Mr. Peabody & Sherman takes a more contemporary approach to the source material, introducing an element of light drama due to Mr. Peabody's position as Sherman's adoptive father coming under threat in one of the film's main subplots, as well as issues of Sherman's identity being raised by a dog. It also introduces the character of Penny, a rather bratty and unlikable classmate of Sherman's, who instigates the events that lead to the trio's time-travelling escapades around locations such as Troy, renaissance Italy and ancient Egypt.
There is a moment around the halfway point in Mr. Peabody & Sherman where the former, who is prone to science babble befitting his bespectacled status, tries to explain to Leonardo da Vinci and Mona Lisa that the meaning of humour can be explained through science and algorithms. He demonstrates this through a pratfall at which neither laugh. The scene is apt for a large part of the film's attempts at wit, which often fall flat on their face.
More humour can be found in the film's visuals, which have a jaunty kineticism reminiscent of classic Looney Tunes. Mr. Peabody & Sherman is certainly a handsomely produced film, and the action scenes are impressively animated, with a speed and fluidity that brings to mind The Incredibles at times; one particular highlight involving a soaring sequence through Florence succeeds as a rare instance of character bonding in a film with little room to breathe. The characters never really feel in danger however, as Nobel laureate and Olympian Mr. Peabody is a bit too smooth for his own good, and never seems stuck for a solution.
The character designs are also an acquired taste, with a plasticy texture to their skin that looks quite simplistic when held next to porous Pixar efforts. Even Mr. Peabody is not exempt from this, with a coat that looks more felt than fur.
Colours are bright and will no doubt appeal to Peabody's primary audience of children. The film makes some odd choices with its humour - initially it seems to skew unapologetically young, but some of the in-jokes for the mums and dads, (which had become a predictable facet of Dreamworks animation pre-How to Train Your Dragon and make an unwelcome return here) fail to hit the mark.
Jokes referencing Oedipus and a double entendre involving a character touching himself will fly over the heads of most kids, but still come off as somewhat awkward. Verbal humour is otherwise reliant almost entirely on puns and pop culture references. Groan-inducing phrases such as 'Don't taze me, bro!' and one particularly leftfield zumba gag may have seemed more relevant while the film was in pre-viz, but in 2014 only serve to date it. Another gag involving an Egyptian character with a name pronounced 'I' ('He is you?' etc) was done to death back in the days of the Carry On films.
The voice acting is generally solid though, with Ty Burrell doing a commendable job at bringing out Mr. Peabody's calculated side. Ariel Winter and Max Charles both do well as Penny and Sherman, despite not having much to do given their characters’ default modes of supercilious and earnest respectively.
Patrick Warburton probably turns in the funniest performance as Agamemnon, who, in a startling against-type performance for the seasoned voice actor, is a well-meaning dope with a massively developed torso. Warburton channels both his laconic Tick schtick and Joe Swanson-style outbursts in equal measure as the Mycenaean king, and delivers some of the film’s better lines.
Stanley Tucci fares less well as Leonardo da Vinci however, with a cliched Italian accent and pinch-fingered gesticulations so stereotypical I'm surprised his character wasn’t introduced in a gondola singing about Cornettos.
- +Handsomely animated
- +Some visually exciting chase sequences
- –Unfunny pop culture references
- –No room to breathe