MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Mr. Peabody’ as clever as ever

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First Posted: 3/10/2014

“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is sweet, funny, and moves like it’s wearing a jetpack. Just like the original segment from “Rocky & Bullwinkle,” the CGI animated feature turns history into an adventure and intellect into the weapon. It is loads of fun.

For those unfamiliar with this nugget from the baby boomers’ nostalgia chest, Mr. Peabody (voiced here by Ty Burrell of “Modern Family” fame) isn’t just a talking dog but an inventor, a diplomat, and the creator of Zumba. Peabody’s greatest accomplishment is the WABAC, a time machine that allows the great quadruped to rub elbows with Mahatma Gandhi and Leonardo da Vinci.

Accompanying Peabody for these educational expeditions is his similarly bespectacled 7-year-old adopted (human) son, Sherman (Max Charles). That should give the boy a leg up as he starts school. Instead, he angers Penny (Ariel Winter), a smart and prickly classmate who insults and provokes Sherman. Boy bites girl, requiring Peabody to smooth things over with her professional parents (Leslie Mann, Stephen Colbert) as a matronly monster from child services (Allison Janney) huffily looms.

Peabody defuses the adults. (Tip: if you ever want to impress reluctant party guests, perform chiropracty, show your mixology skills, and play every single instrument.) Sherman has a more difficult time with the frosty Penny. She badgers Sherman into showing her the WABAC. Soon, the kids and Peabody are literally crashing through history.

Director Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King”) directs with the knowledge that the crystalline animation — you can actually see the little hairs on Peabody’s nose — is just one selling point. The movie moves in and out and all-around, so you’re pulled into the epoch ride. Lean and lively, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” hits nary a snag, and it’s funny in ways big and small — from a frustrated Albert Einstein smashing an unsolved Rubik’s Cube to Peabody’s visit to the principal’s office. He can’t imagine his son doing anything wrong, so he presents advanced curriculum for Sherman.

And, yes, the delightful play on words from the original — on Marie Antoinette: “You can’t have your cake and edict too” — makes the cut.

Writer Craig Wright, a TV veteran, getting an assist from the prolific duo of Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, craft tons of witty, ripe dialogue. How I wish someone had created a female character that wasn’t bitchy or conniving. Penny comes off best, as she empowers a stifled, unsure Sherman, though not until she manipulates and borderline seduces the 7-year-old in that direction. That’s cool, if you want your kid to end up like Peter Berg in “The Last Seduction.”

After “Frozen” and “The LEGO Movie” offered characters little girls could admire without mom and dad consulting parenting guides, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” looks a little behind the times, especially, when it celebrates how labels don’t apply to families. That, along with having protagonists venerated for being smart, allows us to have fun without feeling guilty about it. The dog and his boy have their day.

Rating: W W W W

-Follow Pete on Twitter (@PeteCroatto) for more cinematic musings.