After willingly watching terrible animated reboot after TERRIBLE animated reboot ('Garfield', 'Smurfs', 'Transformers', 'G.I. Joe 1', 'Alvin and the Chipmunks'), I've finally found a film that understands, respects and updates the primary material without effacing its original wonder and pandering to the lowest common denominator. Pulitzer Prize nominated writer Craig Wright ('Six Feet Under') and Director Rob Minkoff ('Lion King') introduce the punniest, wittiest, and smartest 'Mr. Peabody and Sherman' animated reboot ever.
Growing up, I LOVED sardonic, know-it-all Mr. Peabody and his academic animated chronicles with his adopted son, Sherman. The film continues their educational trans-dimensional adventures while augmenting the father-son plotline and adding a school dimension. Sherman's tussle with mean girl Penny (Ariel Winter) introduces his family to species-ism while catalyzing his desire to grow up and deepening his parental bonds. Of course, all this happens against a disintegrating wormhole backdrop threatening to destabilize time and space.
This film is SO smart. Not just due to historical details (the Trojan War, the revolutionary war), but the subtle punny under layer (Ay vs. I, "troy, troy again") and its covert pop culture reference embedding movie titles in dialogue ("Guess who's coming to dinner" and "Runaway bride!"). Where else can a child learn about multiple instruments, every single figure in Greek mythology and the truth behind historical rumors (Marie Antoinette's cake, George Washington's cherry tree)? Even the subtle visual Easter eggs (Sherman's Stephen Hawking lunchbox, Einstein holding a rubix) were SMART. It doesn't treat its child audience like idiots and they respond accordingly. The opening animated short about a wacky, grasping leader (Steve Martin) discovering wacky, hostile worlds reminded me of Jar Jar Binks. And, none of the majority aged 2-12 audience laughed during it. But, the minute 'Mr. Peabody' started to the second it ended, I heard non-stop laughter, applause and joy.
Even the CGI is smart. The rippling water effects, Sherman's textured hair, the mini music video dream sequence, and the Trojan horse's wooden detail all rocked. Seriously, why is a child's film ten times better in writing, acting and effects than the multi-million dollar Hollywood projects?
What else is smart? The voice actors. Ty Burrell deserves a standing ovation for accurately capturing Mr. Peabody's piqued, accented, all-too-intelligent voice. Ty Burrell IS Mr. Peabody in spades. A second standing ovation goes to the overly talented, insanely experienced 11-year-old Max Charles for his lisping innocence. Patrick Warburton ('The Tick,' 'Seinfeld,' 'Family Guy, 'Venture Bros') gets a standing O for doing what Patrick Warburton does best - play beefy, overexcited men with a side of humor. Seriously, this man deserves an animated voice Oscar (if one ever exists).
For parents, you'll enjoy the covert educational values and the side lesson of actions having consequences. It'll also include a lesson for you to slowly entrust your child with responsibility. While I applaud the brilliant amount of text allotted to fleshing out the paternal relationship and nodding at the father's need to let the child grow, it also quietly addresses social prejudice. Being a parent is difficult. Not sharing the same DNA as your child is difficult. Not sharing the same race or sexuality as your child is difficult. Then, dealing with people in positions of power with vendettas against your race/sexuality/species who disagree with your parental rights adds so many layers of difficulty, I can't even address. But, the film portrays it with covert aplomb. It also shows two flips of the same coin - a child who says something mean, knowing it's mean, but not quite realizing its social effects - contrasted with an adult who fully believes in the implied meanness of the child's statement. So, yea, this film is SMART.
This film is SO brilliantly clever from the well-plotted writing to the well-executed animation to the well-done vocal talents. They all seamlessly complement each other without overtly ostentatious CGI or overdone, wacky voices. The writers even included nods to Mr. Peabody's former adventures with Da Vinci and Ben Franklin.
How smart is this film? Is it almost as smart as Nobel laureate, Olympic medalist, WABAC inventor, scientist, and food gourmand extraordinaire Mr. Peabody himself? Of course not. No one's THAT smart. But, it's close. Very. Very close.