Even though it first aired on TV more than half a century ago, “Peabody’s Improbable History” still feels a little ahead of its time. The cartoon adventures of time-traveling brainiac dog Mr. Peabody (that’s pronounced pea-BODY, locals) and his adopted human son, Sherman, had the same clever tone of everything that came out of animation producer Jay Ward’s “Rocky & Bullwinkle” factory. Scripts were gleefully filled with Mr. Peabody’s knowingly bad puns. Casually boasting of his many remarkable achievements, he’d note that he’d been dubbed, yep, the Wolf of Wall Street. The unusual adoption theme was handled matter-of-factly.
This was solid material for creating the DreamWorks feature update “Mr. Peabody & Sherman.” Don’t dumb things down, stick to character, give the duo’s WABAC machine a flashy, 3-D animated rebuild, and you’ve got your movie. And director Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King”) does follow this blueprint to some extent. (Among the slyest wordplay: “This is a little homespun concoction I like to call Einstein on the Beach.”) But the filmmakers also try to lend the story some emotional elements that they clearly feel a movie demands. Not always true.