Based on the 1960s cartoon characters, we delve into the life of Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell), an immensely intellectual inventor, who also happens to be a dog. However given his unique talents (he can speak too, you know), he was allowed to adopt a young boy named Sherman (Max Charles), who he has raised as his own since discovering him as an abandoned baby. The pair often set off on time travelling escapades given the former’s most ingenious creation yet – the WABAC machine. Allowing Sherman a first hand history lesson and taking him back from the likes of the French Revolution to the Renaissance to say hello to their dear friend Leonardo da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), when Sherman brags to his classmate Penny (Ariel Winter) of his adventures, she convinces him to take her on a journey of their own, though as they delve deep into the depths of history, any wrong move could change the course of the future for good.
Minkoff – alongside screenwriter Craig Wright – have triumphantly managed to provide a young audience with a history lesson of sorts, without feeling contrived at any stage. We run through the ages as Peabody explains to Sherman what’s going on and provides some context to proceedings, allowing for it to feel natural in its approach. It’s enlightening and academic, but not too much, in a similar vein to that of the Horrible Histories series, getting a message through in spite of the watered down, jovial take on the past.
Though scientific, time travelling jargon is likely to go over the head of the oldest of punters in the audience, there are several jokes and witty one-liners (or just terrible puns, for that matter) which are hilarious. Though potentially alienating the children, each quip is soon met with Sherman saying “I don’t get it” – allowing the kids something to relate to, and they can laugh at that joke, while we’re still giggling about what came before. The characters are representative of the audience in many ways, as while Peabody depicts the adults, Sherman presents the kids, as two easily accessible entry points into this tale. Though some of the jokes are brilliant, many are borrowed – or at least inspired – from other material. They work well in context, but you do feel that the way Peabody has subtle canine mannerisms to his demeanour, despite effectively being an intelligent human being, bears shades of Brian in Family Guy – while the way the important historical figures are implemented into the modern world is very Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Despite the fact the narrative is completely all over the place (literally), with scenes taking place across different centuries, as each trip into the past sees our characters indulge in separate adventures and go off on various tangents, the film is ultimately bound together by the overriding story of Peabody being questioned on whether he’s a suitable father figure for a human child. It’s well-judged and poignant in parts (with a wonderful montage featuring John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy), as the father-son relationship is explored sincerely and earnestly. Complimenting the enchanting, venturesome nature of the story, a strong balance has been achieved with this title, as a film that’s touching, funny and educational. Who’da funk it?