Mr. Peabody & Sherman is Twentieth Century Fox/Dreamwork’s latest animated adventure, written by Craig Wright (a seminary grad, and writer for Dirty Sexy Money, Lost, and Six Feet Under), about a talking dog and his human son, Sherman (Max Charles). This particular dog, Mr. Peabody (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell), is a Nobel prize winner, inventor, millionaire, and time traveler… which is where the real fun begins.
After failing to be adopted as a puppy, Peabody pulls off an upset on life by rising to be the smartest being on the planet, and adopts Sherman as a baby after finding him abandoned in an alley. But when Sherman sets off a series of madcap events by biting another seven-year-old, Penny (Ariel Patterson), who calls him a dog, the three of them find themselves time-traveling to interact with Leonardo da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), Robespierre (Guillaume Aretos), and Odysseus (Tom McGrath), among a list of ‘historical’ characters, both fictional and real. (Think Meet the Robinsons mashed up with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and you have the comic side of the film).
From an animation perspective, this is dynamite, and I only saw it in 2D. Fox delivers a nuanced take on the characters thanks to their voicing and visual depiction, but certainly creates space here where we accept the universe of Peabody as real. (Another aside: the preview of How to Train a Dragon 2 and Home, which aired with the clip “Almost Home” as a short before Peabody, also look pretty amazing… and fun.) There’s a certain feel to these cartoons that puts them on par with Pixar for their humanity, even as we watch a world that is clearly not flesh and bone.
Speaking of flesh, that’s where the real heart of the film lives. We know that dogs can’t adopt children in our real world, but it’s a parable about the way that we find our purpose in meaning in life, often in families that aren’t blood. Peabody remembers the hurt of not being chosen because he was a different sort of puppy; he adopts Sherman because he doesn’t want Sherman to experience that lack of home that he knew. And this adoptive relationship is what makes the film extraordinary.
When Sherman adopts Mr. Peabody in reverse, we see that anytime we make an outsider into an insider, there’s an incarnational aspect, a fleshing out of our spiritual connection. From a Christian perspective, we understand this and respond because God loved us that way first. (It’s interesting that one of the historical moments that Wright has written into the timetravelling journey is that of Moses being discovered in a basket as a baby… adoption, again.) Galatians 4:4-7 speaks to this God-adoption: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” There is a right to existence, happiness, purpose, and family that occurs in this God-adoption. And we see it with Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
I wonder if the film won’t make families more keen on what they have organically, and force some to consider whether adoption is for them. Seriously, if adoption is on your mind, then Mr. Peabody & Sherman will hit you with much more power than the average Rocky & Bullwinkle short. It’s a reminder that we belong, that we have purpose, and that our family, regardless of the criticism from outside, is strongest when we stick together.