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A dog and his boy Mr. Peabody and Sherman'

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Animated adventure appeals to young and old alike

As a child, I was a huge fan of the work of Jay Ward. 'The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show' was a staple of my childhood Saturday mornings. Granted, I came along a touch after the show's heyday, but it was still a personal favorite.

One of the most memorable of the show's many segments was the recurring feature of 'Peabody's Improbable History.' The base concept a genius dog and his boy sidekick traveling through history and mucking things up was one that had great appeal for the nerdy kid that I was.

So when I heard about the upcoming big screen incarnation of 'Mr. Peabody and Sherman,' I felt equal parts excitement and trepidation. While the idea of a beloved part of my childhood being reinvented for a new generation pleased me, it's hard to shake the sense that Hollywood might screw it up; one needs only look as far back as 2000's 'The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle' to see in just how terrible a direction this project might travel.

Happily, they more or less got it right.

Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell, TV's 'Modern Family') is the most brilliant mind on the planet. He is an accomplished inventor and scientist, a Nobel Prize winnerjust an all-around genius. He is also a dog. Mr. Peabody and his adopted son, Sherman (Max Charles, TV's 'The Neighbors'), have adventures through history in Mr. Peabody's greatest invention, the WABAC a time machine.

But when Sherman is bullied at school at the hands of Penny (Ariel Winter, TV's 'Modern Family'), things start to go south. Peabody is put on notice by a social worker, the humorless Ms. Grunion (Alison Janney, TV's 'Mom') if Sherman continues to act out, Grunion will remove him from Mr. Peabody's custody.

In an attempt to make nice, Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents Paul (Stephen Colbert, TV's 'The Colbert Report') and Patty (Leslie Mann, 'The Bling Ring') to a dinner party. However, things quickly go awry when Sherman succumbs to the temptation to show Penny the WABAC, leading to a madcap romp through ancient Egypt, the Renaissance and ancient Greece among others. These misadventures through time put the children, Mr. Peabody and eventually the entire space-time continuum in grave danger.

Part of what made the original series and indeed, the whole Rocky and Bullwinkle package so appealing was the combination of dry wit, social satire and childish goofiness. For the most part, 'Mr. Peabody and Sherman' keeps alive that anarchic spirit (although it's not as subversive as the original). The combination of smart jokes and fart jokes feels just right; they even kept the inevitably groan-inducing albeit clever puns that permeated the cartoon. While the end result has definitely been somewhat homogenized, there's enough of the spirit of the original to appeal to old-school fans as well as the newer generation.

It's a strong vocal cast. Burrell is a perfect choice for Mr. Peabody, capturing the essence of the character without trying too hard to recreate the voice of the original. Charles and Winter are kids being kids as Sherman and Penny. The supporting cast is delightful Janney is a standout, while Colbert and Mann are both delightful. Other familiar voices include Stanley Tucci ('The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'), Lake Bell ('In a World'), Dennis Haysbert ('Welcome to the Jungle') and Patrick Warburton (TV's 'The Venture Brothers').

For anyone with fond memories of the original, 'Mr. Peabody and Sherman' will feel like a reunion with an old friend. Sure, maybe he's had a little work done, but underneath the new veneer, it's a familiar face. And judging by the reactions from the younger viewers at my screening, these two might have found a place with a new audience.

It really is true every dog should have a boy.

[4 out of 5]

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