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Film review: Mr Peabody & Sherman is a missed opportunity

Andrew Sun

 

MR PEABODY & SHERMAN
Voices of: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Allison Janney, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert (English language version)
Director: Rob Minkoff
Category: I (in English & Cantonese)
Rating: 2.5/5

 

Just as cartoon dog Mr Peabody can tunnel into history, Hollywood’s animated-film producers continue to plumb the annals for earlier characters to remake.

The latest property to get the 3-D digital treatment is a supporting segment from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends. The obscure Peabody’s Improbable History shorts featured a genius canine and his adopted son travelling through time and visiting historical figures.

Director Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little; The Lion King) brings the theme of family longing – evident in his previous works – to this big screen take on the beagle and boy adventure.

Voiced by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell, Mr Peabody is wry and laconic, but also professorial and paternal. In short, he’s like Project Runway’s Tim Gunn as a cartoon dog. He’s a Nobel Prize-winner, famous inventor and generally the smartest creature in every room he enters, but most of all, Peabody just wants to be a good father figure. But despite an impressive vocabulary, he has trouble expressing affection: when the boy says, “I love you, Mr Peabody”, he replies, “I have a deep regard for you as well.”

At school though, Sherman is bullied due to his untraditional, extra-species guardian. “If your dad is a dog, you must be a dog,” a fellow student jeers.

Worse is a Child Welfare Services worker named Mrs Grunion (voiced by Allison Janney). She’s a nasty matron who bears a resemblance to the Harry Potter series’ Dolores Umbridge with her condescending disgust at a canine adopting a human boy.

That’s as far as the social commentary goes though. Instead of tackling those issues, the film enters hyperdrive as Mr Peabody and Sherman zip through worm holes visiting different times in history. They are joined by a classmate of Sherman’s named Penny, and the trio journey to King Tut’s Egypt, meet Leonardo da Vinci in Renaissance Italy, and visit ancient Greece during the Trojan War.

Strictly speaking, the science is as silly as the history, not that we were expecting much realism in a 3-D animation. But considering Mr Peabody & Sherman began as a semieducational concept and the crux of the movie’s drama is how higher thinking should hold sway over superficial stereotypes, you wish the filmmakers had a higher regard for history.

There are plenty of clever puns and the usual pop culture nods, but the film moves so fast it doesn’t give the audience a chance to pay more attention to the unorthodox bond between Peabody and Sherman.

It’s a shame Minkoff would rather make a mash-up of Night at the Museum with Back to the Future, instead of exploring the story’s natural inclination as an allegory about the heart-warming relationship between a single, gay dad and his sensitive son.

48hours@scmp.com

 

Mr Peabody & Sherman opens on March 6

 

 

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