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First, the pleasant surprises. In puffing up the slight, absurd Mr. Peabody and Sherman shorts from Jay Ward’s The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show into an 82-minute 3D save-the-timestream child-distractor, director Rob Minkoff and his many writers have preserved a few of the hallmarks distinguishing the Dada, deadpan, almost primitive original, a toon so flat it was almost less than 2D. The structure remains episodic, visiting the French Revolution, Renaissance Italy, and ancient Egypt; genius beagle Mr. Peabody still caps each escapade in history with a proudly terrible pun; and the whole thing has an amiable, gag-to-gag vibe for most of the first hour.
Many of those gags are godawful: Sherman, Mr. Peabody’s human boy companion, points out that "King Tut" rhymes with "butt" and that "booby-trap"has the word "booby" in it. Some don’t even seem to be gags, exactly, but vague notes toward punch lines the writers maybe meant to add later: Sherman’s new bully/galpal/adventure buddy, Penny, heading off to marry a pharaoh, proclaims, "I want a big fat Egyptian wedding." And a handful are killer, as when Peabody, as the god Ra, addresses the people in the Valley of the Kings, telling them that wedding is off and they won’t get their deposits back on the catering. (Ty Burrell, who voices Peabody, finds glory even in the rote.)