Ever since his death, Jay Ward's cartoons haven't been treated very well. Brendan Fraser made Dudley Do-Right an insult to Canada, Rocky and Bullwinkle turned CG (while a weasel remains 2D for some reason) and tried to be witty but only ended up with middling success, and the Flash-animated George of the Jungle series is even less like the original than Disney's movie. As I speak, some condom ad director is planning to turn Chip 'n' Dale into a complete plagiarism of the Alvin movies, as if The Smurfs wasn't obvious enough.
There's no chance a live-action cartoon adaptation will ever be more than just an excuse to cause pain on Jason Lee. And now DreamWorks Animation has bought all properties of Classic Media, from Richie Rich to VeggieTales, and have made a CG movie out of Ted Key and Jay Ward's Peabody's Improbable History. For some reason its release date in the UK was scheduled a month earlier than America, when these two characters are 100% American. So I went into the advanced previews and what did I think? Well, my answer will surprise you.
As a few of you may know, the original cartoon was about a time-travelling, highly intelligent dog who raised a cross-eyed boy named Sherman as a pet after finding him bullied outside an orphanage. Every cartoon is about them talking to historical figures who don't seem to take any notice that they're talking to a dog with a bow tie and sorting out iconic events in history their way, having them end up as they describe it in the history books. In this movie, Peabody has pretty much invented everything, grown-up or completely modern, and adopted Sherman as a son finding him lost in an alley as a baby. The two also have hair that sticks up and their WABAC is more than what they could draw in the cartoons.
This movie is why you never see them anywhere else in the present day but their laboratory - Sherman is an outcast because his father is a dog, which matters more than Peabody being the most intelligent being in the world. A girl from his class named Penny Peterson picks on Sherman, treating him like the puppy he would have been. Peabody is very protective of Sherman, but after inviting the Petersons over to discuss the matter, Sherman cannot help but let Penny into the WABAC. This upgraded version makes it clear how they are able get back to the present day. So when Sherman apologises to Peabody, they must get Penny and go back home, but this journey is not without mishaps in time travel. Eventually, all hell breaks loose when Sherman's curiosity rips a hole in the space-time continuum, resulting in a scenario beyond Bill and Ted. Bogus.
Peabody figures things out Sherlock Holmes style, bearing in mind they were originally going to pick Robert Downey Jr. to play the part. Ty Burrell does a darn good job at pulling off Mr. Peabody's voice, his tone of voice and everything. Max Charles charms as Sherman and Stephen Colbert and Patrick Warburton's voices steal the show. The plots of the cartoons are captured very well, especially when they meet Da Vinci. Thanks to PDI, the animation is still cartoony, perhaps even more so than the original cartoons, both in physics and cuter character design than you'd usually see in this kind of traditional-to-CG conversion. And I won't spoil too much, but yes, they even have the janitor.
It's also very funny, not to mention touching. The heart works in Peabody and Sherman's new father-son relationship - they even go as far as to include a montage of the things they've done in the past, going back in time itself to when Sherman was just a tot. The jokes mostly stay true to the original, perhaps even funnier than they used to be, but they also have a style of their own, which is saying something because previous Jay Ward adapations tried to copy his sense of humour but failed quite miserably. There may be typical modern rude or Shrek-like humour, which DreamWorks haven't done much of since Shrek Forever After, and often they come from Sherman's mouth, but you know how little boys are like these days. Otherwise, it's a surprisingly fun and smart script from someone who has never had experience with writing a cartoon or a movie in his life.
Having last directed an action film which I hear is pretty bad, it makes sense that Rob Minkoff would return to animated family entertainment, and here this return is worth the 12 year wait. I can't say anything about the Rocky and Bullwinkle short because they didn't play it, but this movie just might be the best thing Jay Ward's cartoons ever got in years. It's a wise decision to turn such a cartoon into a movie, since it's something a small amount of kids would have heard of, unlike Scooby-Doo. We'll wait and see how it turns out when America gets it a month after The LEGO Movie, but even though it doesn't reach the heights of How to Train Your Dragon, Mr. Peabody & Sherman is another delight in a line of better-than-average DreamWorks films that started with Megamind. And yes, I'm also talking about Turbo. Judge me like they judged Sherman.