Mr. Peabody & Sherman (***1/2) isn’t going to hurt anybody

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Mr. Peabody & Sherman – 2014

Director Rob Minkoff
Starring Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Leslie Mann, Stephen Colbert, Allison Janney
Screenplay Craig Wright based on the show Peabody’s Improbable History by Ted Key

Based on a series of cartoon shorts that were part of The Bullwinkle Show, the idea for Mr. Peabody & Sherman resonated for several years in the mind of Rob Minkoff. His efforts resulted in a wonderfully retrospectively respectful film that is true to the spirit of the original material. There are no cheap jokes here but there is some very nice intelligent (and cornball) humor. The essence of the educational show is captured in a conventional way that flows into the simple story of the film and gives a touch of the history that is informational, if not necessarily educational.

The story begins with Sherman (Charles)  starting at a new school. His experience with his adoptive (and supremely intelligent dog, Mr. Peabody) father travelling in the WABAC (get it?)  time machine and actually experiencing history firsthand has set him up with more knowledge than your usual grad student, much less a kid starting out in school. Sherman’s revelation of the George Washington cherry tree story as apocryphal sets him against another student named Penny (Winter).

At her prodding, they fight during lunch. Somehow this becomes an indictment of Mr. Peabody’s (Burrell in low-key) parenting. He is given a date for inspection (whatever purpose that would serve) by Ms. Grunion (Janney), whose sole purpose seems to consist of reminding us that government workers are there to get in the way. Even those who are fans of this idea will find this closer to something out of a 70’s sitcom than it is to reality. How much can we forgive this, even if it is a cartoon?

Mr. Peabody invites Penny’s parents (Colbert and Mann) over for a “get to know you” dinner. Penny gets to spend time with Sherman, which invariably leads them both to the WABAC where things get messed up. Sherman comes back and enlists Mr. Peabody to assist in setting things right. Then Mr. Peabody dies.

I am not kidding.

Very quickly, though, we realize that nobody dies in a story with a time machine. Well, they aren’t dead for long.

The story is just a vehicle to get us to know the characters, and what we find out is that these are kind, caring and very well-educated people who help us realize that history is alive with us every day. It’s a neat trick to get kids interested who may not otherwise give a rip about it. For that reason alone, the movie is a winner. No one overshot in the personality department, except for Grunion. The animation is more realistic than, say, Maleficent. We all know it’s easier though when there are no fake looking humans holding you down.

This is a good film that the family can enjoy. This is the kind of story that gives kids ideas and entertains them. It doesn’t hurt to get kids thinking now and then.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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