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‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’: A dog, his boy and lots of laughs

The WABAC machine whisks Mr. Peabody (voice Ty Burrell)  Penny (Ariel Winter) Sherman (Max Charles) ingremoments history “Mr. Peabody

The WABAC machine whisks Mr. Peabody (voice of Ty Burrell), Penny (Ariel Winter) and Sherman (Max Charles) into great moments in history in “Mr. Peabody & Sherman.” | DREAMWORKS ANIMATION

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& sherman’ ★★★

With the voices of:

Peabody Ty Burrell

Sherman Max Charles

Penny Ariel Winter

Ms. Grunion Allison Janney

Dreamworks Animation presents a film directed by Rob Minkoff and written by Craig Wright, based on a feature from “Rocky & His Friends,” produced by Jay Ward. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated PG (for some mild action and brief rude humor). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: April 8, 2014 6:13AM

As more of a books or baseball kid than a cartoon-watching kid, I didn’t really have the animated series “Peabody’s Improbable History” on my radar. What I remember is there was a talking dog and something about a WABAC machine, and about half the time when people talked about “Peabody’s Improbable History,” they called it “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” or “Mr. Sherman & Peabody,” or “Sherman & Mr. Peabody.”

Mr. Peabody’s the dog. Sherman’s his adopted son. Got it.

Whether you know every episode of the old TV show or these characters and the premise are brand new to you, Dreamworks’ big-screen “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is a whip-smart, consistently funny and good-natured film with some terrific voice performances and one of the most hilarious appearances ever by an animated version of a living human being, and I’ll just leave it at that.

Ty Burrell (Phil Dunphy on “Modern Family”) has the perfect delivery for a beagle that seems to be not only the lone talking dog on Earth, but also the smartest being of any kind on the planet. He’s a Nobel Prize winner, a superstar athlete, master of hundreds of musical instruments and languages — and the inventor of the WABAC machine, which allows him to take his boy Sherman to countless pivotal memorable moments in history, from the Trojan War to the Renaissance to the birth of the United States to the bleachers at Ebbets Field as Jackie Robinson hits a home run.

Max Charles voices the nerdy Sherman, while Ariel Winter (who plays the middle daughter Alex on “Modern Family”) is Penny Peterson, who becomes Sherman’s tormenter on his first day of school and gets tangled up in a series of time-traveling misadventures with Sherman and Mr. Peabody.

Although there weren’t many pop-right-OUT-at-you moments in the 3D animation, the visuals are otherwise vibrant and richly detailed. This is one of “big head” animated efforts in which the characters have oversized craniums and large eyes, the better to convey their, well, cartoonishly exaggerated expressions. Works perfectly for a movie in which humans aren’t the least bit freaked out by a talking dog that loves a good pun. (Escaping Marie Antoinette’s France and lamenting her ruling foibles, Mr. Peabody observes, “You can’t have your cake and edict, too.”)

As Mr. Peabody and Sherman (and usually Penny) bounce from adventure to adventure with the likes of the boy King Tut, the Greek King Agamemnon and Leonardo Da Vinci, the running plot line in modern times concerns a child services worker who wants to take Sherman from Mr. Peabody, because she (and a number of other humans) believe it’s sacrilege for a dog — even a dog with an IQ of 250 and immense wealth — to be a parent to a boy. If you want to read a valuable message in there about real-world intolerance of “non-traditional” family units, you’re probably not wrong.

But “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” isn’t anything like one of those overly preachy animated films in which we’re constantly hit over the head with reminders of how we’re killing the planet. This movie is all about the father-son relationship between a dog and his boy, Mr. Peabody using his amazing brain to extricate our heroes from one pickle after another, and lots of sight gags and goofy puns, with some clever one-liners intended for the parents in the audience.

We’re not in Academy Award nomination territory. This isn’t some breathtaking animated spectacle. But it’s really good at what it wants to be: funny, smart, cheerful and sweet.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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