The short: 3/5 ✦. A fairly good film that is quite unique in certain aspects, but totally predictable in others.
I wanted to see this when it first came out, but no one seemed particularly interested, not even my younger siblings. Or at least, not enough to see it in theatres. Then my brother suggested it when we noticed it on Netflix, so we watched it together. From his perspective (or rather, my perspective of his perspective), he liked it, though he didn’t laugh much. Mostly, he just wanted to know how much was actual historic fact (spoiler: not much), but he did appreciate Mr. Peabody’s story arc, noting that him finally telling Sherman that he loved him was a special moment.
For me, I kinda agreed with a review I read in that it seemed rather shoehorned in, this whole emotional arc. But to be fair, they have to have something, it’s not like the four-minute shorts where it was just fun times with no plot. (For the record, I’ve seen very few original Mr. Peabody and Sherman cartoons, but still enough to know who they were and laugh when they were parodied on The Simpsons.) Adding that kind of character development is par on course for these types of films, and it really was rather sweet to see Mr. Peabody go from rather Sherlock Holmes-esque toward a Watson Sherman to actually cherishing him as his son. Sappy, to be sure, but as the critic also acquiesced, the characters are very strong in this film.
To that, I add the caveat, most of the characters were strong. I did not like Penny; she was as pointless as her appearance in the trailers made her seem. She instigates the main plot (Mr. Peabody’s emotional journey is technically in the background, underlying the whole thing), and is horrifically rude and awful at first, but once she gets better, she loses all relevance and almost becomes a nuisance. And it’s frustrating because I’m a total advocate for more girls in obstinately “boy” movies (though, Mr. Peabody and Sherman was fairly marketed at all kids), but when the token female character is as annoying as Penny, I almost wish there weren’t any girls at all. We only care about Mr. Peabody and Sherman, about their adventures, about their relationship in the context of the film, about them. Anybody else is best regulated to the background, as the other historical “cameos” are.
Patrick Warburton, of course, is genius as Agamemnon, because Paddy is great in everything he does. His character and the others are best appreciated with a huge spoonful of disbelief suspension, because they’re fairly ridiculous and over-the-top caricatures, so – unlikely as it may be – don’t use this movie as a teaching device (unless you’re taking Sherman’s “apocryphal” tactic in school to use it as a lesson on what history isn’t). Ty Burrell was very good as Mr. Peabody, a choice I was slightly nervous about, since I usually despise Hollywood’s attempt to hire “who’s hot right now” as voices instead of who’s actually the best (professional voice actors, the ones who do most TV cartoons and video games, are usually not allowed to even audition, so the whole thing is messed up, anyway). But it seems that at the time, Burrell wasn’t quite the household name he is now and was indeed picked more for his talent. And again, he did an excellent job – balancing cool intelligence and genuine warmth as the frighteningly intelligent and irresistibly cuddly Mr. Peabody. (Though be sure to listen for Jess Harnell as a few Presidents!)
One last criticism: Mrs. Grunion. (I didn’t realize “grunion” was an actual word till now when spellcheck didn’t mark it; apparently, it’s a type of fish! #themoreyouknow.) I really, really dislike women characters being used as antagonists like this (huge, not conventionally attractive), especially when they have actual real-life important jobs like social services. In fact, I hate when social services and other truly vital organizations are regarded as evil, because (for the most part), they are honestly there to help kids, and it doesn’t help to have movies that feature them as family-destroyers. My brother seemed a little concerned about it, and I reassured him that real social services wouldn’t hire a “mean lady” like that. Perhaps I was reading too much into it, but it bothered me, especially since it’s painfully clear how loved and well-cared-for Sherman is, and no one would really believe he was being maltreated or adversely influenced. (A TV Troper noted that the custody fight can be analogous to gay adoption, with similar difficulties; I don’t know if that was intentional, though.) It was also a little bothersome that Grunion is essentially kidnapped at the end by Agamemnon, which would have really bad implications if they hadn’t put in the obligatory scene that she ended up being happy about it. It was just . . . ugh.
Other than those few things, I did quite like the movie! The titular characters were the best and most well-rounded, and really, they could’ve just shown an hour and a half of time-travel vignettes, and I think it would have turned out just as good, if not better. I think the concept works best as a TV show, anyway, so it’ll probably end up on Netflix as an original series with Puss in Boots, King Julian, and How to Train Your Dragon someday!
Have you seen Mr. Peabody and Sherman? Did you like it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Header image courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures.