Mr. Peabody and Sherman: Not Great, But At Least Smart

Well, at least Peabody seems prepared for criticism.
Source: IGN

I can easily find myself enjoying even a bad movie. As long as it garners an emotional reaction – positive or negative – I can at least have fun hating something (yes, I realize that says a lot about my psychological state).

But rarely can I say that I enjoyed a movie that just made me feel ‘meh.’ That was the case on my dear mother’s birthday when we (my mother, my father, my girlfriend, and I) went out to see Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

It’s hard to explain just how I felt about the whole affair. Perhaps, the best way to do so would be to explain step by step how I felt at every stage of my viewing and reflection after to show just what was going through my mind at the time.

Before viewing

This is how I will always remember these two.

The days before the viewing were a bit of an internal tug-of-war.

On one hand, I knew full well that almost every attempt to modernize a long dead T.V. series/movie franchise would end in tears. By modernizing a story, you make it more dated; simple as that. It also doesn’t help that most revivals of this nature take a great many steps to betray aspects of the source material. It puts the film in a precarious place of trying to please two very different crowds – the younger generation looking for something new and exciting and the nostalgic one looking to relive the day of yester-decades.

On the other hand, morbid curiosity had a firm grip on me. I grew up on Mr. Peabody and Sherman in the form of their segments on reruns of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. In fact, it was my favorite part of the whole show. Mr. Peabody was a great Sherlock Holmes to Sherman’s Watson. He was someone so brilliant that his social skills were lacking, but whose close allies helped to keep him grounded – more so considering Sherman’s identity as Peabody’s adoptive son.

Regardless, the day was coming. My hands were tied. My destiny was set.

During The Viewing

Definitely one of the more visually striking scenes.
Source: Life in Technicolor

As I sat watching the movie that Friday afternoon, it was exactly what I came to expect. It was a long parade of immediately dated references (example: one character actually utters the phrase, “Don’t tase me, bro”) over the backdrop of the original series. But, not everything was lost on my coal black, cynical, nugget that passes for a heart.

I found myself enjoying the soundtrack quite a bit. I’m one of those personalities that is convinced that Danny Elfman can do no wrong (I have a soft spot for Oingo Boingo; shut up).

I also felt the voice casting was a great update. Ty Burrell really does capture the erudite and socially awkward nature of Peabody. Even the smaller parts played by Steven Colbert as the strictly business Paul Peterson (the father of our antagonist), Patrick Warburton, as the muscle-headed Agamemnon, and even a bit role by Mel Brooks as Albert Einstein were endearing.

As the film wound down, I was strictly neutral about the whole thing. It was better than most adaptations of old material, but still below stellar. Sadly, I’m one of those folks where ‘okay’ does not equate to ‘good enough.’

But it wasn’t until after the credits had rolled and we went to dinner that a flash of the film’s genius caught me.

On Reflection

Let this serve as the center piece to the film.
Source: Rotten Tomatoes

It was as we left the theater that a truth of the film that flew past me was was noted by my mother. The movie was, in reality, a cleverly written commentary on the traditional family structure.

Remember, the crux of the film is that Sherman was adopted by Peabody. This was seen as radical since, while people adopting dogs is commonplace, no one had ever heard of a dog adopting a person. This, courtesy of Sherman being bullied by the spoiled Penny Peterson, sets the driving force of the plot in motion – people questioning if a dog can properly raise a child.

Think for a second about how many times the importance of so-called ‘traditional family values’ has been brought into question. Peabody’s dilemma is not dissimilar to the problems of many adoptive parents that differ from their sons and/or daughters whether they be of different race, religious beliefs, sexual preference, family structure, or otherwise.

This is what ultimately got me to forgive the technical failings of the movie. I just couldn’t stay indifferent to a film that worked so hard to teach such an important lesson.

Wrapping up

This is one of those films that I would recommend seeing at least once. It’s not as earth-shaking as Frozen for example, but it is definitely ambitious in its message and deserves to be respected in that respect.

Once you accept that the word ‘dog’ is synonymous in the film with the word ‘person,’ Peabody’s most memorable line – in both the movie and the original series – is truly beautiful; “Every dog should have a boy.”

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