By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If pure nostalgia is not what you’re after, think of this oddity as “Sherman and Peabody’s Excellent Adventure.”
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is an endearingly whimsical and breezily literate animated comedy based on characters from the late-’50s, early-’60s television series, “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”
You might recall the dreadful live-action comedy, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, which dipped into the same gene pool in 2000.
In case you don’t remember the legendary television program, Mr. Peabody is a talking dog — a canine brainiac — voiced this time around by Ty Burrell (most familiar from the TV series “Modern Family”), who, as a hedge against loneliness, adopts a seven-year-old human boy named Sherman, voiced by Max Charles.
So, yes, among other things, Mr. Peabody & Sherman is an inside-out, odd-parenting seminar, with hugging apparently off the table.
On Sherman’s first day of school he clashes with a classmate named Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter, also from “Modern Family”), which brings a threat from the adoption agency that Sherman will be reclaimed if there is another such incident at school.
So, brilliant beagle Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents — mother Patty (Leslie Mann) and father Paul (Stephen Colbert) — over to make peace.
But Sherman, in showoff mode to impress Penny, breaks the rules and abuses intrepid inventor Mr. Peabody’s time-travel device, which the brilliant, bespectacled pooch has built to teach Sherman history first-hand and which he calls the WABAC (pronounced “wayback”) machine.
Unfortunately, his foolish behavior could do damage by creating a disturbance in no less than the space-time continuum, so an adventure through history, to right the wrong that’s been done, is in order for the canny, accomplished canine and his cute, cooperative kid companion to rewrite history in order to (gulp!) save the universe.
Will the younger members of the audience get all the irreverently skewed historical references? No.
Does that matter? Not really.
Director Rob Minkoff, who co-directed The Lion King and directed Stuart Little and The Haunted Mansion, keeps the pace brisk and the cameos by historical personages frequent, and employs the expected slapsticky sight gags and deadpan punning wordplay in abundance (some for the kids, some for the grownups, some for both) on its way to the obligatory life lessons.
As for the visual component, with its embrace of the 3-D process, it’s more ambitious -– and less necessary -– than you might think.
If there’s some accidental educatin’ along the way, well, so be it. But the film’s stretch marks can’t help but show at least a little with characters and situations that were originally concocted to appear in very short bursts.
Yet the source material holds up rather nicely.
Among director Minkoff’s voice resources are Allison Janney as the school counselor, Stephen Tobolowsky as the principal, Mel Brooks as Albert Einstein, Stanley Tucci as Leonardo Da Vinci, Lake Bell as Mona Lisa, Patrick Warburton as King Agamemnon, Lauri Fraser as Marie Antoinette, and Zach Callison as King Tut.
Meanwhile, Tiffany Ward, the daughter of Jay Ward, one of the original TV series’ creators, served as one of the executive producers so the film would stay true to its roots. Which it does.
Craig Wright’s doggedly silly screenplay, based on “Peabody’s Improbably History,” by Ted Key, stretches what used to be five-minute shorts into a full-length feature. And adds an oddly touching emotional through-line that this lengthy a ’toon demands but that wasn’t necessary in television short subjects.
So we’ll set the WABAC machine for 3 stars out of 4 for the affable and amusing, cheeky and charming, witty and warmhearted reboot, Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
It may not be best in show but, doggone it, it’s a treat.