Mr. Peabody & Sherman,
directed by Rob Minkoff
(20th Century Fox, 2014)

Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell), the world's most intelligent canine, lives in a penthouse and is a Harvard graduate, a captain of industry known as the Woof of Wall Street, and an inventor (of, among other things, Zumba, the fist-bump and auto-tune). Among his most impressive achievements are the adoption of a young boy, Sherman (Max Charles), whom he found abandoned in a dark alley, and invention of the WABAC machine, helpfully pronounced "way back," of course, which they use to travel through time to learn about history.

This was more or less the basis of Mr. Peabody's Improbable History, the cartoon on which the movie is based. Dreamworks Studio has done a wonderful job of preserving the style and substance of the original. The movie starts off on a traditional adventure, with Mr. Peabody taking Sherman to the French Revolution and Sherman getting them into and Mr. Peabody getting them out of trouble with tremendous ease and no small amount of punning, an essential element of any adventure. It's a neat way of introducing the premise as both history and plot.

The main story opens with Sherman heading to first grade armed with good intentions and perhaps a bit too much knowledge of history, putting a serious dent in the armor of Penny (Ariel Winter), his classmate and official head smartypants. Her wounded pride and his naivete combine to make one glorious playground smackdown for which Sherman ends up catching the blame. Child protective services, in the form of Mrs. Grunion (Alison Janey), show up and threaten to take Sherman from Mr. Peabody. In an attempt to smooth things over, Sherman takes Penny on a time-traveling trip that goes completely wrong, forcing Mr. Peabody to try and set things right.

It's bouncy and happy and meant to be slight and cute, but it holds up on more than just the "fun" level. What brings an element of seriousness is the relationship between Sherman and his adoptive dog father. While Mr. Peabody eschews sentiment and wearing of hearts on sleeves, it's clear that his devotion to Sherman is the main thing in his life. The trials and tribulations they endure underscore the point: what makes a family a family is love and care, not species. It's true: every dog should have a boy.

The action and finale are centered around the inevitable rip in the space-time continuum created by tripping through too many eras, leading up to the big, anachronistic-filled moment when history breaks wide open and starts raining down all over New York. It's zany and moves along at a head spinning pace, helped along with Burrell's dry delivery and groan-inducing puns. The material is so perfectly and neatly updated that anyone can join this ride, not just fans from times past.

review by
Mary Harvey

19 April 2014

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