Review: 'Mr. Peabody' full of sight gags, puns

Contributing writerMarch 7, 2014 

Sherman, voiced by Max Charles, right, and Mr. Peabody, voiced by Ty Burell, in a scene from “Mr Peabody & Sherman.”

DREAMWORKS ANIMATION

At first it seems as though the animated “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is derived from pretty thin source material: a series of five-minute cartoons from the much-revered “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show” about a genius dog and his geeky human son who travel back in time where they interact with famous figures and the dog indulges a penchant for truly terrible puns.

But on second thought, hmm. Dog is father to a boy. Plenty of opportunities there to explore the legal and social ramifications of an unusual interspecies relationship. An odious child protective services bureaucrat (voiced by Allison Janney) is determined to remove little Sherman (voiced by Max Charles) from Peabody’s custody. And a taunting girl classmate (voiced by Ariel Winter) who derides Sherman as a dog must be made to see the error of her ways by tripping back in time with the boy in the WABAC Machine.

Oh yes, time travel! The space-time continuum will surely be warped and, uh, woofed — puns: they’re contagious — in that scenario.

Plus there are history lessons to be mined from the material. For instance, did you know that the ancient Egyptian burial rites sometimes included human sacrifice and that mummification involved removing the internal organs and preserving them in objects called canopic jars? Educational!

“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” has all of that. And puns. Must have puns. Must have Peabody (voiced by “Modern Family’s” Ty Burrell), after a visit to the famed Trojan city, intoning, “If at first you don’t succeed, Troy, Troy again.” There’s plenty more where that came from. A moviegoer’s groan reflex will be taxed to the max by this picture.

Frantically paced by director Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King”) and making very effective use of 3-D — Hey! Get that sword out of my face! — the movie will surely appeal to kids. Unfortunately, a not-insignificant part of that appeal derives from poop jokes. There’s a road apple reference relating to the Trojan Horse. And when our heroes are ejected from the Sphinx’s rear, oh dear. Plus, there’s the scene set in the sewers of Paris where – well, you get the idea.

Other jokes seem pretty harsh for young viewers. A guillotine sequence from the French Revolution leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And a gag about Egyptian funerary disembowelments makes one want to gag.

It all ends with hugs and sweetness — let boy and dog embrace — and if I had to guess, I’d say a sequel is a distinct possibility.

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