Four stars. Rating: Rated PG, and needlessly, for mild action and brief rude humor
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.7.14
As soon as I heard the first pun, I knew we were in good hands.
|Stuck in Ancient Egypt, with the furious King Tut's guards in hot pursuit, Mr. Peabody|
leads Sherman and Penny back to where he parked their Wayback Machine.
Unfortunately, escape won't be anywhere near that easy...
Sandpaper-dry wit was an essential element of the Peabody’s Improbable History cartoon shorts, which debuted as a portion of the original Rocky and his Friends animated series (ahem) way back in November 1959. The Einstein-smart canine, Mr. Peabody, always capped one of his time-travel lecture/adventures with a groaningly awful pun, which flew right over the heads of younger viewers (and demonstrated the degree to which the cartoon show’s humor played to adults).
This phenomenon is addressed in this new big-screen delight, as young Sherman reacts to each of Mr. Peabody’s deadpan observations by reflexively laughing, and then, with a puzzled expression, saying “I don’t get it.”
Definitely a chuckle, every time.
Director Rob Minkoff and scripter Craig Wright have retained the wit and playful innocence of the original Peabody TV cartoon shorts, while adding a generous dollop of the snarky humor today’s viewers will recognize from the Shrek series. (No surprise, since this new Mr. Peabody & Sherman comes from DreamWorks Animation.)
And the worried Peabody purists out there can rest easy, because Wright clearly understands and employs the narrative and comic sensibilities that properly honor the source material. He gets it.
As further aided and abetted by Minkoff and editor Tom Finan’s zippy pacing, not to mention a droll voice cast, the resulting film is 92 minutes of inventive, larkish delight.
The core premise is that Mr. Peabody (voiced with polite know-it-all-ness by Ty Burrell) is a genius dog who is able to master any craft, skill or intellectual challenge he chooses to embrace. He can out-deduce Sherlock Holmes, and out-MacGyver MacGyver, when it comes to escaping from a hopeless situation.
Genius doesn’t confer companionship, though, so — some years back — Mr. Peabody adopted a foundling infant who now has grown to kidhood. Thus, the core joke: Instead of the usual boy/dog dynamic, these two always are introduced as Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman (superbly voiced by Max Charles, of TV’s The Neighbors).