Rob Minkoff’s The Lion King was the first film I saw at the cinema. Not much of the trivialities remain fully formed in my memory of that moment (my dad probably bought me some popcorn, the scoundrel), but I do vividly remember sitting so quietly and so enthralled in the action thinking “this is such a strange and amazing experience”. In the screening at the 2014 Glasgow Youth Film Festival of Minkoff’s latest directorial animated feature, what overjoyed me even more than the film itself was witnessing young boys and girls seemingly going through the same thing I did – experiencing cinema for the first time and loving it. Some expressed quietly like I did, while others couldn’t contain their whispered play-by-play commentary to parents. “That was so funny” a boy behind me enthusiastically said towards the end and I couldn’t have agreed more; I wanted to turn round and give him a high five in our collective enjoyment of cinema.
In what is probably the worst dinner party since Roman Polanski’s Carnage, top dog Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) hosts The Patterson’s (Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert) and their daughter Penny (Ariel Winter) after Peabody’s adopted human son Sherman (Max Charles) bites her in a provoked attack at school. Attempting to calm the situation and prevent Sherman from being taken away from his custody, Peabody’s plans to woo them go horribly wrong when Penny and Sherman use his WABAC time travel machine and he’s forced to go rescue them, leading to a worsening series of events in all manner of historical time-periods involving Stanley Tucci’s Leonardo da Vinci, Patrick Warburton’s Agamemnon and a lovestruck King Tut.
It’s an onslaught of action that, while scintillating, unfortunately stalls because of Peabody’s nature of being the greatest thing to have ever lived. From “valedogtorian” to Olympic champion to Nobel laureate to master inventor to a likely 100,000,000 IQ, his ability to have an answer to all of life’s obstacles means that there’s little doubt in your mind that everyone will get through every latest setback clean as a dog whistle, reducing the dramatic effect and a lot of the suspense behind the films movements. There’s a lot of fun and puntastic hilarity to be found in seeing how he will do it, but you always know what is inevitable.
It’s straightforward narrative takes nothing away from the stunning animation and the way it nobly tackles important adult and adolescent themes in an educational manner. While this latest Dreamworks animation once again doesn’t match Pixar’s elite in appealing to both adults and children alike with its humour and pathos, all can walk away with a sense of desire for individual liberty and a lingering affection for the loving relationship between Mr. Peabody and Sherman. It has wit, great running gags, relatable characters and super performances from all, especially Ty Burrell playing the polar opposite of Phil Dunphy to no less joy.