Monday, May 4, 2015

A Dog and His Boy...A Joke You'll Hear Once Too Often in This Flick: "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" (2014)

Unlike many of my film critic colleagues, I am NOT familiar with the Mr. Peabody and Sherman segments on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. I was a Looney Tunes kid, born and bred (still am).

Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) is the world's smartest dog, and accomplishes everything most humans would like to accomplish- genius level IQ, successful business leading to a massive penthouse, and he even adopts Sherman (voiced by Max Charles), an abandoned baby who has grown up with the dog as a father and now must attend school for the first time. Sherman has a head start on the other students because his dogfather has taught him history using a time machine (the WABAC) to visit centuries past. After Sherman butts heads with Penny (voiced by Ariel Winter) at school, and is bullied by her, Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents (voiced by Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann) over for dinner to smooth things over. Sherman has a crush on Penny, shows her the WABAC (against Mr. Peabody's orders), and accidentally gets her betrothed to King Tut (voiced by Zach Callison). From there, Peabody, Sherman, and Penny jump from one time era to another, trying to repair their meddling, and rubbing elbows with historical figures.

Like a lot of films recently, too much of the story was given away in the preview, but at least that minute and a half series of highlights was edited together well and provided most of the film's laughs (normally, any movie that uses Patrick Warburton as voice talent is okay in my book). Here, though, the story starts out choppy and gets choppier, with the writing credits featuring enigmatic phrases like "additional screenplay material" and "additional dialogue." As if to distract you from their lack of a linear plot, the film makers throw the viewer into the story right away, hoping all the technical bells and whistles and potty jokes will distract you. This worked in the later "Home," but not here, and I spent many a scene guessing which celebrity's voice I was listening to.

We also get the now-generic mean ogreish social worker (voiced by Allison Janney) who wants to separate Sherman and Mr. Peabody (a plot device right out of "Despicable Me," and numerous films where children are adopted by non-traditional parents), and a supporting cast of possible friends of Sherman's who might help him in his adventures before being dropped without follow-through. The bullying scene, along with Sherman's crush on rival Penny, was hilarious back when it played out on "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius." The air of familiarity is heavy, and while some of the jokes and puns score, you could see many of the plot twists coming from a mile away. The film makers even thrown in a "Spartacus" joke for the grandparents and film buffs who might find themselves trapped watching this.

By the end of the film, I questioned why "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" was made in the first place. The generation who used to watch the cartoon back in the day are middle-aged now (yes, I admit I am getting older). Where was the demand to computer animate this duo? It must have been the same group of advocates who gave us "Starsky & Hutch" and "I Spy." I wish they'd kind of shut up now. (* *) out of five stars.