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‘Peabody & Sherman’ a sweet, geeky jaunt

Animated films have seen their share of uptight dads — the most memorable being merman Triton and his strict rule over daughter Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” and the over-protective caveman Grug in the prehistoric journey “The Croods.” Mr. Peabody the dog in the charming “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is no different.

As the aforementioned papas learned, this overbearing beagle must eventually loosen the leash he has on his adopted son, Sherman. But this is especially difficult for Mr. Peabody, since Sherman is not only a lively youngster, but a human one.

Heartfelt and snappy, DreamWorks Animation’s “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” follows the wild adventures that bond a dog and his boy. Within the first few moments, we discover Mr. Peabody (voiced by a tenacious and loveable Ty Burrell) is a pseudo-intellectual dog who attended Harvard. Meticulous and reserved, Mr. Peabody’s success has earned him an impressive penthouse in New York City and the consent to adopt Sherman (voiced by child actor Max Charles of ABC’s “The Neighbors”), who he found abandoned in a cardboard box as a baby.

Like last year’s wacky, yet underwhelming “Free Birds,” this animated feature features time-travel. Luckily, “Peabody & Sherman” offers a tighter plot and adorably geeky dialogue, thanks to writer Craig Wright (“Six Feet Under”). Via a time-machine he’s invented, papa Peabody has enriched Sherman’s upbringing with visits to past eras and the benchmark events within them — like Vincent van Gogh’s creation of “The Starry Night.”

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, Mr. Peabody and Sherman first appeared in “Peabody’s Improbable History,” a segment within the animated television series “Rocky and His Friends” and later “The Bullwinkle Show.” The latest film modernizes the duo’s story, time-machine still included, into a 3-D jaunt.

Now in elementary school, Sherman, a cute kid with wild red hair and huge glasses, is curious and frisky. On his first day of class, a brainy blonde named Penny (voiced by Ariel Winter of “Modern Family”) starts a fight with Sherman when he challenges her knowledge of George Washington, who he’s actually met in his time travels.

Despite the aptitude of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, we never really get another glimpse of Penny’s intelligence, even as she becomes a central character. Instead, she’s mostly obnoxious and when Sherman takes her for a ride on the time machine, she leads him to be disobedient. But she also encourages him to be a risk-taker, fostering his individuality and that of the little ones watching. It’s here that Mr. Peabody learns a thing or two about parenting. He must remain in control, while allowing Sherman to make mistakes.

As Mr. Peabody and Sherman visit ancient Egypt, the French Revolution and the Trojan War, historical tidbits unfold in cunning ways. However, aspects of their adventures, like Leonardo da Vinci’s weird robot baby invention, are often too loony. But the story, with additional voices by Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann and Allison Janney, does have the ability to inspire kids’ curiosity about historical benchmarks. And though a few corny jokes may go over their heads — “Perhaps I’m an old Giza,” Mr. Peabody says after leaving Egypt — jabs at Spartacus and Bill Clinton will make adults giggle.

Directed by Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King,” “Stuart Little”) and with Jason Schleifer (“Megamind”) as the head of character animation, the visuals are stylish and clean. But the 3-D effect is unnecessary. Danny Elfman, whose credits include “Big Fish” and 14 Tim Burton films, crafts a score that’s sprightly and sentimental. The most touching moments come during montages of Mr. Peabody and Sherman playing sports.

The kiddie film is a big wet kiss for dogs and dog lovers that champions loyalty and bravery as not only traits of canines, but as universal attributes.

New Broadway season has something for everyone

There’s Denzel Washington and Billy Crystal, plenty of Shakespeare and a nice dash of Harold Pinter. There’s even a musical of the boxing classic “Rocky” and the much anticipated return of Neil Patrick Harris and “Les Mis.”

This upcoming season on Broadway seems to have something for everyone.

STARS, STARS, STARS

Broadway once again will be the destination for A-list celebs, including Denzel Washington, Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Zachary Quinto, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Diahann Carroll, Mary-Louise Parker, Patrick Stewart, Zach Braff, Billy Crystal, Ethan Hawke, Fantasia Barrino and “Iron Man 3” star Rebecca Hall. Theater buffs will welcome back Cherry Jones, Idina Menzel, Condola Rashad and the British star Mark Rylance.

MULTIPLE CHARACTERS

Mark Rylance will star in two startlingly different roles: as the love-struck noblewoman Olivia in “Twelfth Night” and as the ruthless and conniving title monarch in “Richard III.” And Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley will all tackle multiple roles in “No Man’s Land” and “Waiting for Godot.” But the most characters this season will be performed by Jefferson Mays, who will play a whopping eight roles in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”

PINTEREST

Fans of the late Nobel laureate Harold Pinter will be seeing double this season. His play “Betrayal” arrives in October with real-life married stars Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, and a month later a revival of his “No Man’s Land” will play in repertoire with “Waiting for Godot,” starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. It’s the first time since 1976 that two Pinter plays are simultaneously on Broadway.

THE BARD

Just two? One playwright will have a staggering four works on Broadway this season – William Shakespeare. First comes “Romeo and Juliet” with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad in September, then “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III” with Mark Rylance in November, and then a new “Macbeth” with Ethan Hawke, less than six months after Alan Cumming offered his own one-man version. Oh, and Julie Taymor will direct “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” off-Broadway and Elizabeth Olsen will be Juliet in her own off-Broadway production.

SINGERS TO STAGE

Musicals built around legendary female singers and songwriters are coming thick and fast, starting with Mary Bridget Davies starring in “A Night With Janis Joplin” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” starring Jessie Mueller. Off-Broadway this fall will be Dee Dee Bridgewater as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day” and down the road will be “American Idol” contestant Crystal Bowersox in “Always … Patsy Cline.” Look for more: Diane Warren’s prodigious songbook has been optioned for a musical.

REVIVE, REVIVE

The second revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” (with Denzel Washington and Diahann Carroll) and the sixth revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” (with Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto) are coming to Broadway. The Roundabout Theatre Company will offer the first revival of “Machinal” (starring Rebecca Hall) since it made its debut 85 years ago and also the first revival of Terence Rattigan’s “The Winslow Boy.” The Roundabout is also reviving two celebrated stage works about marriages in crisis – Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” and Donald Margulies’ “Dinner With Friends.”

NEW AND NEWISH

The creators of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Next to Normal” have returned with the new musical “If/Then” starring Idina Menzel, due on Broadway this spring after a debut in Washington, D.C. Singer Fantasia Barrino and actor Dule Hill team up in “After Midnight,” which appeared off-Broadway last year. Woody Allen has adapted his film “Bullets Over Broadway” into a world premiere musical starring Zach Braff, while Mary-Louise Parker will star in the world premiere of “Snow Geese,” a new play by Sharr White.

“YO, ADRIAN!”

One of the more intriguing offerings will be a musical based on Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 film “Rocky.” It features a score by “Ragtime” veterans Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and a story by Thomas Meehan, who wrote “The Producers” and “Hairspray.” The director is Alex Timbers, who directed Broadway’s “The Pee-wee Herman Show” and directed and wrote the book for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” The “Rocky” musical was a hit in Germany and will throw its hat into the Broadway ring in the spring.

HARRIS AS HEDWIG

One of the most likable, bankable Broadway stars – Neil Patrick Harris – will star in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Harris stars as Hedwig in tale of obsession, glam rock, a botched sex-change operation and a quest for identity.

OLD HOME

When “Les Miserables” arrives on Broadway from a national tour in March, it will find a familiar home – the Imperial Theatre, the show’s former venue on Broadway for nearly 13 years.  The new show marks the third time “Les Mis” has made it to Broadway, but the 2012 film with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried gave it fresh heat.

BOOKS-TO-STAGE

John Grisham’s legal thriller “A Time to Kill” comes to Broadway starring Sebastian Arcelus. Robert James Waller’s romantic novel “The Bridges of Madison County” arrives, starring Kelli O’Hara. And the musical “Big Fish” – based on a 1998 novel “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” by Daniel Wallace and also a 2003 film – comes around starring Norbert Leo Butz and with songs by Andrew Lippa. “Act One,” the autobiography of Moss Hart, will make it onstage at Lincoln Center. 

MOUSE RETURNS

Disney Theatrical Productions, which has produced the big hits “Mary Poppins,” “Newsies” and “The Lion King,” is preparing a new musical based on the animated hit “Aladdin,” with new songs by hit maker Alan Menken and direction and choreography by Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw, whose previous hits include “The Book of Mormon” and “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The new musical will first be staged in Toronto this November with an eye to bringing it to Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theatre in early 2014.

CRYSTAL GEMS

Billy Crystal’s poignant one-man autobiographical show “700 Sundays” was a Broadway success during the 2004-2005 season, playing to sold-out houses and winning a Tony Award for special theatrical experience. Crystal took it on the road, both in America and abroad. Now it’s coming back – to die. Crystal insists he’s saying goodbye to the show in the city where it all took place. Previews begin in November.

IN THE WORKS?

Newly crowned Tony-winning lead actor Tracy Letts is planning a quick return to Broadway as the playwright of “Killer Joe.” “Allegiance,” George Takei ‘s show about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and a musical based on the film “Ever After” led by Kathleen Marshall, are eyeing Broadway theaters this season. Hugh Jackman’s Broadway return in “Houdini” will depend on how a full reading of the show goes in December. Plus, the Broadway debut of the goofy “Dames at Sea” is promised next year.

OFF-BROADWAY NUGGETS

Cherry Jones will be in “When We Were Young and Unafraid” at New York City Center. Off-Broadway theaters will also boast the return of Blythe Danner, Betty Buckley, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Laurie Metcalf, as well as plays by August Wilson, Bruce Norris, David Henry Hwang, Horton Foote, Stephen Adly Guirgis and Ethan Coen, and even a stage version of “Little Miss Sunshine.” Mike Daisey, the disgraced monologist who acknowledged making up chunks of his last show about Apple products, returns to the Public Theater with a slate of 29 new works.

CHRISTMAS CHEER

The Tony Award-nominated musical adapted from the film “A Christmas Story” will play at Madison Square Garden with many of the original adult cast members – including Dan Lauria, John Bolton, Erin Dilly and Caroline O’Connor – who made the show a delight last Christmas on Broadway. The show marks the Broadway debut of rising songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, as well as a kid who gets his tongue stuck to a frozen flagpole during a triple-dog-dare.