What’s the deal with taking old intellectual properties from the 1960’s and turing them into modern adaptations? First there was Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger last year and now we’ve got this new, modernized Mr. Peabody thing. It seems weird that DreamWorks was willing to invest upwards of $145 million into the project when its target audience has probably never even heard of Peabody’s Improbable History before. Whatever. I’m pretty sure that studio executives are contractually obligated to undergo mandatory lobotomies anyway, so here we are.
Rob Minkoff, the man behind the 1994 Disney classic, The Lion King, helms the project after about a decade in production. Executive producer Tiffany Ward was reportedly charged with ensuring that the characters maintained the integrity of their cartoon roots, and by God does it show. The character archetypes for cartoon shorts do not lend themselves to feature length films, and contribute to bland and uninteresting protagonists. Minkoff and Ward are certainly fans of the original property, and I can naturally respect that, but this was their chance to get a new generation interested in their beloved Mr. Peabody by changing up the old formula and giving us some dynamic characters with whom we can engage. It’s almost as if they we’re so enamored with the memory of their favorite childhood franchise and took for granted that everyone else wasn’t necessarily wearing the same massive nostalgia goggles, and ultimately suffered for it.
Ty Burrell of Modern Family fame and Max Charles lend their vocal talents to the characters of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, respectively. Steven Colbert also makes a cameo appearance as the blatantly antagonistic suburban husband, Paul Peterson. The vocal performances are mostly well done and add a great deal of charm to an otherwise pretty lifeless production. As I scramble to find a silver lining in this weird, miasmic, mess of a film, I can at least say that it was well cast and that the actors at least sounded into it, specifically Colbert and Burrell.
In a way, Mr. Peabody & Sherman is almost admirable in that it somehow finds a way to make mastery of one of the fundamental forces of the universe, time travel, profoundly boring. The plot, such as it is, amounts to little more than a sightseeing tour through various arbitrary periods in history, all of which, naturally involve Mr. Peabody saving Sherman from some kind of mischief. The narrative is so episodic and formulaic the film might as well have been a highlight reel from the cartoon showing a number of Mr. Peabody’s exploits in no particular order, making the film feel unfocused and bland. The film seems content to railroad the audience from one uninteresting set piece to another and without much regard for connectivity. The third act finally starts to pick up, but then it, too, seems unabashedly token and uninspired. It’s almost as though Mr. Peabody & Sherman shrugs it’s shoulders and says “Well, I certainly can’t think of any other interesting things to do. Let’s just get all the historical figures together in one place and wrap it all up with a ham-fisted, saccharine ending.”
Ultimately, a comedy must be judged on whether or not it made me laugh, and unfortunately, the film falls short in that respect as well. And it’s not just because I’m some jaded hack either. There are kid’s movies I like- that I love, even- and I admit without shame that The LEGO Movie was hysterical in parts, but Mr. Peabody & Sherman’s shallow humor and groan-worthy historical references amounting to little more than “Hey, kids! Look at the famous person!” just didn’t do it for me.
Unless you actually grew up in the 1960’s watching The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and the Peabody’s Improbable History segment’s found within, I wouldn’t recommend Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Come to think of it, you’d probably be better off looking up old episodes on the internet than waste your time and money on this nostalgic cash-in that no one save Minkoff himself thought ought to exist.
Rating: 2 out of 5