Based on the Mr. Peabody shorts from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show the new full-length feature film from writer Craig Wright and director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, The Forbidden Kingdom) may not as be as clever as the original, but it turns out to enjoyable and far more fun than I expected.
Tweaking the story of the genius dog and his adopted son Sherman who travel in time through the use of the WABAC Machine (originally constructed in the TV-series as a way to keep Sherman occupied an teach him history), Mr. Peabody & Sherman uses the machine as a linchpin of a story involving Sherman’s (Max Charles) trouble with a girl at school named Penny (Ariel Winter) and the pair’s unauthorized use of the time travel machine which leads to serious repercussions.
While trying to stop a nosy social worker (Allison Janney) from removing Sherman from an unsuitable home, and dealing with Penny’s parents (Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann), Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) takes the kids back to set things right.
The 90 minute film includes several stops through history and cameos from the likes of Marie Antoinette (Lauri Fraser), King Tut (Zach Callison), Leonardo da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), and a group of Trojan War soldiers (led by Patrick Warburton), along with cheap gags, and a fair share of puns. Stretching the the shorts on which they are based into a full-feature film, the movie delivers a well-paced adventure story along with a nice message for kids.
Burrell’s performance is fine, but it lacks the dry wit and condescension of the original character voiced by Bill Scott (who also voiced Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right on the show among others). Of course part of this has to do with the change to make the character more emotional involved in Sherman’s welfare. More about Sherman than Peabody, the movie could have used a little more of the character’s original attitude.
I have fond memories of the original shorts, and I’m always hesitant on updating an original work for a new generation, but the new version kept me (and a theater packed with children of various ages) entertained for its entire running time. I may not have enjoyed Mr. Peabody & Sherman as much as Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2, but the film is comparable to (and even slightly better than) DreamWorks recent family-friendly releases The Croods and Turbo.