This is better than The Lego Movie.
That get your attention?
Hear me out.
Everybody (the critics, your Aunt Ruth and the kitchen sink) went nuts over The Lego Movie. But it arose amidst a sea of shadow, Proverbial Audience.
It’s literally the first solid movie released in theaters this year.
I think Lego’s good. Mr. Peabody & Sherman is great. The difference shines through in the pacing.
More specifically, it’s the humor. Less objectively, it’s the captivation.
A superior adhesive glues my eyes to the screen during Mr. Pea & Sherm.
Both movies are smart for different reasons. But Lego relies on a particular reveal; a moment of structural expansion which makes the narrative shimmer. And the laughs are regular but spaced out; some fall flat and it’s never uproarious.
It’s slower and the good stuff is more sporadic.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman hits home on more jokes of a higher caliber. Whether you dig the puns or not, it’s definitely funnier.
The story itself is also superior. It explores time travel in unique ways, distills historical legends and navigates a complex array of ideas.
Strangely it seems easier to connect with the characters on a humanistic level. I’m not sure if it’s because of their biological makeup (the fact that they don’t exist in a Lego universe,) or just the tilted scales of investment.
Anyway, that’s my contrast. Got a problem with it? Let me know!
Here’s a bit more of what does and doesn’t work in Mr. Perman.
The central metaphor of the film tackles the inherent inconsistency of the original animated television series.
A dog can’t possibly be a sufficient parent, right?
If he’s a talking prodigy, perhaps, yes!
What about a time-traveling one? With all the fundamental risk?
Well, is he invincible?
Technically the answer’s yes, but that’s obvious to anyone attending an animated feature.
And yet they are smart enough to take things a step further, and not jam the obvious ‘go-to’ narrative down our throats.
The details of Mr. Peabody’s gaining the legal rights to adopt Sherman are quickly glossed over in less than twenty seconds. It reminds me of Kung Fu Panda 2, when Mr. Ping explains the story of finding Po in the radish basket. That scene can get quite dusty.
The film’s about common mistakes in traditional legends from history. Mr. Peabody warps them back to the distorted historical context, and illustrates to Sherman where the misconceptions arise.
Then Sherman screws something up, and Mr. Peabody inevitably saves them through unbelievable circumstances. Sherman will inevitably ruin the impromptu remedy through extreme stupidity. Then the dog will, again, craft a split-second plan through means of ingenuity. And sometimes a third solution will be required before they end up safe in the WABAC.
This formula’s fine. It just drives me nuts after awhile.
Eventually the question becomes: How’s Sherman going to screw this up further? He nearly kills Peabody at one point!
I always enjoy the ‘mental schematic’ editing technique. A similar effect is achieved in the Sherlock Holmes films (starring Robert Downey Jr.) in combat preparation, and to illustrate the calculative mind of Russell Crowe’s character (John Forbes Nash Jr.) in A Beautiful Mind.
As a final high note, I really like the relationship between the protagonist (Sherman, voiced by Max Charles, a mostly unknown child actor) and the antagonist (Penny Peterson) voiced by Ariel Winter.
Penny’s particularly great in the antagonistic role, because she’s a female who physically bullies Sherman.
But conversely, she’s also his love interest. Which is different because she’s taller than him.
My sole criticism is I never really feel the stakes are high. And therefore, the central conflict is difficult to hone in on.
Sherman’s potentially going to be taken away by child services. Peabody may be dead at one point. Sherman’s being forced to spend time with a girl who publicly humiliates him, and wrestling with the notion of loving a dog as a father figure. Who knows if we even like Penny yet? And all three of them are lost in the throes of time travel!
It’s tough to feel tension from any one particular direction.
Then again, I really enjoy Mr. Peabody & Sherman and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun and chucklesome ninety-minute ride.
Don’t wait for a scene after the credits, though.
Sadly there isn’t one.
The omission is, by far, this film’s greatest weakness.