Producer Jay Ward’s Saturday morning cartoons might not have been much to look at, but clever writing and a sense of warmth helped make up for the shortcuts the animators had to take.
“Peabody’s Improbable History,” which was a recurring segment in The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show from 1959 to 1964, featured a freakishly intelligent dog (it’s a given he can talk) and his adopted human son Sherman, who take trips back in time to correct errors in history. The segments were delightfully amusing, especially if you knew something about the eras Mr. Peabody and Sherman were exploring.
The new feature-length DreamWorks adaptation, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, has a great deal more visual pizazz than Ward’s original. It’s in 3-D and features a Wabac machine that darts through the sky as well as through time.
Fortunately, director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) and screenwriter Craig Wright remember what made the shorts Ted Key created work. There’s still plenty of delightfully goofy banter as the two potentially desecrate history, and Minkoff’s sweet, affectionate tone is oddly refreshing.
This time around Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) is understandably nervous because 7-year-old Sherman (Max Charles) is starting school. Unfortunately, his classmate Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter) is jealous of his uncanny ability to recount historic incidents correctly.She calls him a dog because of his adopted father, so, naturally, he bites her.
Mr. Peabody is not happy about Sherman’s feral response to bullying, so he invites Penny’s parents (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann) to smooth things over.Before the reconciliation can begin Penny pressures Sherman into revealing how he knows so much about the past despite his youth. He makes the mistake of letting her see the Wabac machine.
The exposition feels a little stiff and played out, but the fun begins once the three of them go back in time to prevent inadvertent revisions of history. In trying to get back to the present, they encounter Leonardo da Vinci (a wonderfully droll Stanley Tucci) and Mona Lisa (Lake Bell), King Tut’s Egypt, the Trojan War and the French Revolution.
As with the old TV show, there are some amusing anachronisms, but there are a lot of gags that are even funnier if you know your history or mythology. Hearing Mycenaean King Agamemnon (Patrick Warburton) lamenting the fates of some of his peers is almost worth the price of admission.
Some of the kids in the audience might not get these jokes, and there is a little toilet wit worked into the tale as well. Nonetheless, it’s gratifying to see a children’s film that doesn’t look down on its viewers. Just because these tots are small doesn’t mean they’re stupid.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
86 Cast: Voices of Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Ariel Winter, Stanley Tucci, Mel Brooks, Lake Bell, Allison Janney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Patrick Warburton Director: Rob Minkoff Rating: PG, for some mild action and brief rude humor Running Time: 92 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 03/07/2014
Print Headline: Mr. Peabody & Sherman