You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Back to IndieWire

BOOK REVIEW: “The Art of Mr. Peabody and Sherman”

BOOK REVIEW: "The Art of Mr. Peabody and Sherman"

As is
befitting a book about wacky time travel, The
Art of Dreamworks Mr. Peabody and Sherman
features what amounts to two forewards and
an afterwords. Multi-Emmy-winning Modern
star Ty Burrell offers some thoughts on voicing the iconic
character. Tiffany Ward shares a very pleasant Jay Ward’s daughter’s eye-view
in the preface. Later, Lion King
co-director Rob Minkoff ties it all up up an afterword, expressing the joy of
working on a film with characters he loves.

There’s no
denying that, from the banquet of production art, concept sketches, backgrounds
and other details that festoon this tome, it is sumptuous indeed. The text
follows the production step by step, from characters (new as well as existing),
the environments (I marveled at the art for Peabody’s house for what seems like
an hour, it was so Jetson-y) and the various historic settings in which our
heroes find themselves. Some of this art needs your attention for several
minutes, as you savor every detail.

You can see
the painstaking effort to somehow transform the delightfully random look of the
WABAC machine – which wasn’t consistent from cartoon to cartoon all the time—and
how the actual time travel experience within the machine has been blown out to
a very elaborate degree, yet still with the silliness that suggests Jay Ward.
Let’s face it, the visual payoff of the original WABAC (when there was one)
paled when compared to Tooter the Turtle’s spin through the sparkling “Tristle-Trassle” vortex. Peabody usually just assured us that the machine worked flawlessly.

But I think
that the most likely reason of all to enjoy this book is because of what it
DOESN’T have.

Time after
time, when a “re-imagining” of a beloved property is announced, those connected
with the reboot proclaim an open or implied disgust with the original. They
feel the need to assure the world that this will be a new “this or that” much
more “in tune” with today’s tastes, so we should forget all about that stale
old version we loved as kids. That’s like my mom throwing away my classic but
smelly comic books, leaving room for only fresh-scented new ones. It’s also like
Aladdin’s wife trading new lamps for old.

When the
rebooters do that, they’re immediately putting the property’s best audience on
the defensive. It’s not only bad business, it’s downright narcissistic: “What
do you fans know anyway? Let us show you how this thing SHOULD be done!”

And that is
what I did not find as I read every page of The
Art of Mr. Peabody and Sherma
n. I know from my own experience that, if the
marketing hook were to be “out with the old and in with the new,” that message
would be instilled within every communication associated with the film, including
the “Art Of” book. Instead, the message is “we’re striving to capture, as best
as we can, what made the original great and expand on it in a way that fans
will enjoy and new fans will embrace.” That’s a tall order when the original cartoon
was about four minutes long per episode with pretty much every figure in world
history voiced by Paul Frees.

The earnest
attitude of respect expressed throughout the text and evidenced in the
artwork – not so much in the superspectacular epic scenes that Ward and company
couldn’t and probably wouldn’t have attempted – but in the various sketches and
goofy, UPA-like details that pepper most of the pages. This project seems to
have been as fun as it was daunting.

The last
section of the book is especially fine for introducing kids to the animation
process and makes this a good book for schools and libraries: Peabody and
Sherman themselves explain, along with the artists, how a sequence is planned
and carried out. I counted two fold out pages and did not count illustrations, but
there are hundreds of them.

To be
honest, I had my doubts about this movie. I liked Peabody’s Improbable History (my wife likes it better than I do),
but my favorite part of the Rocky and
show was Fractured Fairy
. After seeing this book, I am really looking forward to seeing the
film and finding out whether all these elements gelled into something fun and
funny. Afterward, it will be even more fascinating the go through the book
again to see how it all fit together.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Reviews and tagged ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox