Years in the making, Mr Peabody & Sherman – a feature-length animated comedy based on characters that featured on The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show in the late 1950s – marks the latest uninspired release from DreamWorks Animation. It’s not that the film is bad per se, more that director Rob Minkoff’s labour of love unfortunately never feels more than an intermittently diverting series of adventures than a cohesive and worthwhile whole.
Mr Peabody (Ty Burrell), an extraordinarily smart dog, and his adopted son Sherman (Max Charles) use the WABAC, a time travelling contraption, to delight in historical escapades. But when Sherman’s enemy from school, Penny (Ariel Winter), coaxes him into taking her on their own adventure through time, they accidentally rip a hole in the space-time continuum, calling upon Mr Peabody – who is attempting to prove his worth as a father – to set things straight.
Hinged upon a ramshackle time travel narrative crux, Mr Peabody & Sherman is full of intention, yet massively disappointing in execution. It opens with a rather sweet and amusing rundown of Mr Peabody’s life and how he came to adopt Sherman, hinting at the potential for a heartwarming father-son tale. But the script, penned by Craig Wright, isn’t sharp enough to maintain this momentum, and soon plummets in both emotional and entertainment value.
It doesn’t help whatsoever that the film has a cloying episodic feel to it, made so by the fact the narrative sends the trio to various periods in time (some of which are far more successful than others). It’s fine for it to want to teach lessons about history and unconventional relationships, but the fact it does in a way that’s limited to individual episodes that are stringed together by a core message that’s pretty much ignored until the bonkers finale, makes it difficult to care about.
The humour, too, largely misses the mark (there’s only so many science puns one can cope with) and the characters are coarse – Penny, in particular, is unquestionably horrid – making their arcs and relationships with one another unrealistic and soulless. Mr Peabody & Sherman, then, is saved only by one or two inspired set pieces (a visit to Rome at the time of the battle of Troy is fantastic) and some competent, aesthetically pleasing animation.