Sunday 9 March 2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman Review - DreamWorks Animation is Back!

After a disappointing 2013, with middling efforts like The Croods and Turbo, DreamWorks Animation is starting this year on a high note, with their newest film, Mr. Peabody & Sherman! Based on the popular 1960s cartoons, the film takes the unlikely pairing of the smartest dog in the world and his adopted human son and brings them to the XXI century in grand fashion. After The Lego Movie kicked the year off with a bang, it's reassuring to see that Mr. Peabody & Sherman is continuing this trend of excellence in what appears to be a superb year for animation.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman revolves (unsurprisingly) around Mr. Peabody, the world's most brilliant dog, and his adopted human son, Sherman. Mr. Peabody teaches Sherman everything there is to know, but his methods are a little unconventional. For example, to teach history, he uses a time machine call the "WABAC," and the movie starts right in the middle of the French Revolution. This action-packed introduction is a great way to meet our characters and it's full of clever jokes. After this, we return to our time, where Sherman is preparing for his first day at school. Thanks to Mr. Peabody's teachings, Sherman knows a lot (even things that history books don't know happened) and this causes friction between him and a girl named Penny. They fight and Peabody has to find a way to mend their relationship. He invites Penny and her parents to dinner, but then Sherman and Penny go back in time in the WABAC, and wreak havoc across time. Now it's up to Mr. Peabody and the two kids to solve this problem before chaos ensues across the universe.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is full of antics and it's heavy on action, but what makes the film so great is the fact that the heart of the film is the relationship between Peabody and Sherman. It's a great dynamic, because, for all the knowledge that Mr. Peabody possess, he still doesn't automatically know how to be a good father. He has to learn how to be one. This - and the fact that the film highlights the fact that he is a dog with a human child, and that that's weird even in this film's universe - puts some obstacles into Peabody and Sherman's relationship. This gives ample opportunity for many touching moments throughout the film, where you can see how deeply they care for each other. These heartfelt moments are balanced nicely with many witty and clever jokes, which are fortunately nothing like DreamWorks's sitcom-esque jokes of yore.

One important thing that I noticed is that the film has many similarities to Pixar's Finding Nemo. Aside from the father-son relationship, there are some elements and themes - like growing up, letting go and trust - that are reminiscent of Pixar's classic. However, unlike Turbo, which felt like a "Ratatouille with snails" film, Peabody doesn't feel derivative, thanks in large part to the inspired personalities that the filmmakers brought to the characters. Mr. Peabody is a very clever, somewhat detached, but nonetheless caring dog, and Sherman is the most lovable and endearing child since Boo in Monsters, Inc. Also, Penny is a great addition to the cast, starting as a sort of antagonist and ending up being a pivotal piece in the relationship between the two leads. The voice cast is very inspired, with Ty Burrell, Ariel Winter and Max Charles giving great performances for their respective characters.

As with most time-travelling films, Peabody has somewhat of a convoluted plot and some elements may be hard to follow if you're not paying attention, but overall most of the story flows along nicely and there aren't severe pacing issues. Most of the supporting characters are great too, with Agamemnon (voiced by Patrick Warburton, and which is basically a very slight variation of Kronk) and Leonardo Da Vinci (voiced by Stanley Tucci) being particular highlights.

The animation is simple yet wonderful. It doesn't have the ultra-colourful and creative character design that The Croods had, but it doesn't need it. Peabody has a more simplistic look, somewhat reminiscent of the classic TV show, and it fits the story very well. The score by veteran composer Danny Elfman is another highlight, as it helps the story feel more real to the audience. It may not be the studio's most memorable score, but it does the job nicely.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is another worthy entry in the DWA canon. It's good to see that, after not-so-stellar films last year, they're back on their feet again with a film that offers plenty of good entertainment for the whole family. With a funny and heartfelt story, endearing characters and a retro, cool style, Mr. Peabody & Sherman reinforces the notion of how great this year is going to be for animation. Highly recommended!


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