‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ a witty and warmhearted reboot

By Bill Wine
Posted 12/18/20

If pure nostalgia is not what you’re after, think of this oddity as “Mr. Peabody & Sherman’s Excellent Adventure.”

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‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’ a witty and warmhearted reboot


Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.

If pure nostalgia is not what you’re after, think of this oddity as “Mr. Peabody & Sherman’s Excellent Adventure.”

“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” (2014) is an endearingly whimsical and breezily literate animated comedy based on characters from the late-fifties-early-sixties television series, “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”

You might recall the dreadful live-action comedy,The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle,” which dipped into the same gene pool in 2000.

In case you don’t remember this memorable program, Mr. Peabody is a talking dog, a canine   brainiac, voiced by Ty Burrell (most familiar from the TV series, Modern Family) who, as a hedge against loneliness, adopts a seven-year-old human boy named Sherman, voiced by Max Charles

So, yes, among other things, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is an inside-out-odd parenting seminar, with hugging apparently off the table.

On Sherman’s first day of school, he clashes with a classmate named Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter, also from Modern Family), which brings a threat from the adoption agency that Sherman will be reclaimed if there is another such incident at school.

So brilliant beagle Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents – mother Patty (Leslie Mann) and father Paul (Stephen Colbert) – over to make peace.

But Sherman, in showoff mode to impress Penny, breaks the rules and abuses intrepid inventor Mr. Peabody’s time-travel device, which the brilliant, bespectacled pooch has built to teach Sherman history first-hand and which he calls the WABAC (pronounced “way back”) machine.

Unfortunately, his foolish behavior could do damage by creating a disturbance in no less than the space-time continuum, so an adventure through history, to right the wrong that’s been done, is in order for the canny, accomplished canine and his cute, cooperative kid companion to rewrite history in order to – gulp – save the universe.

Will the younger members of the audience get all the irreverently skewed historical references? No. Does that matter? Not really.

Director Rob Minkoff keeps the pace brisk and the cameos by historical personages frequent, and employs the expected slapstick sight gags and deadpan punning wordplay in abundance – some for the kids, some for the grownups, some for both – on its way to the obligatory life lessons.

If there’s some accidental educatin’ along the way, well, so be it. But the film’s stretch marks can’t help but show at least a little with characters and situations that were originally concocted to appear in very short bursts. Yet the source material holds up rather nicely.

Among the voice resources are Allison Janney as the school counselor, Stephen Tobolowsky as the principal, Mel Brooks as Albert Einstein, Stanley Tucci as Leonardo Da Vinci, Lake Bell as Mona Lisa, Patrick Warburton as King Agamemnon, and Lauri Fraser as Marie Antoinette.

Meanwhile, Tiffany Ward, the daughter of Jay Ward, one of the original TV series’ creators, served as one of the executive producers so the film would stay true to its roots. It does.

Craig Wright’s doggedly silly screenplay, based on Peabody’s Improbably History by Ted Key, stretches what used to be five-minute shorts into a full-length feature. And adds an oddly touching emotional through-line that this lengthy a ’toon demands but that wasn’t necessary in television short subjects.

This is an affable and amusing, cheeky and charming, witty and warmhearted reboot. It may not be best in show but, doggone it, it’s a treat.  

Bill Wine is an Emmy-winning film critic who served in that capacity for WTXF and KYW Newsradio. He lives in Chestnut Hill.