Lessons in History and Parenting: A Review of Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Director: Rob Minkoff
Screenplay: Craig Wright
Cast: Ty Burrell, Stephen Colbert, Stanley Tucci, Leslie Mann 

Some animated movies were made only to attract a horde of children audience and rake millions at the box office. Before seeing Mr. Peabody and Sherman, I have the nagging feeling that it’s just one of those movies.  

Thank goodness it was not.

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The film starts by introducing Mr. Peabody, who unlike any other dog, is intellectual and human-like in a lot of ways. And by that, I mean he can stand upright, speak different languages, play musical instruments, argue in court by himself, and bartend. Sounds silly, eh? That’s not the end of it. Because Mr. Peabody is so bright, he is supposedly responsible for the invention of various groundbreaking items such as alternative energy resources, the fist bump, and Zumba and the Wayback Machine, a big red time machine carefully ensconced in his futuristic house.

Oh, and Mr. Peabody has an adopted human son who, during his first day in class, was involved in a messy fight with a school bully named Penny.

To cut the long story short, Mr. Peabody, Sherman and Penny were caught in a messy time-travelling dilemma that allowed them to visit the Renaissance period, the Greeks’ infamous Trojan War, that time when the Egyptian Pharaoh Tut was still alive and, eventually, the future. The result, unsurprisingly, is a happy ending. But how the unconventional trio arrived to that satisfying conclusion is a fun adventure that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages.

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Like the majority of animated features out there, Mr. Peabody and Sherman has a crazy plot which only children with wild imaginations would truly appreciate. But unlike most of those animated features, Mr. Peabody and Sherman was able to pull it off. The movie boasts of a perfect balance of all its elements: it is funny without being too self-indulgent. It is poignant without being too schmaltzy. It was made for kids, but it does not alienate adults who would dare see it.

Working to its advantage are the perfectly-cast actors who lend their voices to the characters in the film. Ty Burrell, most popularly known for playing Phil Dunphy in Modern Family, fits perfectly as Mr. Peabody (which was originally set to be voiced by Robert Downey Jr). Without Burrell’s rich and velvety tone, the genius dog would not have reached his character’s depth and displayed versatility. Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann’s voices provided another dimension to Penny’s parents. However, the breakout voice performance belongs to Stanley Tucci who successfully and hilariously caricatured Leonardo da Vinci and all his frustrations toward his craft (Remember the Mona Lisa? Let’s just say she’s really happy in that portrait).

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But perhaps the greatest achievement of Mr. Peabody and Sherman is its razor-sharp screenplay. While the treatment of the story and dialogues are very commendable – as exemplified by the profuse “quotable quotes” I was able to take note of while watching the movie – the humor that has been flawlessly carried all throughout its duration is brilliant. The movie’s brand of comedy is neither obnoxious nor the self-deprecating kind. Yet, surprisingly, it cuts across all generations. Proof #1: During the movie, I find myself indulging and laughing along with little kids and their parents.  Proof #2: My middle-aged (50-ish) boss told me he enjoyed the movie too. It’s not just the clever use of puns, which the movie is replete with, but it’s how its intelligent humor was effectively utilized and injected in the movie.

Just how good was Mr. Peabody and Sherman, you ask? Suffice it to say that it has a shot at being an early contender for the 2015 Oscar race for Best Animated Feature. Is the movie anywhere near the quality and cultural significance of the Toy Story Series or any Hayao Miyazaki feature? Probably not. But that does not diminish the fact that the movie was beautifully-animated and very entertaining.

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MNL Film Club Score: 1.5

PS. Here’s a bonus quote from the movie I really liked: “All great relationships start with conflict and then evolves into something greater.”

mr peabody and sherman movie poster

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