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-loved “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 (Max Charles) from Peabody’s custody. And a taunting girl classmate (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 a 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 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!
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“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” has all of that. And puns. Must have puns. Must have Peabody (“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.
Frantically paced by director Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King”) and making very effective use of 3D — 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 and the gag about Egyptian funerary disembowelments leave a bad taste in the mouth.
But 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.
Soren Andersen: firstname.lastname@example.org