Mr. Peabody and Sherman *** (out of five)
The Dreamworks Animation movie Mr. Peabody and Sherman, improbably imported from the Peabody’s Improbable History segments of the ‘60s cartoon The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, starts out very promisingly, with wealthy, über-intelligent dog Peabody and his adopted son Sherman time-travelling at the French Revolution, with much fun had in that hilarious maelstrom of decapitation. A history lesson wrapped up in wacky hi-jinks, this Marie-Antoinettey sequence seems to offer just what parents need: educational entertainment.
The lessons continue, but, surprisingly, they veer from history into quite serious modern moral territory. Within the frame of a bullying story – Sherman being bullied by a blonde pretty girl at his school, no less – we get subtextual musings about mixed race adoption (given that Sherman is human and Peabody is a dog), the use of arbitration in bullying cases, the value of being different, and the notion of parenting itself.
Given that Mr. Peabody has a time machine, however, like Chekov’s gun, it must be used, and when it is we get a bit more “history” as bullied, bully and dog whiz back to Ancient Egypt, Renaissance Florence, and the Trojan War, grazing on time travel concepts and conundrums along the way.
The film has an excellent pro-education, pro-history, pro-science, pro-geek, pro-nerd, pro-smart message, a swathe of historical tidbits, and awesome progressive details such as a schoolmate in a wheelchair for no plot reason (and never commented on as such). It’s got enough jokes for adults to make it through, and – who knows? – you just might learn something.