Childhood cartoons are something that many hold dear to their heart, even if they haven’t seen said so for years or even mention it at all in conversation. Yet a company tries to update, reinvent and bring back said cartoon and there’s uproar, outrage - “how could they drag my childhood through the mud” people say. Now this doesn’t apply to me for this particular film - it either never made its way over to Britain or I’m too young for when it was on. Still, I can understand the annoyance of not wanting to tarnish that cherished memory with this new version of unknown quality. But I think bias can come into play with people dismissing something outright before they view it at all, I for one always believe in giving something a chance.
From what I understand ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ was a highly popular american cartoon with the intention of educating kids (in a fun way). My only exposure to it is through ‘The Simpsons’ parodying it. So luckily for me I was entering it with no bias or prior knowledge. It’s a story of a man and his dog except its reversed with the Dog being the master (or parent). It very much feels like the start of a franchise, the opening gambit to see if the series is worth exploring. The stick of time-traveling can have endless stories but here its basic, its (mostly) kept within a certain area - it has not gone too outlandish, allowing to amp it up for another crack at it.
The story sees ‘Sherman’ (Max Charles) get in a fight with a girl, ‘Penny’ (Ariel Winter) and in order to impress her he shows her the ‘go-back’ - causing problems. It’s a plot that both manages to simplify it all and at times (particularly at the end) complicate things. It uses the usual 'things have altered in the past' formula and tries at the end to change things but ends up souring slightly what was generally a good film. That’s not to say it ruined the film, in fact it was still rather enjoyable with some witty jokes that adults would appreciate - and some characterizations of past names (Such as Leonardo Da Vinci). The problem is for every right move the film makes it makes a bad one, taking the joy out of the moment. It tries to inject some heart into but it doesn’t works it just comes off as forced. Thankfully it doesn’t throw it at you all the time and manages to muster a shred of it towards the end.
The mixed bag of story and humour is ironed out somewhat by the varied visuals and excellent voice work. The different places that the film takes us too offer a nice variety that keeps things mostly fresh. The character designs aren’t particularly strong but the backdrop of ‘Egypt’, ‘Troy’ and so on are the main attraction - applying the varied settings ensures lots of colour. But the strongest aspect is the voice work - particularly from ‘Ty Burrell’ as ‘Mr. Peabody’. Keeping a clean, dry tone that fits perfectly with the character. The others, who are mostly unknowns to me, do a great job as well. Even if at times the dialogue isn't the best - but i suspect kids will love the constant “I don’t get it…” joke.
Dreamworks may not have found another ‘How To Train Your Dragon” - the heights the studio should be aiming for. But it’s a nice effort that almost reaches greatness. Kids will probably eat it up with the bright colours and the stupidity. But it’s a hit and miss affair for adults. If its the start of a new series of films this is a decent start and with the general premise of the time machine it could be great.
- Varied and nice environments.
- Great voice acting with some good humour.