by Universal Pictures 

June 2000

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

I should start out by admitting that I am a big fan of the old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” show in its various incarnations from the 1960s.  When my wife, who had no memory of the show, sat down and watched a few episodes with me a couple years back, she turned to me and commented that she now understood where I got some of my sense of humor.  With the release of the semi-live-action film “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle,” it was time to introduce my daughter to the famous Moose and Squirrel team.

When the film opens, the narrator quickly explains what all the principals have been doing since the show was cancelled.  Boris Badenov (Jason Alexander), Natasha Fatale (Rene Russo) and Fearless Leader (Robert DeNiro) have had free reign to terrorize the west since the fall of the iron curtain (insert visual gag here), Rocky and Bullwinkle are living on ever decreasing residuals from the reruns of the shows and the narrator himself is living at home calling his mother’s activities as a play-by-play man.

The live action begins when the three villains manage to sign a contract with Minnie Mogul (Janeane Garofalo), a Hollywood producer, and are sucked from the animated world of Jay War into our own world where Fearless Leader plots to take over the presidency.  The FBI sends agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to get the assistance of Rocky and Bullwinkle to defeat the dastardly trio.

Rocky’s voice (as well as the narrator’s mother and Natasha as a cartoon) is performed by the talented June Foray, who provided Rocky and Natasha’s voice in the original series.  Despite her age, Foray manages to provide Rocky with the same youthful voice the squirrel has always had and also provides a strong link to the original series.  Bullwinkle’s voice (and the narrator) is provided by Keith Scott, who does a masterful job of impersonating the late Bill Scott (no relation), the original voice of Bullwinkle.  Alexander and Russo also manage to do a wonderful job portraying Boris and Natasha’s movements, however they come across looking strange when done by live humans rather than cartoon characters.

The satirical, self-aware humor of the original series remains intact, skewering modern American society from celebrity trials to the fact that all towns have begun to look the same.  On a few occasions, the film misses the mark, most notably the protests at Bullwinkle’s alma mater, Whassamatta U, which seem out of place in turn-of-the-millennium America.  However, Boris’s attempts to use a computer to destroy his nemeses is a wonderful touch.

While the classic characters are all wonderfully portrayed, the new element, Karen Sympathy, does not work well.  The character does not seem to fit the style of Rocky and Bullwinkle and the actress (a very young-looking twenty-three year old Piper Perabo) hardly looks old enough to have grown up with and appreciated Rocky and Bullwinkle.  While Perabo doesn’t hinder the pace of the film, she never really seems to fit in with her co-stars.

Many of the standard elements from the television show were left out.  Rather than having discrete episodes, the film is a standard plot flow.  This abrogates the need for the creation of short pieces such as Aesop & Son, Fractured Fairytales and Mr. Peabody.  It also means there are no punning section headings, a lack which is missed.

The animation varies from standard 1960s era Jay Ward animation at the beginning and end of the film to advanced CGI animation as a three-dimensional Rocky and Bullwinkle make their way from Hollywood to New York in their quest to save America from Fearless leader.  The animation is state of the art and, while not as constantly mind-boggling as the earlier “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” it does reflect the years since that film was made.

“The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” lives up to the high standards set for it by a clever and inspired television show which has, in itself, managed to stand the test of time.  For those who are familiar with the characters, it is a welcome return to Jay Ward’s sense of humor.  For those who have yet to make the acquaintance of the Moose and Squirrel, this is a good place to start.  My wife smiled and laughed throughout the film and my two-year-old daughter was enraptured, later asking to see the movie with “Moose and ‘whirl”

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