The animated time-travel adventure “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is a happy surprise, an instance when updating a beloved cartoon character results in a fun romp for kids without despoiling baby-boomer memories of the original.
To explain our heroes, let us briefly travel back in time to the years 1959 to 1963. It was then that Jay Ward, creator of Rocky & Bullwinkle, also created the super-smart dog Mr. Peabody, who adopted an orphaned boy, Sherman. Mr. Peabody is the inventor of the WABAC (pronounced “way-back”) Machine, a time-travel device that allows them to interact with famous figures, set historical wrongs right, and let Mr. Peabody practice his penchant for cleverly awful puns.
OK, now back to the present day, when director Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King,” “Stuart Little”) reintroduces Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman, to a new generation of fans.
Mr. Peabody (here voiced by Ty Burrell) is a supergenius, of course, but also a UN peace broker, inventor and gourmet chef. He’s also guardian to Sherman (voiced by Max Charles), but finds that custodial relationship in danger when Sherman bites a classmate, Penny (voiced by Burrell’s “Modern Family” middle child, Ariel Winter), who had been bullying him.
To make peace, Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents (voiced by Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert) to dinner at his Manhattan penthouse — the same evening that a nasty social worker, Miss Grunion (voiced by Allison Janney), is going to inspect Sherman’s living conditions. Mr. Peabody is determined that everything will go smoothly.
But Mr. Peabody doesn’t account for Sherman showing Penny the WABAC Machine — and Penny getting trapped in ancient Egypt. Thus begins a time-travel adventure with stops in Renaissance Italy and the Trojan War, and messing about with the space-time continuum.
Minkoff and screenwriter Craig Wright maintain the flavor of the old “Peabody’s Improbable History” cartoons — from the fractured portraits of historical figures to Mr. Peabody’s urbane wit — while adding some warmth in the father-son bond between a dog and his boy. (You could read a bigger social metaphor into Mr. Peabody’s custody of Sherman, or you could shut up and enjoy the movie. Your call.)
Most of all, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is a humorous adventure that follows a long line of stories about mixed-up history — everything from “Time Bandits” to “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” — with plenty of charm and wit.
‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’
A dog and his boy hop into their time machine to rewrite history in this entertaining update of the ’60s cartoon.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens today.
Rating • PG for some mild action and brief rude humor.
Running time • 92 minutes.