When Mr Peabody & Sherman came out last year, I was torn. On the one hand, I am still a huge Jay Ward fan. And when I was a kid, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was my favorite thing on television, and “Peabody’s Improbable History” was my favorite part of it. But on the other hand, I now find “Peabody” the most annoying part of the show. What’s more, there was 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle — a film I can’t criticize too much because the first half hour was so bad that I stopped watching it.
Mr Peabody & Sherman is not a bad film. But why do people claim that it “stayed true” to the original cartoon? It did not. For one thing, the film is sentimental and the shorts were most definitely not. The ending where Peabody finally says he loves Sherman made me want to vomit. Peabody himself comes off more like Snoopy as “Joe Cool” than the original Nobel Prize winning dog. But most of all, there were the puns. I can hardly blame the writers for coming up with really good puns as opposed to the horrible puns in the show. But Sherman doesn’t get the puns in the movie, whereas Sherman getting the puns is absolutely critical to the show.
There is a fundamental problem with turning something like “Peabody’s Improbable History” into a feature length film. The episodes are meant to be at least somewhat annoying. This is why Sherman’s understanding of the puns is so important. He acts as a surrogate for the audience. The puns are coming. The puns are bad. And we need an ally — someone who shares the groan with us. And remember: many “Peabody” episodes are nothing but setups for Peabody’s final pun. He didn’t build the WABAC machine to entertain Sherman, but just as an outlet for his nasty pun habit.
Another problem is that these films almost always get too involved with being action films. That’s fine. But why use such pure characters as Peabody and Sherman? Well, we know the reason. Hollywood wanted to use the brand and then apply its usual boring storytelling approach to it. In this case, the film would have been better off doing something along the lines Time Bandits, because at least it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to force a prolonged third act action sequence.
Ultimately, Mr Peabody & Sherman works on its own terms. But it manages to destroy everything that the original was. It was most definitely not “true” to the original. I’m not sure that a feature length film could be true to the original. But strangely, the live-action films Dudley Do-Right and George of the Jungle work surprisingly well. Maybe it is because they are by definition different. They don’t try to compete with the originals on their own terms. Because frankly, that’s impossible.