Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a time-travel movie, a father-and-son movie, a boy-meets-girl movie, and a movie that doggedly celebrates the art of the pun.
But most significant, it is a movie about the smartest creature on Earth - a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who just happens to be a beagle - and his adopted human boy, and the epic trouble that the bowtied canine and his bespectacled kid find themselves in, exploring history firsthand, and firstpaw, thanks to their WABAC Machine. (Yes, that's pronounced way-back.)
A smart, snappy CG-animated adaptation of the 1960s' "Peabody's Improbable History" segments of the classic Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series, Mr. Peabody & Sherman has a cool, midcentury-modern look (dog and boy live in a populuxe Manhattan penthouse) and a voice cast that may not be A-list but fits the bill nicely.
Modern Family's Ty Burrell is just right as the aloof, erudite Peabody. As Sherman, The Neighbors' Max Charles brings the playfulness, and insecurities, of a 7-year-old to life. And Ariel Winter (Alex in Modern Family) is Penny, the prissy classmate who takes an immediate dislike to the know-it-all nerd, mocking and bullying him - until, without permission, Sherman tries to impress her by hopping the WABAC and heading for Egypt, 133 B.C.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman ricochets through the centuries: Renaissance Florence, the French Revolution, ancient Troy, Ben Franklin and his kite, and so on. As the plot thickens, our four-legged polymath protagonist faces challenges both parental and physical, as in laws of physics. Wormholes, black holes, and vagaries in the space-time continuum figure prominently. Where are Spock and Kirk when you need them?
Director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) and his animation team stay true to the spirit of the original episodes - created by the Valley Forge cartoonist Ted Key (also of the popular weekly single-panel cartoon Hazel). But the filmmakers inject a whooshy, propulsive sense of fun into the proceedings, too. And the relationship at the heart of the story, the brainiac dog and his eager-to-please pipsqueak charge, develops in ways that are emotionally genuine, if just a tiny bit far-fetched.
Fetch, Sherman, fetch.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Rob Minkoff. With the voices of Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, and Stephen Colbert. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (cartoon violence)
Playing at: area theaters