When studying writing one aspect that varies upon discovery is the usage of formulas and learning how different plot devices work in conjunction to each other. One area where the discovery of formulas is the most deadliest and most uncertain is comedy. If the punchline to a joke is foreseen before it delivery in the way expected than the joke fails. However, comedy is a tricky area to fully understand for a non comedian as even the most tire jokes can be made funny again if done right. In the case of the Mr. Peabody & Sherman it’s a well made film weighed down heavily by subpar writing.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is about an advanced canine and his adopted son attempting to fix a time rift they created. One immediate thing is made clear early on is the lack of sufficient material to sustain a ninety minute runtime. Everything in the film from characters, humor, and conflict are rushed. So insecure about its own material that if it were to take a breather it would lose the audience. The main duo of intellectual dog Mr. Peabody and his dumb son Sherman aimed to present a meaningful relationship despite the odd setup. It’s intention are well meant, but as the characters stated themselves it’s just presented as child causes overblown issue and parent has to fix it. It’s not a father son relationship where the conflict actually helps strengthen the relationship or aptly show how this duo interact with each other outside of conflict. Rather it serves to highlight one’s very useless and the other is god like. There’s no dilemma ever arising in this relationship because Mr. Peabody written to be a perfect character. Instead of putting effort to make Peabody near perfection in everything he does be part of the conflict it becomes a tool for an easy fix. Leading to convoluted filled acts. Without good characterization in general filling up supporting characters with specifics humor functions what it main characters feel never become organic. This same issue pops up when we’re being told how much Mr. Peabody and Sherman care for each other when a good scene itself can get that across much better. While the idea behind Mr. Peabody as a parent is worth exploring the execution of it undermines the value of parenthood.
The biggest disappointment with this film is its uninspired take on a good premise. When you have time travel and characters who are interested in history the possibilities should be endless instead of recycled. Filled with humor revolving around the rule of three (writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier) invents a formulaic immunity through it course. Usage of the rule of three come around frequently enough that jokes revolving around the rule become tiring. Once you get used to the formula it stops being funny. Another area it builds its humor around are puns. These puns are very lazy and not given much thought which goes against the characters the film consider to be smart. It’s a lot dumber than it admirably wants to ignore. Historical figure were welcomed in the film, but the setup and delivery of them not as much. When Sherman gives a speech about second chances Bill Clinton appears in the background saying “I’ve done worse”. Out of all the possible jokes it chose to make a safe one. Which best describe the humor in a nutshell. Jokes are predictable, safe, reused periodically, and foreseen making their delivery fall flat. Though the biggest nitpick for me stems from the fact there’s not a single female character that’s well written. Penny Peterson has the biggest role out of any female character and she’s a tool to set the chain of events going. She changes quickly at the whim of the story demand, never redeem despite what she does early on in the film, and her only contribution in the story is negative.
Ty Burrell voices Mr. Peabody and his performance is excellent. Everything about he exquisitely voices judgement, from the way he sprints through Peabody’s scientific exposition, but never so quickly that he confuses the viewer, to the way he unveils the dog’s wretched puns is spot on. Max Charles who plays Sherm is also good in the role. His performance is filled with energy and sincerity. Ariel Winter voices Penny Peterson who despite being given a poorly written character her performance is one key. She’s bratting when the script demands it and caring when the scene demands it. Winter portrayal is more dynamic and much better than the material provided for her. Supporting cast are fine having the kind of voice actors ranging from the loud beefy character, the snooty evil character, the hyperactive inventor, and so forth. Animation is a bright spot even if the style isn’t impressive. Characters are allowed to be expressive and movement is smooth especially in the film chase like sequences. It’s colorful that’s easy on the eye. Another great spot on the animation department are the vastly time era that are provided different looks. The score won’t register much, but it is diverse in the sort of music provided depending on the era the film is currently in.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman themes and humor are undone by its predictable formula and lack of working characterization. The cast of the film elevate the material with their performances delivery some good dramatic scenes and laughs even if the material doesn’t accomplish that task to the same extent. It’s a well made film, but one that’s really needed more thought put into it that would match its characters intellect and make good use of its premise.