There’s nothing like a movie about a boy and his dog. But something like “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” isn’t quite the same thing, considering it focuses on a dog and his boy.
If you go
“Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” rated PG
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 92 minutes
Starring the voices of: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter and Stephen Colbert
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
There are few feats that haven’t been attained by Mr. Peabody (voice of Ty Burrell) — genius scientific inventions, Olympic medals, life-changing trends, all accomplished by someone covered in fur who occasionally walks on four legs. The world’s smartest canine also has spent his recent years attempting to be the world’s greatest dad, having adopted a human son named Sherman (Max Charles).
Although he’s proven he’s capable of virtually anything, there still are those who doubt Peabody’s abilities as a father, made worse by an incident between Sherman and one of his classmates, Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter). While Peabody tries to smooth over the situation, Sherman seeks to get on Penny’s good side by showing her his father’s most important and most classified creation: the WABAC Machine, a vehicle that allows its users to go anywhere in history.
Naturally, the jaunt through the past doesn’t turn out the way Sherman expects, and even when Peabody intervenes, the three of them may not be able to get back to their proper place in time.
Burrell’s role as the doofus dad of “Modern Family” makes him an unusual choice for the voice of a character whose original rendering was as austere as the haughtiest of Ivy League college professors. The modern Peabody, however, is fused with more of a sweetness as someone who, despite his endless successes, always is insecure about whether or not he’s being the best parent he can be.
I guess you’re bound to wonder that when you and your kid aren’t even of the same species or when every time you make a bad pun, it goes over their head.
Charles is fine as young Sherman, portrayed as less of a blockhead than in the classic cartoons but still very much an average 7-year-old whose major milestones include learning to ride a bike with a set of wheels provided by the Wright brothers, piano instruction from Beethoven and learning life lessons at the feet of Gandhi.
And you can’t expect a boy to be able to keep all those secrets to himself …
A good voice cast makes up the variety of historical figures who appear, from a certain monarch (Lauri Fraser) whose inability to keep her gluttonous cakehole shut kicks off the French Revolution to man’s man Patrick Warburton, making mythic King Agamemnon the ultimate Greek frat boy.
Of course, Stanley Tucci’s Leonardo da Vinci is heads above the rest as Peabody’s only equal as a Renaissance man. Mamma mia, if only that cranky girl (Lake Bell) he’s trying to paint would smile …
When it comes to showing the important names of the world from centuries ago in a more eccentric way than you imagined them, this feature gets it exactly right in trying to recapture the brilliance of the “Peabody’s Improbable History” segments from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” with the added benefit of a stylish new look to the WABAC courtesy of DreamWorks Animation. It beats the chintzy older model, which appeared to be nothing more than a door hooked up to a dishwasher, powered by a supercomputer that today probably could be outdone by even the tiniest iPod.
But newer isn’t always better.
The main joke of the old version was that no one blinked at the idea of a dog raising a boy. Now that the question of “How can this be?” has been asked, that’s the entire focus, turning it into something that may as well as be a public service announcement about adoptive and foster parents.
This in itself isn’t a bad thing, and even if it feels abnormal for an established personality such as Peabody to be so cuddly now, there’s an agreeable element to this take on him. The use of John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” during a family montage particularly is touching.
What’s damaging is a few too many nasty gags — some of which skew on the adult side — that make you think the writers were working with goal of balancing out a semi-educational story with scatological references and worse.
After all, we don’t want kids to get too smart, right?
The occasionally over-the-line humor is to be expected from DreamWorks, the studio that tends to sacrifice worthwhile moments for cheap laughs. With two more animated movies coming out this year, hopefully quality rather than quantity will ring true in at least one of them.
It may have its faults, but “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” still is probably the best movie to be released starring any members of the Jay Ward gang, even if the live-action “George of the Jungle” set the bar low and “Dudley Do-Right” buried it.
Still, is there any way to hop in the WABAC and prevent the animators from giving both the title characters fauxhawks?
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.