11:10 AM EST, March 6, 2014
We bring to the movies whatever childhoods we had, and whatever television we watched to keep real life at bay, one half-hour at a time.
The frantic, occasionally funny new animated feature "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is a 3-D big-screen version of a defiantly 2-D (if that) and utterly fantastic early 1960s artifact, endlessly replayed on television throughout the '70s and beyond. If you want this movie reviewed by somebody with less love for the original, try a different review.
I was mad for the "Peabody's Improbable History" vignettes on "Rocky & His Friends," later known as "The Bullwinkle Show." The multitalented genius beagle Mr. Peabody, his boy, Sherman, their forays into history via the WABAC machine (pronounced "Way-Back"), the miserable puns, the merry, swift-paced Stan Freberg-esque treatment of characters ranging from Mata Hari to Genghis Khan — love, love, love.
Anything's possible. The film written by stage and television regular Craig Wright, with additional material (probably the jokes) credited to Michael McCullers, may inspire the same kind of love among today's youngfolk. But to perma-fans of the original, the movie's more a matter of eh, eh, eh.
Director Rob Minkoff, who co-directed "The Lion King," clearly responded to the sentimental streak in Wright's script, which isn't above shameless pathos utterly alien to the original. The rejiggered premise here casts a cold, cruel light on the central dog/boy relationship. Sherman is bullied mercilessly by a mean girl on the first day of school, who humiliates him for having a dog for a father. Then a child protection services official threatens to separate Sherman from Mr. Peabody forever. This is the supposed glue, the "heart" of the story, propping up the wacky trips in time made by Sherman and his frenemy, Penny.
These two, and our bow-tied canine hero, visit a variety of locales and times, among them Revolutionary France; ancient Egypt; ancient Troy, just in time for the Trojan horse bit; and the Renaissance, with Leonardo da Vinci and his flying apparatus. Some of this is amusing. But the film's animation design is strictly generic in its rounded edges and dutiful 3-D IN YOUR FACE!!! gimmicks. And the story gets off to such a sour start, it takes a long time for the comedy to recover.
Ty Burrell of "Modern Family" voices Peabody, perhaps a little too close to the original's cadences; Max Charles does Sherman; first-rate supporting talents help out where they can, ranging from Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann (as the bully's parents) to Patrick Warburton (Agamemnon) to Mel Brooks (in a bit role as Einstein). The epilogue contains more decent and fleet-footed setups and payoffs than the whole of the previous 80-odd minutes, and therefore may well send audiences out with a warm feeling. "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" manages to stay out of the dumpster inhabited by the eerily unfunny "Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle" (2000), which blended live action with animation to no avail. Minkoff's film has its moments, one of them near the end, when Peabody wags his tail, that will score with anybody who lives with, or near, a dog. But more than anything Minkoff's project feels like a protracted episode of "Jimmy Neutron," a show with characters for whom I don't have the same affection.
"Mr. Peabody & Sherman" - 2 stars
MPAA rating: PG (for some mild action and brief rude humor)
Running time: 1:30
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