It's appropriate that Ty Burrell is the voice of Mr. Peabody in the new animated film "Mr. Peabody & Sherman." Burrell's character on "Modern Family," Phil Dunphy, has a love of puns and silliness clearly shaped by hours in front of the television watching "Peabody's Improbable History," "The Bullwinkle Show" or one of the other animated shows produced by Jay Ward in the '50s and '60s, and Burrell brings that same playfulness to the role.
The Phil Dunphys of the world may be the target audience for the movie as much as the kids usually sought by these films. I'd be surprised if most 7 year olds know who these characters are unless they have a parent - or grandparent - who made them sit down and watch the originals.
This Peabody and Sherman have the modern-day sheen of computer-generated animation, but the movie preserves the low-brow / high-brow sensibility of the original. There may be some dads and granddads pleading with the children this weekend, "Do we have to go see 'The Lego Movie' (or 'Frozen') again? Let's go see 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman.' Trust me."
“Mr; Peabody and Sherman” is based on the characters created in the ‘50s and ‘60s by Jay Ward.
Mr. Peabody is a brainy dog who is an inventor, businessman and Nobel laureate (not to mention the inventor of planking and Zumba). Because he remembers being unwanted as a puppy, he adopts the abandoned baby he finds and raises him to love science and knowledge the way he does with the help of the WABAC machine, a time travel device that lets Sherman learn history from the source.
Penny, one of Sherman's classmates, is jealous of his knowledge, and when Sherman bites her after her endless taunting, it provides an opportunity for Ms. Grunion to try to have the boy removed from Peabody's custody. Further complicating matters is that Sherman takes Penny for a ride on the WABAC machine. They violate the laws of time travel, causing a rift in the time-space continuum with potentially greater consequences than any custody fight.
The main story isn't the draw here, and Craig Wright's script could have done a better job explaining Grunion's motivation. But the structure allows for several journeys into the past - France at the start of the revolution, Troy during the Trojan War, Italy during the Renaissance - that almost work as stand-alone episodes about the same length as the old cartoons. The dialogue of the punny pup doesn't disappoint, and there's plenty of more juvenile humor as well (Sherman tells Penny she can't marry King Tut because his name rhymes with butt, the soldiers drop out of the back of the Trojan horse so it looks like the wooden horse is ... well, you get the idea).
Unlike most animated films, the kids are voiced by kids - 10-year-old Max Charles is Sherman and Alex Winter (who plays Phil's daughter Alex on "Modern Family") is Penny. Director Rob Minkoff (who co-directed "The Lion King") fills the cast with good voices rather than the biggest names.
The movie also has some visual flash. A scene where Sherman and Penny take a ride on Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine is dazzling, and the time travel sequences make good use of the 3D effects, although audiences won't lose much by saving the upcharge and watching this in 2D.
"Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is cute, it's fun, it doesn't tarnish the memories of those who remember the original and it may cultivate a new generation of fans.