum, and an adventure that takes them to Ancient Egypt, Renaissance-era Italy, and the siege of Troy.

Without wishing to make an obvious comparison, this film reminded me of Doctor Who. Like, all of it. The series started, back in the 1960s, with a kinda-sorta educational bent, and later spun off into wacky and carnivalesque action adventure. Likewise, Mr. Peabody & Sherman starts out at the kick-off of the French Revolution, with some handy exposition about Marie Antoinette and Maximilien de Robespierre as they wind up fighting their way out. But by the time it gets to the Trojan war, you're probably having too much fun to quibble about how it's not all, strictly speaking, historical.

Director Rob Minkoff, who is perhaps best known for directing The Lion King, keeps things zippy and funny, reflecting a script that is witty, (with a particular penchant for punnery) but never as arch as certain other DreamWorks comedies. The main plot follows Peabody's suitability as a parent to a human boy being questioned by an abominable social worker, and by the parents of a bullying classmate of Sherman's, but it's not constantly nudging and winking about the weirdness of a dog owning a boy.

Nobody expected a realistic reboot of the idea, but that doesn't mean they don't find some hitherto unexplored emotional weight to the characters too. Ty Burrell gives a versatile vocal performance, mimicking the original style of Mr. Peabody, (which most of us only know from that one "Quiet, you" gag in The Simpsons) but bringing new dimensions to the character at the same time. Elsewhere, Max Charles lends Sherman an energetic and excitable voice, and there are some very funny turns from Patrick Warburton, Stanley Tucci and Mel Brooks as characters we meet during the heroes' time travel.

The core father-and-son relationship remains constant, in a film that moves from episodic time travel adventures, into something that resembles the chaos of Bill & Ted with the stakes of Back To The Future for the grand finale, and the interactions between these characters and the historical figures never stops being funny. Between this and The LEGO Movie, (look out for that review tomorrow) families are spoilt for choice this half term, especially if your kids' idea of a good film is one that unites William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman has arrived in the UK a month ahead of its US release, and here's hoping that it's as well received in a territory whose kids haven't been brought up on Doctor Who. It has the same sense of humour, and even indulges in the same convoluted timey-wimey gubbins without getting too far off-track. Even if a Turbo still gets out every now and then, this unlikely reboot is far more indicative of DreamWorks' reinvigorated creativity than you'd expect.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Mr. Peabody & Sherman, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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