Adaptations are always tricky animals because of the questions they raise: What are the rules? Who do you try to please? Is it possible to capture the magic and allure going from source material to another medium? Is there a sure-fire formula to successfully win fans and those new to the material? Many times filmmakers try to answer these questions and when it works, it works well. Other times however it’s an awful, awful mess. Well thankfully Rob Minkoff and DreamWorks, no stranger to adaptations or different mediums, know how to answer such questions. They have achieved the former and as such have another hit on their respective hands. But it’s not without a lot of effort and smart decisions made every step of the way.
A number of attempts at giving older properties a modernized facelift have gone the live-action route in hopes of revitalizing the character(s). But you can’t just throw a number of CG animals or key characters into the mix an expect a miracle…so point to DreamWorks for keeping with their formula. They, like Pixar, have decided the digital realm is where they want to stay. In the case of Mr. Peabody & Sherman trying this any way other than a 100% animated affair would have been extremely odd as Peabody is no ordinary dog. Beyond walking and talking like a human this brilliant canine is also Sherman’s adoptive father; that would have been a tough sell outside the digital realm. Minkoff conveys the questionable backstory in a believable manner (explaining the adoption process, Sherman’s younger years and how Mr. Peabody and the WABAC have been a big influence in his life) and endears us to the characters in a simple and very sweet montage. Animation is known for its brevity right?
Like in the cartoon, the famous duo travel through multiple time periods, schmooze and mingle with great historical figures and even manage to sneak in a sly history lesson or two. It’s all in good fun and really, this is A LOT of fun! Admittedly the source material is odd in structure (definitely a product of its time) but works because of the underlying themes. Now this adaptation has all the makings of a history lesson, albeit as brisk and superficial as they come, but really it’s a heart-warming tale about the universal virtues of family. It’s light on the preachiness and aside from reverence to the Jay Ward property Minkoff is trying to have as much fun as possible.
That’s one thing the film does so very well. While not trying to be a School House Rock type of entertainment, the film asks kids (and adults) along for the ride while never once talking down to them. Kids know Einstein and Da Vinci, even King Tut. So Minkoff skips the introductions and these important figures become mere pit-stops on the roller coaster ride to fix the hole Sherman ripped in the universe (after a joy ride in the WABAC wreaked havoc on the most important events in world history). Moreover, the likes of Mona Lisa and Agamemnon are just a backdrop to Mr. Peabody figuring out how to be a good parent.
DreamWorks has been on a solid gold hit streak with each succeeding film. Shrek was a home run, Kung Fu Panda floored us, How to Train Your Dragon swooped in to pull the rug out from under us, Rise of the Guardians certainly rose to the occasion, and with Mr. Peabody & Sherman they continue to make great strides as an animation powerhouse. Their delightful family-centric film is as heartwarming as it is hysterical. Ward’s famous characters are brilliantly brought to life by Ty Burrell and Max Charles and it’s Burrell who makes it all work thanks to the plethora of dry but witty and downright hilarious puns and literal humor. What more would you expect from the world’s smartest dog besides an academically droll delivery?
It’s clear that this adaption was so late in coming not because it’s a dated property or entirely hard to pull off, it just needed the right story and talent to tell it. This DreamWorks gem makes fantastic use of its components. Screenwriter Craig Wright brings a brilliant sense of humor to the story and again the delivery, made all the more comical by Ty Burrell’s tone, turns every hokey one-liner into a belly laugh. Jokes can sometimes overshadow a poorly constructed narrative but the convoluted plot is rather cohesive and results in making Minkoff’s film an unexpected but overwhelming success.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a wonderfully crafted film that’s expertly delivered and another feather in the hat of the DreamWorks camp. Make no bones about it, yes pun is very much intended, whatever this looks like on the surface, or even if the trailer barely gets a laugh, you have no idea how much fun this rollicking trip through time is going to be.
It probably shouldn’t work as well as it does but this little runt of the litter brings home the gold in so many categories. There are also, as to be expected, a great number of jokes that work on multiple levels, even those that go right over kids’ heads. Case in point, who would have thought that putting the world’s most renowned physicist and cosmologist on a lunch box would be so funny? If you’re begging for a rousing good time and really want to root for a true underdog, Mr. Peabody& Sherman is eager to please and bound to be the surprise hit of the season.