The Kids Power Mr. Peabody & Sherman

PeabodySherman--Ariel Winter
Ariel Winter, Max Charles, and the parenting bloggers at Dreamworks Animation. Photo courtesy Dreamworks Animation

Relationships are at the heart of the new Mr. Peabody & Sherman movie from Dreamworks Animation, due out March 7th. First, the relationships between Mr. Peabody and his adopted son, Sherman, and then between Sherman and an original character for the movie, Penny Peterson.

The pair get off to a rough start after Penny is clearly jealous she’s no longer the smartest one in school but after a somewhat disastrous trip without supervision in the WABAC machine, a real friendship begins to develop with Penny pushing Sherman to stretch his wings and fly (quite literally) and Sherman teaching Penny about how a real friendship works.

When I attended a parenting event at Dreamworks Animation last month (sponsored by Dreamworks and 20th Century Fox), the two young actors playing Sherman and Penny sat down to answer some questions. Ariel Winter from Modern Family was a powerhouse, admittedly with “big dreams” for her career. She handled questions like seasoned professional. The younger Max Charles, 10, was quieter and sweet but they both spoke of how fun it was to make the movie and had clear affection for each other. Though they weren’t in the studio together for recording, their characters mesh incredibly well in the movie.

Here are excerpts from our question and answer session. Charles came alive when he talked about how “super-excited” he was to finally see the movie and have it come out.

Question: Have either one of you ever seen the cartoons before you started the project?

Charles: Before this project, I didn’t see it yet. But then when I booked the role, I looked it up and I watched it and it was really good.

Winter: I had heard of the cartoon but I had never seen it before. And so, after I found out that I would be playing Penny, I went to watch the cartoon and it was hilarious and brilliant. But then I realized Penny wasn’t in it.

I kind of liked that she wasn’t in it because it’s basically like they handed me a book and it was empty and I got to write the pages. I thought that was pretty cool. I got to create my own character.

Question: Max, what was your favorite—or both of you, your favorite historical scene? Or that you shot?

Winter: I loved either ancient Egypt because I was engaged and that was pretty fun. And then I also loved the Trojan War because Sherman was a mini Trojan and that was adorable. I thought it was amazing.

Question: Where would you guys like to travel? If you guys could have one scene, where would you go back in time or the future?

Winter: They should go to the future. I want Penny to drive a flying car.

Charles: Future.

Question: What are you favorite scenes in the movie?

Charles: They’re all really good. I like the part where we’re in the way back and King Tut slams into the windshield and I pressed the windshield wipers. (Writer’s note: You can see this scene at the end of the trailer that’s posted below.)

Winter: I’m a huge sap. So, I loved at the end of the movie when Mr. Peabody told Sherman he loved him. And Sherman said, I have deep regard for you, too. I was bawling my eyes out because I just loved it. I thought it was so sweet. So, that was fun.

Question: In the movie, there comes a point where Sherman really has to push through his dad’s protectiveness and believe that he can go forward and do more. But can each of you or one of you say a time in your life that you’ve kind of had to push through for a dream?

Winter: I think everyone goes through that in their life at some point, everyone goes through a lot of things. And what I think is funny is that throughout the entire movie, Penny is kind of giving Sherman the pep talk that he should believe in himself and that Penny believes in him—well, after they get through their whole, sassy Penny to Sherman. She’s kind of really trying to build him up and tell him that Peabody isn’t really telling him because Peabody wants to protect him and have him still be his little boy.

And Penny is really trying to give him that confidence in himself. And I love that because I think what’s really important is to have that person there who’s telling you that you can do it and believing in you. And I really thought that was important because everyone goes through that in their life and has somebody there doing what Penny did for Sherman.

Question: Did you see yourselves in the characters you were playing at all?

Charles: Yes. It’s cool because they animated the characters to do the same facial expressions that we did in the movie. It was really cool.

Winter: The sass is real. The sass is so real. I loved her sassiness, although I would never steal someone’s sandwich. That’s just off limits.

Question: I noticed Penny has quite the bullying streak and I was wondering if you guys had any experience with either having that happen to you or witnessing that with kids in your school or your peers.

Winter: I have to say, though, I don’t really find Penny to be a full bully. I really don’t. I think Penny is just incredibly intimidated by something and she’s held the role of being the smartest and the girl who gets the most attention for being smart at the school.

And I think that when she gets threatened by Sherman a little bit because he comes in and kind of takes her place, I think she just acts out to take what she feels is hers back. I don’t find Penny to be a bully in a sense. Because in the end, Penny really realizes some things about herself and we see that she has a huge heart and she really ends up caring for Sherman and Mr. Peabody. So, I don’t find her to be a bully. I mean, a lot of people in their life go through experiences with bullies. And it’s hard. So, I understand, but I really don’t find Penny to be a bully.

Question: What kind of voice work did you guys have to do? Because I noticed you, in particular, your voice sounded a little different as Penny. So, how did you modify that?

Winter: I’ve been doing animation for 12 years. So, for me, it’s kind of just second nature for me to change my voice. And I don’t know, I do weird voices all the time. So for me, I just kind of do it.

Question: How about you, Max?

Charles: I had to make my voice a little bit higher than it normally is.

Question: Both of you have regular acting credits, a lot of voice acting credits. Do you prefer one over the other going forward?

Winter: I definitely don’t prefer one over the other. I think I’ve just been doing them both so long that I wouldn’t be able to pick one.

Charles: Yes.

Winter: I love the challenge of having to express yourself only through your voice because I’m sure as you can tell, I’m a very expressive person with my face and with my hands. So for me, it’s a challenge to have to express only through voice. I love that.

And I also love being on film. It would be hard to pick. But I’m also the type of person that I want to have my hand in all aspects of the entertainment industry. I want to open a record label and I want to be on the music side and I also want to be in front of the camera and behind the camera. I have a lot of things I want to do in the entertainment industry.

Question: I understand that it’s very vigorous doing all the work for the movie and stuff, but how do you guys deal with the social aspect when you’re on the studios? Do you guys still get to be kids and just do what young people do?

Charles: Yes. I like to go outside and play and do that kind of stuff.

Question: What are some of the activities that you do?

Charles: I like to play basketball. I got a basketball hoop for Christmas. So, I play basketball, ride my bike, skateboard. I do a lot of different things.

Question: I have two little girls that are really animated and like to be performing. And I just wondered if you have any advice on two young kids that maybe want to pursue acting and pursue this as a career.

Winter: How old are they?

Questioner: Five and seven. They’re little right now. But just in the future just going down that path.

Winter: Just to have fun. And you have to know for a fact that you want to do this and this is what you want to do and you have to apply yourself 100 percent to it. I think the main thing is while you’re doing that, because it is hard to achieve this dream if it is your dream, you have to have fun with it because it’s very possible to get kind of lost in the technicalities of things. But the most important thing is to have fun with what you’re doing and really love it.

Charles: Yes, follow your dreams, you know?

Winter: I want to be you.

Question: Are there any actors or actresses out there that you are dying to work with?

Winter: I would love to work with Leonardo DiCaprio. or Angelina Jolie.
Big dreams.

You can follow Mr. Peabody and Sherman at the official Facebook page and follow @DWAnimation on Twitter.

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Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.