** (out of four)
Considering how frequently this 3-D animated comedy resorts to a subject its young viewers assuredly find hilarious, I'm surprised the filmmakers didn't kick caution in the you-know-what and call the movie, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman and Butts." Seriously, this movie has a lot of jokes about butts. Butts! Never gets old.
Actually, these gags -- including characters emerging from the back of both the Sphinx and the Trojan Horse -- improve on the pun assault from Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell of "Modern Family"), the bespectacled, bow tie-wearing dog who proves you don't have to wear pants to win a Nobel Prize. Would a brilliant, talking canine who adopted now-7-year-old Sherman (Max Charles) actually call himself the Harvard "valedogtorian"? Or, regarding the aforementioned historical horse, say, "If at first you don't succeed, Troy, Troy again," like he's auditioning for a Kevin James pilot?
Peabody, Sherman and class bully Penny (Ariel Winter, also of "Modern Family") attempt to return home after traveling through Peabody's time machine, which provides Sherman first-hand historical knowledge. Speaking of turning back the clock, you probably know that these characters originated on the late-1950s cartoon "Rocky and His Friends." That's a long time before the movie's target audience was born, and well before the failed 2000 live-action attempt at "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle." It's hard to understand the logic behind reviving a property most viewers have no allegiance to -- though of course, "The Lego Movie," admittedly a more contemporary product, showed that if the movie is great, the source material hardly matters.
First-time feature writer Craig Wright's ("Six Feet Under") script has a few laughs, and Sherman nicely values knowledge and family. But Burrell sounds uncertain as Peabody, a character more effective as a parent promoting intelligence than an annoying know-it-all who, aside from looking like a dog, is barely one at all. The subplot of a woman arguing that this single dad can't be a suitable parent should include characters addressing that most canines don't speak English, own penthouse apartments and play the bagpipes.
And, really, can't we go to ancient Greece without an Achilles' heel joke and see Peabody doing yoga without him asking, "You were expecting downward dog, perhaps?"
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