Man is a dog’s best friend in Rob Minkoff’s computer-animated time-travelling yarn based on characters created for segments in the 1960s TV series, The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show.
Mr Peabody & Sherman harnesses the latest digital trickery to propel the hyper-intelligent canine protagonist and his adopted son on a rip-roaring adventure, including pit-stops in besieged Troy, 18th century France and the Italian Renaissance.
As a potted history lesson, the film shoehorns facts and figures including the mummification rituals of King Tutankhamun (voiced by Zach Callison) between breathlessly orchestrated action set-pieces and slapstick humour.
Craig Wright’s smart script refuses to roll over for sugary sentiment, charting a less obvious route to our heartstrings as the four-legged lead character learns that when his son says, “I love you”, it’s unacceptable to respond, “I have a deep regard for you as well”.
Mr Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) is a talking dog, whose myriad achievements include a Nobel Prize, two Olympic medals and the invention of zumba.
He has captains of industry on speed-dial but Mr Peabody’s greatest triumph is his adopted son, Sherman (Max Charles), who has nurtured a fascination with history by accompanying his father on time-travelling expeditions using the top-secret Wayback Machine.
On his first day at school, Sherman antagonises class swot Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter) and the youngsters get in a fight, which culminates in the lad biting his nemesis.
Dastardly child protective services officer Mrs Grunion (Allison Janney) threatens to take Sherman away from his father and insists on a home visit to gauge Mr Peabody’s suitability as a carer. The plucky pooch invites Penny and her parents Paul (Stephen Colbert) and Patty (Leslie Mann) to his plush New York home in the hope of patching up the children’s differences in front of Mrs Grunion.
Instead, Sherman lets slip about the Wayback Machine to Penny and the classmates accidentally create ripples through time. So the enterprising pooch and troublesome tykes leap back into the device to repair the temporal damage.
With limitless possibilities for sequels, Mr Peabody & Sherman maintains a pace brisk to ensure younger audiences are constantly engaged. A prelude detailing Mr Peabody’s difficult puppy years is hysterical – he refuses to chase a stick thrown by one boy because, “You’ll just throw it again. It’s an exercise in futility”.
Mr Peabody’s groansome puns, the stock in trade of any parent, elicit a bewildered response from Sherman – “I don’t get it” – that provides a running joke. Famous figures including Leonardo da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), Mona Lisa (Lake Bell) and Agamenon (Patrick Warburton) litter the haphazard narrative.
However, it’s the touching central relationship that anchors the picture and ensures Minkoff’s colour-saturated romp is a well-groomed pick of the animated litter.