...shining light on the media, one review at a time
“Every dog should have a boy,” so the saying goes, but this sentiment was perhaps never interpreted quite so literally as in Mr. Peabody & Sherman. In this wild ride of reversals and extraordinary twists, a talking dog with a Ph.D. from Harvard adopts a human boy, whom he raises as his son.
Viewers must be armed with a strong suspension of disbelief to enjoy the alternate reality of this film, but kids, of course, are experts at putting the real world on hold while watching movies. What children are not so skilled at doing is filtering out the kind of harmful content included in this intelligent and witty film.
Mr. Peabody is a worthy and unique hero for children—a near paragon of morality and solid ideals. Through his example and this story, kids will learn the importance of obedience, respect for parental authority, and familial love. At the same time, however, their impressionable minds will soak up the crude humor, slapstick violence, and sexually suggestive content that work to spoil the positive themes.
From his early puppyhood, Mr. Peabody was no ordinary canine. He could never understand the other pups’ affinity for digging and fetching sticks. Searching for more meaningful tasks, Mr. Peabody applied himself to the quest for knowledge. Soon, he earned a Ph.D. at Harvard and became a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
When he found an abandoned baby boy, Mr. Peabody wanted to give the child the one thing he never had growing up as an orphan—a home. In a court of law, Mr. Peabody gained the right to adopt the boy he named Sherman and took the child to his plush penthouse.
Naturally, an unusual dog would raise a unique kid—Sherman has a jumpstart on knowledge and learning thanks to his “dad’s” intellectual prowess and adventures in Mr. Peabody’s invention, the WABAC. The WABAC is a time machine that Mr. Peabody uses to teach Sherman about history, taking him to visit people like George Washington and Leonardo DaVinci, as well as pivotal events in world history.
When Sherman reaches the age of seven, Mr. Peabody takes him to his first day of school instead of their usual trip in the time machine. Sherman’s teachers quickly see that he has an unusual level of knowledge for a child his age, but his fellow students notice, as well. Among Sherman’s peers is a girl named Penny who doesn’t appreciate Sherman’s show of greater intelligence in class.
Penny targets Sherman for a bully’s revenge, and Sherman tries to defend himself. The result is a trip to the principal’s office and suspicion that Mr. Peabody, as a dog, is not fit to parent Sherman. With a social worker threatening to take Sherman away, Mr. Peabody embarks on a mission to appease Penny and her parents.
The plan seems to be going well until Sherman comes to tell Mr. Peabody that Penny used the WABAC machine and is stuck in Ancient Egypt. More ingenuity than Mr. Peabody has ever employed will be necessary to bring his boy and eventually the time-space continuum itself safely out of trouble. Along the way, Mr. Peabody and the kids learn that love, obedience, and friendship are nothing to shake a stick at.
When compared to the recent children’s flick, The Lego Movie, this picture manages to come in just under the bar set by the former’s deluge of body humor. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, however, still indulges in far more crude comedy than any child should encounter. At the beginning of the story, a young Mr. Peabody is shown declining to sniff another dog’s hind end, and the jokes go downhill from there.
Among the many bathroom and body crudities are Mr. Peabody’s invention that utilizes a cow defecating or passing gas, a moment in which Sherman falls in bad tasting sewer “water” that he is told meaningfully is not actually water, a man’s pants getting cut off to reveal his boxers, a diaper falling off and exposing a baby’s naked buttocks, and an escape out the hind end of a statue. Other moments include a man holding up a pair of “I love NY” underwear briefs against himself, a repeated joke about a man’s smelly armpits, reference to a girl “pooping,” and Sherman observing that King Tut’s name rhymes with “butt.”
Mr. Peabody & Sherman makes the particularly dangerous choice of extending its body humor romp into the territory of sensuality and even sexual connotations. Sherman snickers at one point as he points out to Mr. Peabody that he said “booby” (Mr. Peabody was innocently referring to a “booby trap”). Mr. Peabody later gets his head stuck through a painting, putting his face above the body of a woman in a dress that reveals ample cleavage.
In the worst off-color joke intended for parents, the social worker frantically scribbles down the condemning evidence when Mr. Peabody proclaims to Sherman, “I have to get you out of here before you touch yourself.” Again, Mr. Peabody’s words here are entirely innocent from his point of view (he’s talking about a time-travel mix-up that produces two Shermans), but become disturbingly sexual given the twist the filmmakers intend for the sake of humor.
On top of these flaws, violence also tromps on the positive values with slapstick scenes that feature the punches, pratfalls, abuse, and tazing that has become predictable in modern children’s fare. Mr. Peabody verbally condemns violence himself, even judging his own actions as wrong when his anger leads him to aggression in once scene. Yet Mr. Peabody’s admirable disapprobation is undone by Sherman’s exclamation that what his dog father did was not wrong, but rather “awesome.”
Parents will also have to deal with the consequences of their children watching this story that features seven-year-olds becoming romantically interested in each other and having that interest encouraged.
Sadly, such undoing is par for the course with this film, since the movie’s negative content damages the refreshingly positive themes the story communicates. Mr. Peabody and Sherman both show children viewers that intelligence and knowledge are assets in life, rather than reasons for shame or bullying. In addition, the importance of obedience and the harmful ramifications of disobedience are explored in an entertaining story that is more likely to teach kids than a lecture.
This idea of obedience to parents ties in nicely with the meaningful portrayal of the positive impact that a present, caring dad like Mr. Peabody can have in a child’s life. Mr. Peabody & Sherman explores this father-son relationship from both sides, offering takeaway reminders to parents of how precious their children are and to kids of how much they need and love their parents.
The film also arrives at another uplifting conclusion when Sherman and the people surrounding Mr. Peabody realize that they should strive to be like him, rather than judging him because of his canine status. Sherman drops his shame of being a dog’s son and instead says that if being a dog means unconditional love, loyalty, etc., then “I’m a dog, too.” Although oddly put by Sherman and the others who supportively echo his “I’m a dog” statement, the idea of emulating the love and heroism demonstrated by Mr. Peabody is laudable.
The confusing delivery of this positive message, however, is representative of the convoluted mix of good and bad throughout the picture. Excellent animation, strong voice acting, a clever script, and boundless creativity give the film all the appeal and polish viewers could hope for, yet the premise of the story itself presents problems from the onset.
Rather than allowing viewers to ignore or accept the idea that a dog can be a father as an amusing work of fiction to be believed only within the context of the tale, Mr. Peabody & Sherman actually calls attention to this stretch of reality. The movie asks the question of whether or not a dog really should be a parent, and eventually concludes that a dog could indeed parent well. Is this tolerance run rampant or just imaginative fun? The answer to that question is not as obvious as it should be.
If Mr. Peabody is only intended to represent what good fathers should look like in the real world of human parents, then more good than harm is done in his positive example of loving and protective fatherhood. The same cannot be said for the rest of this movie’s content.
Hopefully, real-life human fathers will take a cue from Mr. Peabody, who tells Sherman, “I’m your father, and it’s my job to keep you safe.” Parents, pay attention. This dog has something to teach us humans, starting with the reasons to keep your kids safe from the type of content that is in Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
Check out these other fatherhood movies instead:
Epic (Twentieth Century Fox, 2013)
The Incredibles (Disney, 2004)
Up (Pixar, 2009)