It’s always tricky to mess with Baby Boomers’ beloved TV shows.
Sometimes big screen versions work, sometimes they don’t.
ABOUT THE FILM
The latest effort is “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” part of what’s likely the single most loved cartoon for Boomers, especially the cool kids from the 1960s.
That original cartoon was “Rocky and His Friends” that began in 1959. Bullwinkle, a dimwitted moose, had several sometimes very weird adventures with Rocky, a flying squirrel.
Other segments showed, too. Like, “Dudley Do-Right,” “Boris and Natasha” and “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.”
The movie versions of those “Rocky and His Friends” shorts weren’t great and neither was an effort to make a “Bullwinkle” movie.
The first effort was “Boris and Natasha,” a 1992 live action TV movie. Starring Sally Kellerman and Dave Thomas, it faded away, forgotten.
A better effort was “Dudley Do-Right” (1999) which contained some genuine laughs. Starring a well-cast Brendan Fraser – at the height of his powers – and Sarah Jessica Parker as the ever-in-peril Nell, the film still flopped.
The real biggie that many Bullwinkle devotees awaited was “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” (2000). With Robert De Niro as the Fearless Leader, Jason Alexander (George from TV’s “Seinfeld”) as Boris and Rene Russo as Natasha – as well as guest roles by Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, John Goodman and Janeane Garofalo – hopes were high.
Alas, it wasn’t great. With animation combined with live-action, the madcap essence of the TV show was attempted, but it just didn’t work often enough.
Still, producers took a shot that a “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” movie might fly. After all, plenty of Boomers got their early tastes of history from the genius dog, Mr. Peabody, teaching “his boy,” Sherman.
All computer-generated, “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is the best of the “Bullwinkle” bunch so far.
Super-intelligent dog Mr. Peabody (voiced by the funny Ty Burrell, from TV’s “Modern Family”) finds a baby in a basket and convinces a judge that “every dog should have a boy.”
Soon, the kid, Sherman (Max Charles, a non-alien from TV’s “The Neighbors”) is old enough for school. He’s already plenty smart; after all, Mr. Peabody has developed the WABAC, a time machine that allows them to witness history firsthand.
At school, mean Penny (Ariel Winter, also from “Modern Family”) mocks Sherman for being “a dog” since his dad’s a dog. To remedy the bullying situation, Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents for a visit.
That’s when Penny convinces Sherman to take the WABAC out for a spin. Penny almost marries King Tut. Soon, Mr. Peabody and Sherman are trying to get her back to present time before her parents know she’s missing.
They need some help from Leonardo Da Vinci (Stanley Tucci) who is having his own problems attempting to get Mona Lisa (Lake Bell) to smile.
Bouncing along historical timelines, the trio ends up at the Trojan War and the French Revolution. And the threesome also run across Albert Einstein (Mel Brooks), Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Isaac Newton, and even Bill Clinton (all by Jess Harnell).
When the two time continuums threaten to merge, all the great minds in history must figure out how to solve the dilemma. And the guy that does is Sherman.
This animation is great and looks really good in 3-D. DreamWorks’ movies are usually exceptional in 3-D, and this one is, too.
The film is slick and colorful, and the movie contains several throwbacks to the “Rocky and His Friends” TV show – sometimes using the exact language (like the bit about every dog needing a boy).
Burrell is good as Mr. Peabody. Other standouts are Allison Janney as the aggressive Ms. Gruion, a social worker, and, especially, Patrick Warburton as Greek hero Agamemnon.
There are also some witty film references, from “Indiana Jones” to “Spartacus.” (That latter mention requires some deeper-than-normal film knowledge.)
Some pop culture references are evident – “Don’t’ tase me, bro” – and former presidents deliver some laughs, especially Clinton’s one line.
“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is not a linear movie. After Sherman is adopted, his relationship to his doggy dad is illustrated in reverse aging – from boy to baby – sort of a backward “Up” (2009, an 8) marriage flashback.
The capper is the sequence unspools to John Lennon’s sweet song “Beautiful Boy.”
It’s cute, and, while nothing will ever top that heartbreaking “Up” flashback, this one is fun.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
The laughs are lacking here. While there are some giggles occasionally, you could get more chuckles out of a couple of TV episodes than this entire movie.
“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is simply pleasant. It’s not one of the top animated efforts in recent times – and that’s a bummer because it could’ve been. The Movie Man was surprised at that.
It’s hard to buy when Penny suddenly goes from mean girl to smitten youngster.
The first 20 minutes or so are all situation setup, and they drag. The kids in the audience – and there were a lot – got pretty antsy before things finally picked up when Penny and Sherman reach ancient Egypt.
There’s some very mild potty humor – characters escape more than once from the rear ends of inanimate objects. Otherwise, this is a mild PG.
“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is inoffensive and won’t upset kids or adults. The Movie Man just wishes it were funnier.
Nothing looks too hot, so the Movie Man might step back for “300: Rise of an Empire,” which is getting surprisingly good reviews.