If you’re a baby boomer, you’ll no doubt remember the classic “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon shows of the 1960’s, and with them the mini-shows “Fractured Fairy Tales” and “Peabody’s Improbable History“. These gems were all produced by the genius mind of Jay Ward.
Lovingly homaging this cartoon, which was aimed at adults with its crafty stories and terribly funny puns, DreamWorks animation updates the characters to the 21st Century and we have a CGI talking dog Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) and his adopted human son, Sherman (Max Charles.) Peabody, although a talking dog, has an IQ that’s off the charts and, aside from inventing the fist-bump and Zumba, has also invented the WABAC (pronounced “WayBack”), a space-ship orb time machine. With this device he and his son explore the past to visit George Washington, Ghandi, Leonardo DaVinci, and others.
Peabody and Sherman are first shown getting in and out of a jam with the French Revolution and, after a very nice flashback montage about Sherman’s origins (using John Lennon’s haunting “Beautiful Boy” song; unexpected and wonderful), we get a glimpse into their relationship as father and son. Something that the adoption court accepted… and why not? Peabody’s got a gigantic penthouse that would rival Stark Industries in the heart of the city and is master at anything he tries. But, at trying to be a canine dad to his human son, that’s where he struggles.
Things heat up on Sherman’s first day of school when the orange-haired bespectacled boy is harassed by a blonde hellion named Penny (Ariel Winter) who calls him a dog and humiliates him to the point where Sherman hauls off and bites her! Fearing that the children’s services agent, Miss Grunion (Allison Janney), will take Sherman away from him, Peabody invites Penny and her parents over for a get-to-know-you dinner. Not a good move! In a desperate act to win her over, Sherman shows nasty Penny the WABAC and that’s where the fun (okay, make that trouble!) begins.
Sherman and Peabody must rescue Penny in the past when she gets engaged to a kid-sized King Tut (Zach Callison). After that, they ping-pong in time to Italy and daVinci (a hysterical Stanley Tucci), to ancient Troy and a crazed Agamemnon (Patrick Warburton–always perfect) and his men hidden inside the famous Trojan Horse, and more. It’s a fast-paced romp with a bouncing time machine occasionally getting them in and out of trouble. Soon Penny and Sherman become BFF’s as they come to an understanding as does Sherman and his “dad”, who has trouble saying “I love you” to his son. The ending, complete with a nice space/time-paradox issue, has all the prior historical characters coming back for a final brawl and a very nice final touch that, if you were a fan of the TV series, you’ll recognize instantly. Hint: he has a broom!
The old TV series had only 5 or so minutes to tell a complete story and the animation was crude and simple. Like this:
But, like the movie, the writing was the reason you watched it. It was funny! Just like the recent “The Lego Movie”, it proves you CAN write a movie that not only caters to the kids in the audience, but the adults as well. Loaded with puns galore (after visiting Egypt, Peabody says, “Looks like I’m just an old Giza”–read “geezer”), and a lightning fast script written by Craig Wright, this saucy little cupcake is directed by Rob Minkoff, who also directed Disney’s “The Lion King“. Two things bugged me: the outrageous use of body parts. Some humans were drawn like relatively normal people, while others (Sherman and Penny for example) are exaggerated with huge heads, tiny limbs, and gigantic glasses. Kinda creepy. The other thing was the plot that relied solely on Peabody and Sherman getting into one mess after another, just to solve a problem and then repeat that scenario all over again. And again. And again. Geez, Louise! How many times can you get into a predicament!
Other than that, the storyline and cartoony action is wonderful for the kiddies (and adults), even going so far as giving a genuine history lesson within the whirlwind of the madcap adventures going on. Not a bad idea.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)