Jay Ward’s “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” is a beloved touchstone for at least a couple of generations of cartoon-watchers, a Kennedy-era comedy revue that pitched jokes at adults as well as kids. But will it be a draw for 21st-century audiences?
After all, those Cold War-era gags about the tensions between Russia and the USA must be dated now … all right, bad example. But surely many of the routines are ancient history.
We’re about to find out whether there’s a new audience for the shtick, because here’s “Mr. Peabody &Sherman,” an animated feature spun off from a regular segment in the show. If this one doesn’t feel dated, it might be because it always had a loosey-goosey relationship to time.
Mr. Peabody, you will recall, is a genius dog who invents a time-travel device called the Wayback Machine. His adopted son, a human boy named Sherman, accompanies him to great historical moments, always learning a lesson via one of Mr. Peabody’s tortured puns.
Those bits were about five minutes long, so the new film adds an actual storyline around the time jaunts. Here, Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) is accused of being an unworthy adoptive parent, especially after Sherman (Max Charles) is teased at school. Can we trust a canine — even a Nobel Prize-winning one — with the upbringing of a child?
Over the course of a long evening, Mr. Peabody and Sherman (and Sherman’s school frenemey, Penny) go time-tripping to the Trojan War, Da Vinci’s Italy and King Tut-era Egypt.
Stanley Tucci revives his “Big Night” character as Leonardo, and Patrick Warburton voices a funny Greek soldier hiding inside the Trojan Horse.
The Wayback Machine is much more high-tech here than on the TV show, but you’ve got to put something on screen if you’re paying for 3D.
Other than that, the movie has a straightforward, slightly jazzy approach to the past (even as a cartoon, it’s more convincing than “300: Rise of an Empire”).
I liked the film’s casual humor, although it’s odd that director Rob Minkoff (part of the “Lion King” team) doesn’t include more grown-up material. That was always part of the appeal of the original.
As likable as the film generally is, it never gets aloft for sustained periods. It can’t compete with the brass-band musical approach of “Frozen,” nor with the rapid-fire techno-extravaganza that is “The Lego Movie.”
I fear “likable” isn’t going to cut it in today’s crowded animation sweepstakes.
“Mr. Peabody &Sherman” 3 stars
A feature-length spinoff of the segment from the “Rocky &Bullwinkle Show,” featuring the genius dog (voiced by Ty Burrell) who builds a time machine. Mr. Peabody and his adopted human son gather historical lessons in King Tut’s Egypt and the Trojan War in this likable outing, which might be too low-key for a 21st-century kiddie audience.
Rated: PG for subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood 7, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Olympic, Stanwood, Meridian, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.