Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The reason why enjoy Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones” series so much is because the main character often gets into a tricky situation and I wonder, despite having seen the series about a dozen times, “How is he going to get out of this one?”

Directed by Rob Minkoff, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” vibrates with infectious energy that it is easy to take for granted its beautiful and pavonine animation, pun-tastic script, and seemingly effortless knack for entertainment. It offers a smorgasbord of jokes that will appeal to children, adults, and children-at-heart. Many animated movies these days tend to mask a lack of a solid screenplay with often annoying song and dance numbers. This is not one of them.

Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell), a dog who happens to be a genius (he graduated from Harvard as “valedogtorian”), has created a time machine called The Wayback so that his adopted son, a human boy named Sherman (Max Charles), can learn history firsthand. There is only one rule: They can never travel to an era in which they exist because the aftermath can be disastrous. But a series of mishaps—starting with a classmate, Penny (Ariel Winter), being left behind in ancient Egypt—might just force the father-son duo to break the golden rule.

Most noticeable is the picture being alive. When action and chase sequences are not at the forefront, the material turns its attention on the father-son relationship. I thought it was beautiful how Mr. Peabody and Sherman see themselves as family. The problem is, everyone else does not see them that way. What others think about is how wrong or inconceivable it is for two beings that are considered to be different species to share love for one another. Ironically, Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney) of the social services represents this narrow-minded thinking.

It contains only a whiff of one quality that I usually cannot stand in what should be kid-friendly animated pictures: any hint of romance between children. I enjoyed it because Sherman’s crush on Penny does not turn into anything more. He gets a few lines that clearly show to the audience his affections for her. However, there is not one scene where Sherman hands Penny a bouquet of flowers or tries to kiss her or any of that sort. As a result, the crush is cute but never forced. Most importantly, Sherman’s feelings never get in the way of the story.

One can feel that the writer, Craig Wright, really has fun with the material. When it comes to movies that involves time travel, the goal is usually simple: Going back home. Here, it is not that simple. There are many detours and each one is rife with historical references—they may not be completely accurate but what matters is the essence of what is being targeted. It has brains yet it is very accessible.

Based on the series by Jay Ward, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is self-aware, fun, and offers a few heart-tugging moments. I wish more animated, non-Pixar screenplays would strive to have at least the same level of wit and creativity.

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