DreamWorks’ Animation’s new “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” successfully updates the classic characters from the 1960s-era “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” creating a charming amalgam for classic cartoon fans, sci-fi devotees, and history buffs, both young and old.
The new CGI-rendered film tells the story of an unusual, hyper-intellectual, Harvard-grad canine (“valedogtorian,” in fact) who adopts a ginger-haired human baby he finds abandoned in an alley. No ordinary intellectual (or dog), Mr. Peabody (wonderfully voiced by “Modern Family’s” Ty Burrell) trains his adopted son, Sherman (voiced by Max Charles) in all things scientific and historical. Together, father and son use Peabody’s time-traveling “WABAC” (pronounced “wayback”) machine to transport the duo throughout the ages.
But all good things must come to an end, and Peabody realizes his now-7-year-old son might benefit from a more formal education where he could mingle with other two-legged children, and he begins Sherman in a private school. Although Sherman is fully intellectually prepared, he finds himself bullied on the first day by a jealous classmate, Penny Peterson (“Modern Family’s” Arial Winter, also of “Sofia the First” voice fame). Mr. Peabody tries to help soften the conflict between the feuding two by inviting The Petersons to dinner. But, while Peabody’s intellect and never-ending talents easily charm Penny’s parents, Sherman resorts to revealing the ultra-secret time machine in order to impress his sour classmate. Soon, Penny finds herself in a complicated relationship in Ancient Egypt, and Sherman and Mr. Peabody begin bouncing through time in order to make things right.
“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is a surprisingly fun voyage through the ages. The film pays sweet tribute to its predecessor by expanding Peabody’s character beyond pure pedagogy, allowing a better understanding of this unique cross-species relationship between adoptive father and son. Although the hops through time will be very familiar to fans of science fiction (especially for fans of “Back to the Future”), it is the details of each historical jump that make the film so appealing.
Fans of Mr. Peabody will readily recognize his famous puns and cheeky cerebral wordplay that remain in this version. But, even more appealing, are the extended history lessons that can be gleaned from each jump (from Ancient Egypt, to the Renaissance, Ancient Greece, and more). (When was the last time a CGI film provided material for later, at-home history discussions?). However, older children and adults will likely enjoy the history-based “in-jokes” more than younger viewers. Nonetheless, the film’s historical references are tempered with a good measure of mild, largely non-offensive, bodily function jokes, so that even younger theatergoers will still find something humorous.
“Mr Peabody and Sherman” is an amusing, and surprisingly warmhearted, romp through time, and is an agreeable choice for Spring Break family fun. “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is rated 4 of 5 stars (“recommended”).
“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is rated PG for “some mild action and brief rude humor.”
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