Imagine, if you will, a world in which a non-human, bow-tie-wearing super-genius takes his human companion(s) on various adventures in his time machine which also happen to act as thinly-veiled history lessons for the children in the audience. The time machine even includes a universal translator which makes everyone they encounter appear to speak English! No, it’s not the Doctor, but Mr Peabody, a talking dog and billionaire aesthete whose adventures in space and time precede our favourite Time Lord’s by several years, with the characters of Peabody, the genius dog and his adopted human son Sherman first airing in the late fifties as educational animations in the Rocky and Bullwinkle television series.
Although largely unknown in this country, that shouldn’t put anybody off, as director Rob Minkoff (the man responsible for The Lion King) has put together a breezy entertaining romp through history which isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve and even ponder the essential mysteries of being human.
Sticking very closely to the origin story set up in the original television segments but expanding it greatly, he’s helped enormously by a terrific vocal performance by Ty Burrell (replacing Robert Downey Jr) as Mr Peabody. Burrell’s performance is a winning fusion of Niles Crane and Mr Spock and his later scenes are surprisingly emotional as he fights to retain custody of Sherman.
Overall, the style and tone is reminiscent of The Incredibles but pitched at a rather younger audience, though the design is superb and beautifully put-together, the script is snappy and there are many jokes just for the grown-ups who may laugh more than the kids in the audience. The latter third of the film suffers from a few too many timey-wimey shenanigans but the finale induces a surreptitious sniffle.
If there is a gripe, it is with the unimaginative character design which dominates all modern family films: why do all the young female characters look exactly the same in every CGI feature made these days? While perhaps not destined to become a classic like The Incredibles, when the current crop of family computer animated features is dominated by disappointing sequels and Frozen, this little gem stands out and should keep everyone entertained until How To Train Your Dragon 2 comes along.
Mr Peabody & Sherman is currently on release in 2D and 3D