If you’re aware that a Mr. Peabody And Sherman movie is coming out this week, you’re probably dreading it. Don’t. Whether you’re concerned that the film will crap all over the classic shorts by Jay Ward (whose work like Rocky And Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right has been butchered in Hollywood repeatedly) or have never heard of Jay Ward and are merely concerned about the potential of a movie about a time-traveling dog and boy duo, I can assure you that this flick will surpass your expectations. It’s a film the manages to capture the spirit of the late Jay Ward’s cartoons perfectly, which means it’s funny, sweet, colorful, irreverent, creative, fast-paced, and constantly entertaining. Movies like this make family entertainment seem easy, simply piling on goofy pleasures from start to finish without a second wasted or a forced message to swallow. It would be nice to live in a world where this was the norm and Mr. Peabody & Sherman felt like an average family blockbuster. But we don’t live in that world, silly. A big Hollywood family flick this funny and entertaining is rare, especially when it’s adapted from a cult classic. Buy a ticket and smile for 90 minutes. It’s really that simple.
For the unfamiliar, Mr. Peabody and Sherman were characters from the Jay Ward’s classic Rocky & Bullwinkle series. It was essentially a sketch in which a hyper intelligent dog and a dorky kid would travel back in time to pal around with comically exaggerated versions of historical figures. Essentially, it’s smart-dumb comedy, sneaking in some facts amongst the surreal gags that seemed so groundbreaking when Ward unleashed it in the 50s. The film version essentially follows that formula, tossing Peabody and Sherman into the French Revolution, ancient Egypt, the Trojan War, and the Italian Renaissance and shoving jokes into the mouth of famous faces backed by famous voices (an unhinged Stanley Tucci as Leonardo Da Vinci, Mel Brooks as Einstein, Patrick Puddy Warburton as an idiot Trojan soldier, etc.). There’s a plot arc of course, involving a snotty girl (Ariel Winter) in Sherman’s (Max Charles) class who mocks him for having a dog for a father (Ty Burrell perfectly recreating the old Peabody voice). So Peabody has her parents over to impress them and Sherman and the gal end up in the Way Back machine prompting an impromptu adventure through time. It sounds stock, but thankfully, the filmmakers deliver a film rooted perfectly in Jay Ward’s cracked sensibility, where even the unconventional family heart is treated as strangely wonderful. It’s a blast.
Most of the success of the film can be attributed to director Rob Minkoff. The animation veteran clearly adores the source material and goes out of his way to make a reverential movie that recreates Jay Ward’s charming voice for a new generation. His movie is absolutely hysterical, with ingeniously dumb gags like Leonardo Da Vinci’s creepy Renaissance robot child, the French army’s hatred of cantaloupes, and the Trojan army’s weakness for accepting wooden gift horses prompting giddy responses from adults and children alike (it’s clear watching the movie that the original Peabody And Sherman shorts were a massive influence on the hysterical Bill & Ted movies and that influence comes back around here). Minkoff also goes out of his way to recreate Ward’s crude, yet cute cartoony style in glossy CGI, allowing for all sorts of cartoon tomfoolery that will make you smile. He’s also a gifted storyteller (the man did direct The Lion King) as well as a talented action director (he also directed the Jackie Chan/Jet Li flick The Forbidden Kingdom), so the movie stimulates the adrenaline glands and tickles tear ducts when required. Perhaps most importantly, Minkoff understands that the core of Mr. Peabody & Sherman is simple, goofy entertainment and never tries to make his movie anything more than that. Lesser filmmakers would have tried to make the story too dramatic or silly, but Minkoff finds the irreverent middle ground and walks the tight rope just right.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a big, bright, colorful 90-minute blast of entertainment and nothing more. Yet simply getting delivering that without any needless sentimentality or a barrage of tired pop culture gags is rare enough to make the movie feel special. Sure, it’s not as endlessly creative and inventive as The Lego Movie, but that’s a lofty comparison to make even if it’s a recent one. Nope, the movie is as joyously silly and entertaining as the original Jay Ward cartoon, and that’s exactly what it should be. The film is a perfect way for fans of the original series to feel bubbly and nostalgic and kids to get introduced to Ward’s classic characters in a contemporary CGI blockbuster. It’s rare for any Hollywood adaptation of a classic property to actually honor the source material, but that’s exactly what happened here. It’s 90 minutes of classic cartoon anarchy and for that we should all giggle and rejoice. It’ll be a long time before it happens again, so let’s hope this flick is as successful as all the failures (Garfield, Space Jam, Marmaduke, etc, etc, etc). For once, a reboot actually deserves some brand name loyalty success.