Mr. Peabody & Sherman

By Di Golding

Mailed on March 17, 2014

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Dear Wayback Machine
Plot Device

Dear Wayback,

Hate to start this letter by putting you to work, but you're a time machine, you should have seen this coming.

Set the Wayback Machiā€¦, er, set yourself to 1983, destination: a small French Canadian town. My childhood living room, to be precise, where, with the obvious exception of hockey, there was only one other show I could watch with my much older siblings and parents that we unanimously enjoyed. It was fast-paced, pun-filled grown-up silliness masquerading as a kids show. You'd remember it as the classic 1960s cartoon The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show.

Now set yourself to a couple of months ago, destination: my current home when I first heard about 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman, the feature length 3D animated movie based on Peabody's Improbable History, _a popular segment of The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show_ where you first appeared. You'll know you've found me when you hear the moribund vestiges of my childhood groan and crumble under the weight of too many unnecessary and predictably disappointing cartoon re-boots. Fun fact: it's the same noise Jenga blocks make when falling onto a smoked-glass coffee table while an episode of C.H.I.P.S. plays in the background.

Smurfs, Transformers, Alvin and the Chipmunks, all of those were bad enough, but my beloved Peabody & Sherman? Hadn't we learned anything from the embarrassing debacle that was the 2000 live action movie version of Rocky & Bullwinkle starring DeNiro? What's the point of having a time-machine to go back in history if not for the express purpose to avoid repeating its mistakes?

In this case, history will show I was wrong.

Mr. Peabody is the titular genius dog, Sherman is his precocious adopted boy, and you are the time machine, Peabody's ultimate teaching tool. When Sherman gets bullied at school by mean girl Penny and reacts violently, Mr. Peabody's competence as a parent is called into question. An effort to restore the peace backfires when Peabody invites Penny's parents and gruff social worker Ms. Grunion to his penthouse while Sherman and Penny make off with the Wayback Machine, eventually causing a rip in the space time continuum.

From the get-go this film seeks to reassure its longtime fans that they are indeed in good hands. The Dreamworks SKG 'child fishing from the crescent moon' intro is replaced by a black and white old school Sherman, an indication that despite the slick, 3D gimmickry and 21st century pacing, we are - at least tonally - on familiar ground. Ty Burrell's Peabody is more charm than smarm in this iteration, but his penthouse, car and manner are all decidedly mid-century. Peabody's trademark puns are groan-inducing, as they should be. They're there not to make you laugh, but to prove that you got the reference. It's refreshing to see a kid's film that encourages intelligence over beauty or brawn.

Trying to appeal to both kids and adults is not an easy feat, one side usually benefits more than the other, and in this case, it's the over 30 crowd that wins. Sherman's Stephen Hawking lunchbox, a montage of Peabody and Sherman spending time together set to John Lennon's 'Beautiful Boy', and Bill Clinton excusing Sherman's theft of you by saying, "I've done worse", are obviously not references intended for little pitchers. When the tear in the fabric of the space time continuum starts dropping famous historical figures into present day, the film veers into Bill & Ted territory: Mel Brooks' Einstein with a Rubix cube yells at a car, "I'm walkin' here!", Beethoven plays Dance Dance Revolution and Leonardo DaVinci tries his hand at Banksy-esque street art. This film not-too subtly says to its younger audience, "if you don't get it, go home and Google it."

The themes here are simple; wanting to belong, the importance of family and standing up for what you believe in. But like most time travel films, the fun is in the journey, not the destination. If you set yourself to the movie theatre a few days ago, you'll find my brother, his kids, and I waiting for the film to start. I'm the one with the lowered expectations. But as I watched my 7-year-old niece, the only non-teenager in her family, laugh at the jokes she got, pretend to laugh at the jokes she didn't, and love every minute she spent with her family, I felt a strong wave of deja vu.

Maybe history does repeat itself, and hey, you'd know.

Ever waxing nostalgic,


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