Babyboomers may understandably embrace their nostalgic childhood roots when being treated to the simple cartoon tale of a boy and his dog…wait…make that a reversal sentiment of a dog and his boy as demonstrated in the glossy and slick animated feature film. Naturally, ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ originated from the creative world of Jay Ward Productions that brought us the 1960’s classic Cold War kiddie romp ‘The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show’. Specifically, the impish pairing of the traveling tandem Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman, was seen in the rollicking segment ‘Peabody’s Improbable History’ on the aforementioned ‘The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show’.
The premise was quite adventurous and straight-forward as Mr. Peabody and Sherman would take TV viewers on a wacky journey through the brilliant brainy beagle’s WABAC time machine where the duo would encounter some of history’s celebrated yet irreverent figures and help along in ensuring that the historical occurrences are preserved accurately. The time-traveling venture usually included off-the-cuff gags and eye-rolling puns that worked fabulously for the wry humor that accompanied the silly-minded ‘Peabody Improbable History’ spot.
Joyously flippant and smartly conceived, ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ is a devilish kick-in-the-pants farce that maintains a nutty spirit to its family friendly flavoring. The movie never will have the genuine charm of its cheesy wise-cracking original boob tube blueprint from five decades ago. Still, ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ manages to overcome the critical and overwrought lapses that hampered its other dreadful Jay Ward-related big screen fare from the past such as the sluggish offerings of the forgettable ‘Rocky & Bullwinkle’, ‘George Of The Jungle’, ‘Boris And Natasha’ and ‘Dudley Do-Right’. The animation in ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ is crisply spry and imaginative in its glorified 3-D visual vibrancy. Sure, this updated take on the bespectacled time-traveling twosome has some edgy spunk to its inner core but ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ nevertheless stays faithful to its pledge in being a screwy escapist cartoon caper with excitable punch.
The familiar backstory to the legions of animation fans that highly regard this dog-boy union is that Mr. Peabody (as voiced by the Emmy-winning Ty Burrell from ABC-TV’s ‘Modern Family’) is a Harvard-educated and Nobel Prize-winning scientific genius that happened to adopt an inquisitive red-headed lad named Sherman (as voiced by Max Charles). In an effort to instill some intellect and curiosity in his ‘son’, the knowledgeable and confident Mr. Peabody built the WABAC (pronounced ‘way back’) time machine to fortify Sherman’s academic mind. Thus, the bow-tie wearing beagle and his boy wonder approach their wayward travels with a bonding experience that is sure to make one scratch his/her head in wild amusement.
The richness behind ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ is that it stays true to its kooky convictions and never strays away from the formula that made it a treasured treat for juveniles and grown-ups alike during the vintage part of the early to mid 1960s. There is a mixture of absurdity and poignancy that touches upon the issues of bullying (courtesy of Sherman’s classroom rival in a pushy history-loving hussy named Penny as voiced by Ariel Winter), adoption (why can’t a clever canine play Daddy Dearest to a human tot?) and of course our heroes’ random run-ins with some of the most notable historical hotshots this side of an hour-long social studies session.
Director and co-writer Rob Minkoff (‘The Lion King’, ‘Stuart Little’) and his crafty animation handlers deliver a lively and off-kilter kiddie fantasy that captures the essence of its adventurous overtones with showy pit-stops to ancient Troy, Egypt, the French Revolution, the Renaissance period and the original American colonies…just to name a few stimulating getaways.
The stable of voice artists involved are a who’s who of talented television veterans from TV’s ‘Seinfeld’/’The Tick’/’Rules Of Engagement’ star Patrick Warburton as battle bad boy Achilles to Mom regular Allison Janney playing a ball-busting social worker Miss Grunion looking to break up the familial and collaborative ties between Mr. Peabody and Sherman. As the lead vocals for the erudite Mr. Peabody, Burrell is quite effective and enthusiastic as the four-legged know-it-all at the controls of the zany mayhem. Burrell will not make anyone forget Mr. Peabody’s first voice-over mastermind Bill Scott any time soon but the ‘Modern Family’ titan holds his own. Charles seems energetic and endearing as the nerdy Sherman.
With all the playful sci-fi side-dishing of shenanigans concerning wormholes, historical hot spot visitations and an articulate dog’s overall propensity for universal greatness, ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ is a dizzy and delightful gem that allows maturing audiences to soundly recall their childish days of youthfulness without the benefit of Peabody’s iconic WABAC contraption.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014)
STARRING: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Mel Brooks, Stephen Colbert, Ariel Winter, Stephen Tobolowsky, Stanley Tucci, Leslie Mann and Allison Janney
DIRECTED BY: Rob Minkoff
MPAA RATING: PG
RUNNING TIME: 92 mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY: 20th Century Fox
CRITIC’S RATING: *** stars (out of 4 stars)