Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Release date: Friday, March 7th, 2014
MPAA rating: PG for some mild action and brief rude humor
Approximate runtime: 92 minutes
Directed by Rob Minkoff
Starring: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, and Stephen Colbert
Let's travel back in time to the early 1960s, when a charmingly unpolished yet incredibly witty cartoon called The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show aired on television. Featured on that program were the time-traveling adventures of the world's smartest dog, Mr. Peabody, and his dim yet loyal pet boy, Sherman. The segment, titled Peabody's Improbable History, was endearing in its simplicity and intelligent in its writing, which is why I approached this new feature-length CGI-animated film from DreamWorks with caution. I loved the cartoons when I was young, having received the Rocky and Bullwinkle DVD box sets for Christmas one year, and from the trailers for Mr. Peabody and Sherman, it looked like the attempt to "modernize" and "update" the Mr. Peabody formula that worked so brilliantly in the cartoon was ill-conceived.
Fast forward to 2014, and it turns out that Mr. Peabody and Sherman is actually every bit as charming and inventive as its source. Fracturing history while also being surprisingly educational (okay, about as educational as a film about a walking, talking, time-traveling dog can be), Mr. Peabody and Sherman is a film that everyone--kids and their parents--can appreciate and enjoy. It's a ton of fun.
Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell), genius inventor of the time-traveling WABAC Machine and devoted father, also happens to be a dog. When his adopted son, Sherman (Max Charles), accidentally creates a rift in the space-time continuum, it's up to Mr. Peabody and Sherman to save the day. Along the way, they hop from one time period to the next and meet such historical figures as King Tut, Leonardo DiVinci, Agamemnon, and more.
Because of its wacky and often unfocused story, the film delivers a ton of variety in its locations and characters, and as a result, never fails to entertain. The trademark groan-inducing--yet very funny--puns that Mr. Peabody is fondly remembered for are here in seemingly endless supply, and there are more than a few sly in-jokes that will fly over kids' heads (including not entirely child-friendly references to Oedipus Rex and Bill Clinton, among others). Even though it's packed with clever wordplay and rather adult innuendo, Mr. Peabody and Sherman still has plenty to keep kids laughing as well, including a ton of well-executed slapstick and some unfortunate sophomoric potty humor.
The real surprise here is how much of a big, beating heart this film has. The father-son relationship between Mr. Peabody and Sherman was rarely (if ever) explored in the cartoon, and the expansion of their relationship is the endearing soul of the film. There are genuinely tender moments between the two of them amidst all the noisy antics and hyperactivity on display.
A well-chosen comic voice cast (including Ty Burrell, Allison Janney, Stephen Colbert, and Patrick Warburton), effective use of 3D, and a clear affection to the source material make Mr. Peabody and Sherman a terrific animated comedy for the whole family. Despite some unnecessary toilet humor and a somewhat disjointed narrative, this new take on the bespectacled dog and his human companion will have audiences howling. With laughter, of course.
Verdict: See it!