Given some of the less than spectacular results of earlier computer animation adaptations of cartoons (“Garfield,” “Scooby Doo”), tackling yet another project in this genre certainly was risky. But the team of director Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King” and “Stuart Little”) and writer Craig Wright — breaking away from penning such presentations as “The United States of Tara” and “Six Feet Under” — have put together in “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” a lively and loving update of the cartoon series that was part of the “Rocky and His Friends” show that ran from 1959 to 1964.
The brain child of Jay Ward and his production company, the “Rocky” series was very much in vogue in those days as a show that required a certain amount of education and sophistication to fully appreciate the humor while still having enough silliness to draw the younger audience.
Mr. Peabody was yet another talking animal, but this time a genius dog — who also happens to be a savvy businessman, inventor, adviser to world leaders, gourmet cook and Olympic gold medalist.
And he set a legal precedent by being the first dog to adopt a boy, as the judge ruled that if a boy can adopt a dog, then a dog should be able to adopt a boy.
Thus as “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” opens, the bespectacled canine delivers a brief history of his life, including his adoption of Sherman when the boy was a baby. This actually strays from te original series in which Sherman already was a grade-school age kid when Mr. Peabody first encounters him.
The story centers around the main theme of the old cartoon series in which Mr. Peabody uses his invention, the WABAC time machine to travel back to earlier eras, accompanied by Sherman. In between the adventures, Sherman is given history lessons, and sometimes Mr. Peabody has to alter events to make them flow to their historically accurate conclusions.
In the updated version, Sherman starts school but has a run in with Penny Peterson (voice of Ariel Winter) that leads to interruption in the orderly life of the dog and his boy, including the heavy-handed bureaucrat Ms. Grunnion (Allison Janney), determined to take Sherman away from Mr. Peabody.
The unflappable dog, voiced by Ty Burrell from “Modern Family,” invites Penny’s parents Paul (Stephen Colbert) and Patty (Leslie Mann), along with Ms. Grunnion over for dinner and a resolution to the ugly incident.
Despite orders from Mr. Peabody not to tell anybody about the WABAC, Sherman spills the beans about the machine to Penny and the adventuress girl goads the boy into putting the machine into operation.
Now the action picks up and harkens back to the original series premise of Mr. Peabody using his smarts to keep history on track, including undoing a rift the travelers have created in the time continuum.
Along the way we meet Marie Antoinette (Lauri Fraser), Leonardo da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), Odysseus (Tom McGrath) and his Trojan Horse soldiers, King Tut (Zach Callison) and Mona Lisa (Lake Bell).
Of course, things do not always go smoothly and amid the chaos both Sherman and Penny grow up a little bit and even the steadfast Mr. Peabody learns about expressing affection.
The animation, as expected, is lush and colorful and although a 3D version has been released, regular screenings are just as enchanting. As is the story. Mr. Peabody makes being a know-it-all charming.