Rob Minkoff, director of Stuart Little, finally helms a movie adaptation of Rocky & Bullwinkle’s segment about an intelligent dog and his adopted human son.
Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) is a business titan, trailblazing inventor, gourmet chef, two-time Olympic medallist and universally recognised and beloved genius. And a dog. Using his most ingenious invention, the WABAC machine (cunningly pronounced Way Back), Mr. Peabody takes his adopted human son Sherman (Max Charles) to experience the French Revolution, and hang out with good friend Leo Da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), as a demented form of home-schooling to prepare him for the horrors of the American public school system. And what horrors they are. Viciously bullied on his first day, Sherman fights back and so Mrs Grunion (Allison Janney) threatens to remove him from Peabody’s care. Peabody invites the bully and her parents to dinner to smooth things over, but more taunts see Sherman use the WABAC to prove a point – and so kinda loses her in Ancient Egypt…
Mr Peabody & Sherman begins as sort of the ultimate Steven Moffat outing, with Whovian larking about in time and space, and Sherlockian calculation of surroundings to evade capture by utilising environment – not least an escape from the guillotine far more convincing than any of the explanations proffered for Sherlock’s equivalent magic trick. Sadly, apart from a nice moment in Troy and some mucking about in Luxor (featuring the greatest ‘Oy!’ you will hear in 2014), this joyous aspect fades away. Instead the great Patrick Warburton voices Agamemnon as a dim jock, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is plagiarised. If you watch Modern Family you’ll recognise Ty Burrell is using the voice he reserves for formal comic interaction with his on-screen dad. But at least he finally gets to be smarter than on-screen daughter Ariel Winter, voicing Penny Petersen.
Penny is a huge problem as this movie begins and ends with Peabody & Sherman’s relationship being a pointed metaphor for gay adoption, with Mrs Grunion in the ‘conservative’ corner as saying it’s just unnatural that a dog should adopt a boy. It’s hard to believe Craig Wright, who created the glorious Dirty Sexy Money, didn’t intend that obvious reading, and this makes it all the more baffling why we’re supposed to root for a romance between Sherman and Penny when she begins the movie as an obnoxious bully who issues a slur of what must be considered coded homophobic slurs at the inoffensive Sherman. Aside from the logic of placing such subtle agit-prop over children’s heads, at what point does continually depicting vicious bullying as how schools are help perpetuate vicious bullying in schools as just how schools are?
Mr Peabody & Sherman is reasonably entertaining, but you can’t help feel a version composed solely of madcap escapades without any dutiful, plodding story beats would’ve been more fun.