Though rendered in today’s 3D computer graphics, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” feels nearly as retro as the cartoon (which aired during the late 1950s and early 1960s) on which it’s based. Mr. Peabody is a genius beagle who adopts human-son Sherman and invents the time-traveling WABAC (pronounced wayback) machine to teach history lessons to the 7-year-old boy by experiencing past events firsthand.
In the original cartoon’s five-minute segments, aired between acts of “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” Mr. Peabody and Sherman saved a historic figure from making a severe blunder. After successfully carrying out the mission, Mr. Peabody concludes the segment with a politically incorrect pun that goes over the heads of his five-year-old viewers.
Screenwriter Craig Wright drops the puns and attempts to retool the franchise. He highlights Peabody and Sherman’s cross-species relationship as a symbol of ethnically diverse families, but the concept, already accepted into American culture, seems quaint.
Nerdy Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) is master of all things scientific, but when it comes to the finer points of fatherhood he’s got plenty to learn. He seems to have missed the importance of human emotion until a series of mishaps calls Peabody’s parental rights into question.
At seven years old, Sherman (voiced by Max Charles) displays the rebellious streak of an adolescent. He falls for pretty classmate Penny (Ariel Winter) and tries to impress her during an unchaperoned trip to the distant past via Peabody’s WABAC machine.
The kids visit ancient Egypt, where they are introduced to the practices of killing the pharaoh’s wife upon the pharaoh’s death and removing the body’s organs to achieve mummification.
Meanwhile, back in the present, Mr. Peabody hopes to befriend his detractors by cooking up a gastronomically inspired feast that demonstrates his domestic prowess.
Eventually Peabody must help Sherman to rescue Penny from the Egyptians. A poop sight gag involves the Trojan Horse and another humorous interlude finds Leonardo da Vinci suffering through the creation of moody Mona Lisa’s portrait.
Soon enough Peabody must fix a tear in the space-time continuum, while also learning the saying “I hold you in the deepest regard” doesn’t elicit the same response from a little boy as a hug accompanied by, “I love you.”
The film’s saccharine story line and anachronistic humor fail to hold adult interest, so “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” relies on its time-traveling adventure. Alas, the film is unwilling to create a sense of peril, meaning we never leave our comfort zone and are stuck in a doggone movie.