Mr Peabody and Sherman is a likeable enough romp for growing minds that might even instill a little light history along with the laughs. However its heaviest lesson has to be the primacy of the individual to both parent and define the family in whatever form suits best.
For those of you not old enough to remember, Mr Peabody and Sherman is actually a spin-off from a much older cartoon that formed part of the Rocky And Bullwinkle Show. Mr Peabody is a master scientist, a sportsman, an inventor, a statesman… and a dog. But since he has been successful in so many other fields the courts decide that they can have no objection to him becoming a parent as well. Peabody adopts Sherman, an abandoned boy who he found on his doorstep and whose favourite refrain is, “I don’t get it.” Together they go time travelling in Mr Peabody’s Way Back Machine, learning about the world around them. However when Sherman starts being bullied at school for having a dog as a parent, his canine father has to teach harder lessons of tolerance and persistence in the face of an unkind world.
One of the fun things about the original Mr Peabody and Sherman was the terrible puns that poured out of the canine professor’s mouth:
Peabody: “And imagine, Marie Antoinette could have avoided the entire revolution if she had just issued an edict to distribute bread amongst the poor. But then she would have had to give up her cake.”
Peabody: “Because you can’t have your cake and edict too!”
They’ve been faithfully reproduced, but probably too folksy to actually capture kids’ or their parents’ attention. What is hard to miss, though, is the film’s determined affirmation of Peabody’s rights to be a parent. The villain of the piece is an ugly social worker called Miss Grunion (note her unmarried status), who objects Mr Peabody adopting Sherman because his family structure is unnatural.
Peabody: “I must point out Miss Grunion that I won the right to adopt Sherman in a court of law.”
Miss Grunion: “(nastily) And a court of law can take it away too!”
Aligned against her objections are constant references to Peabody’s qualifications, his obvious tenderness for Sherman and flashbacks to him raising the abandoned child, backed by John Lennon’s emotive Beautiful Boy. It’s more than a little heavy-handed, but given the present feeling that a parent’s performance is more important than their biology its fallacies might yet go unnoticed. Step outside of a cinema, though, and just a little research will reveal that not all family structures are equal when it comes to producing healthy, well-adjusted children.
Still, the ugliest part of the attack on Mr Peabody and Sherman is something that any parent should be able to appreciate – the power of harsh words to mar a child’s happiness. When we see the spoilt girl Penny go to work on Sherman in the school cafeteria, we see something that might just as easily take place in our own playgrounds:
Penny: “So you eat human food?”
Penny: “Because you’re a dog.”
Sherman: “No I’m not.”
Penny: “Your dad’s a dog so you’re a dog too. Beg little doggy, beg!”
Penny can get away with saying the worst things because they come out of the cutest face, belonging to a smart girl from a successful family – but they’re venom all the same. The Bible is well aware of the disproportionate power that popular or rich people can wield, and the particular vulnerability of some families. That’s why God refers to Himself as the defender of widows and orphans, and we’re supposed to be the same because we remember our own rescue:
“Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there.”
In defending the defenseless we don’t just set an example for the rest of society, we bear witness to the greater deliverance God has given us. Not, in our case, from a foreign country, but from death itself.
Release Date: March 27