Historically Funny

When I was growing up, I loved the manic inventiveness of the “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” They even went a bit beyond the classic Warner Brothers cartoons with their wackiness and horrible puns. (The love of horrible puns remains, as any of my friends will attest.) One part of the show I always looked forward to was the adventures of Mr. Peabody and Sherman – the original dog and his boy – and their travels through history in the WABAC (way-back) machine. When I heard about the new Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie, I was both excited and a little concerned. Could the filmmakers expand the short segments of the original to make a full-length feature and not wear out the idea? The good news is, yes, they could – and did.

Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) was never adopted as a pup, but he grew up to use his startling intelligence to benefit mankind.  Along the way, he adopted Sherman (Max Charles), and has seen to his education. However, they reach a momentous day when Sherman begins regular school. While he finds some friends, Sherman immediately becomes a target for Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter, Burrell’s co-star on “Modern Family”). Frustrated and angered by her teasing that he must be a dog since his guardian is a dog, Sherman responds by biting her.

Mr. Peabody is called in to meet with the principal (Stephen Tobolowsky) and a representative of Child Services, Ms. Grunion (Allison Janey). Grunion is convinced that Peabody has no business raising a child. Peabody decides to out-maneuver Grunion by inviting Penny and her parents (Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann) to dinner. Sherman is horrified to have to spend time with Penny, and although Mr. Peabody has warned him to keep the WABAC machine a secret, he tells Penny about it. Soon they’re off to visit King Tut (Zach Callison), Leonardo DaVinci (Stanley Tucci), and Agamemnon (Patrick Warburton).

The voice work is excellent, especially by Burrell and Charles who closely match the original voices that were provided by Bill Scott (a writer on the show, who later co-created Dudley Do-Right) and Walter Tetley (who was in his mid-forties when he did Sherman). The screenplay was written by Craig Wright, with additional dialogue by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. This is Wright’s first foray into animated movies, having in the past produced and written TV shows such as “Six Feet Under,” “Dirty Sexy Money,” and “United States of Tara.” You wouldn’t expect it from that resume, but he both captures the essence of the original while expanding on it beautifully.

Director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) keeps the action moving at a fast pace. Some of the visual humor is definitely on a child’s level – guess where the trap door for the Trojan Horse is located – but he also highlights the wit of the story. For the most part, they also get the history correct. The only real jarring moment is when George Washington quotes Thomas Jefferson. But then Washington isn’t really known for his fine prose, so stealing from the erudite Jefferson is understandable.

Listening to the audience’s reactions during the movie had its own pleasures. There was plenty to keep the children laughing, but you also had the adults in the audience laughing out loud. That’s a pretty good recommendation for the movie.

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