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Cartoon revival 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' is smarter than expected.


"Mr. Peabody & Sherman'' PG -- Will kids 6 and older be as amused as adults at this 3-D animated time-travel adventure featuring a genius talking dog and his adopted human son, both of them bespectacled nerds? Well, probably yes.

While some of the historical references will zoom past them, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman'' will still strike the 6-and-older crowd as being funny. It updates the "Peabody's Improbable History'' segments from the 1950s and '60s TV 'toon shows "Rocky and His Friends'' and "The Bullwinkle Show,'' beloved by baby boomers.

The pooch Mr. Peabody (voice of Ty Burrell) is a master of science, history, math and more. He is also the inventor of the WABAC (as in way-back) time machine, in which he and his boy Sherman (Max Charles) travel back to meet the likes of Marie Antoinette, Leonardo da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), Mona Lisa (Lake Bell), Albert Einstein (Mel Brooks), Agamemnon (Patrick Warburton) and Gandhi. When Sherman starts school, a girl named Penny (Ariel Winter) bullies and mocks him for having a dog for a dad. She headlocks him, so Sherman bites her.

In the principal's office, a grim social worker, Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney), threatens to have Sherman taken away from Mr. Peabody. Hoping to mend fences, Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents (voices of Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann) to dinner.

Sherman and Penny play with the WABAC machine, and Penny gets stuck in ancient Egypt. Mr. Peabody puts her parents in a trance while he and Sherman go get her, with stops in Renaissance Florence and ancient Troy.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The script includes mild sexual innuendo that only adults will catch, toilet humor, and adult characters who drink. Sherman and Penny take off in Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine and nearly crash. In ancient Egypt, Penny learns that if she marries King Tut, she will be disemboweled and mummified. Ms. Grunion hints that Mr. Peabody's adoption of Sherman is "unhealthy.''

"300: Rise of an Empire'' R -- Ancient history meets the graphic novel and 3-D cinema in this loud, bloody sequel/prequel to "300'' (R, 2006).

Rated R and not meant for under-17s because of its blood-gushing battles and an explicit sexual situation, this new film will irritate scholars and other purists, but give history, action and graphic novel buffs the adrenaline rush and atmospherics they crave.

In addition to the bloody battles, the film echoes with "big'' speeches, every one of them a variation on the "St. Crispin's Day'' pre-battle exhortation by the young king in Shakespeare's "Henry V.''

In the first film, Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) fought to their deaths against the invading Persian forces of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. In this new film, Leonidas' widow, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), recounts what led up to the war -- the killing of Xerxes' father by a Greek general, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), years earlier.

The Persians came back for revenge and Themistokles feels responsible. After the defeat at Thermopylae, he leads a small Greek navy against a huge Persian armada led by bloodthirsty Artemisia (Eva Green), hoping that Queen Gorgo and her Spartan forces will join in the battle for a free, united Greece.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Looking more black than red in light-dimming 3-D, the blood gushes and spurts operatically as Greek and Persian warriors hack through necks, torsos and limbs. Though the mayhem is more stylized than graphic, a sense of gore and falling heads pervades the battle scenes. A single sadomasochistic sexual situation with partial nudity gets quite explicit, with rare but strong sexual language.

"The Wind Rises'' PG-13 -- There will always be kids who fall in love with airplanes. This film is for them -- at least those 10 and older -- and for those who understand that animation can be a sublime art.

They will soar with "The Wind Rises,'' thanks to the artistry of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. (Two of his hand-drawn classics are "Ponyo,'' G, 2008, and "Spirited Away,'' PG, 2001.) Miyazaki sets his tale in the Japan of the 1920s and '30s, leading up to World War II.

His hero is a composite of airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Zero fighters used by Japan in the war, and a writer of the period, Tatsuo Hori. We first meet Jiro (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this dubbed version) as a sleeping boy who dreams of airships. Single-minded in his obsession, the adult Jiro seems barely aware of the militarist government for which he works. (The Oscar-nominated film has taken hits for its perceived uncritical view of Japan in that period.)

THE BOTTOM LINE: Nightmare images of flying warships in a roiling sky and other battle scenes, while they show no injuries, could unsettle kids under 10. One character has a terminal disease. Everyone smokes.
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Horwitz, Jane
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 7, 2014
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