BY AMANDA CLARKE
Creating a great kid’s film is a delicate balancing act. While aimed at kids, they still need to be enjoyable for the parents that will, inevitably, be dragged along with them. Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a film that falls somewhere in between these two extremes. It doesn’t really seem to be aimed a kids, instead coming across as a film made for adults that hopefully kids will enjoy as well. It’s bursting with references, both from history and pop culture, that are clearly aimed at the over-thirty demographic, which isn’t necessarily a negative as long as there is some substance to the film beyond them. In this case, there isn’t.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman tries to be too clever, covering everything from Andy Warhol to a bad joke about the uncomfortable family life of Oedipus, which was just in bad taste. These references also tend to distort historical figures, turning them into grotesque caricatures, most glaringly with the misuse of Marie Antoinette’s famous quote, “Let them eat cake.” There are also an overabundance of bad puns, which try to appeal to kids through Sherman, but fall woefully short. The few jokes that are clearly for the kids are slightly cruel, relying on mocking other cultures and how they behave.
Overall, the spirit of the film is slightly nasty and regressive. Take the character of Penny. She represents every negative extreme that has ever been attributed to women onscreen. She goes from vicious bully to vapid damsel in distress in zero-to-sixty with brief stops at object and black widow on the way. She is simply a collection of stereotypes, existing only to facilitate what little character development occurs in Sherman. Combined with the character of Ms. Grunion, the overbearing social worker and Penny’s mother, the female characters are given such strong singular personalities that they engulf their male counterparts pushing them into the background. While it is the female characters that are the most memorable, it is for all the wrong reasons. If this is the best that the writers have to offer with regards to female characters, I’d rather they write them out completely. That would be less damaging.
It’s not that there is nothing to recommend about Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Once the film gets into the final third, there is some great fodder for sci-fi geeks as time goes all wibbly and paradoxes start to pop up left, right and centre. There are also some touching moments about what defines a family, which while formulaic, are effective. It’s too little too late, however, as it is not enough to erase the sour taste left from the first hour. So much of a child’s experience comes from film. Like it or not, it’s where they get their knowledge of experiences they haven’t lived long enough to have and if this is the best we can give them, then the human race is in for a tough ride.