Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rene Russo, Jason Alexander, Piper Perabo, Randy Quaid, Robert De Niro, June Foray (voice), Keith Scott (voice), Janeane Garofalo, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, John Goodman, Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchell, James Rebhorn, David Alan Grier
Written by: Kenneth Lonergan, based on characters created by Jay Ward
Directed by: Des McAnuff
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language
Running Time: 92
Date: 06/24/2000

The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Near Moose-terpiece

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's not so easy today to skewer everything and break new ground the way that the original "Rocky and Bullwinkle" show did back in the 1960s. Today every other movie is self-aware and ironic, Scream (1996) and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) for example. So the new The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle has to settle mostly for being witty, charming, and just a bit nostalgic, leaving the ground-breaking to others.

Poor Rocky and Bullwinkle have spent the last 35 years since their show was canceled just sitting around in Frostbite Falls looking at scrapbooks and watching all the trees disappear. Poor Rocky doesn't even fly anymore. ("Why bother?" he asks us.) Likewise, the supervillains Boris Badenov and Natasha, and their fearless leader, Fearless Leader, have been looking for things to do. Fortunately for them, they've figured out how to break into the real world by offering the rights to the "Bullwinkle" show to a greedy movie producer (Janeane Garofalo).

Once they emerge in the real world, now played by real actors, Boris (Jason Alexander), Natasha (Rene Russo), and Fearless Leader (Robert De Niro) develop a plan to take over the world by hypnotizing everyone with bad television. The FBI dispatches the cute Agent Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to bring Rocky and Bullwinkle into the real world to stop them.

The original TV episodes, created by Jay Ward, were crafted as cliffhanger stories. Just as we'd get to a spot of danger, the show would take a break and show us a quick episode of "Fractured Fairy Tales" or "Dudley Do-Right" or "Peabody and Sherman." I wished that the movie had taken that route, but I'm guessing they couldn't due to various copyrights. Another movie has already been made of "Dudley Do-Right" (1999) and a "Peabody and Sherman" movie is also in the works.

But the movie works incredibly well thanks to its sharp-witted Narrator. Just like on the original show, the Narrator steps in to make fun of all the obvious plot devices, ridiculous coincidences, and silly exposition. He's also used to whisk away the standard movie sentimentality as when Agent Sympathy has conversations with her inner child. And when Rocky and Bullwinkle get into trouble and appear before a judge (Whoopi Goldberg), they're excused because "celebrities are above the law."

I was delighted to hear that Rocky's voice was provided by the one and only June Foray from the TV series, even though she sounds a bit tired nowadays. However, Bullwinkle's original voice has passed on, and he is now voiced by Keith Scott (who doubles as the Narrator) and it's a faithful re-creation. Besides the voices, seeing Rocky and Bullwinkle in 3-D CGI animation with ultra-smooth movements will strike longtime fans as strange. The charm of the original show was in the quality of its writing, not in its animation, which was clunky at best. I also noticed, unlike the similar Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), that the CGI characters don't have much physical interaction with live humans. When they do, it doesn't look quite right. In one scene, Rocky (newly learned to fly) carries Agent Sympathy in his arms and we wonder how he's able to keep his grip.

These complaints are mere trifles compared to the fun I had at seeing my favorite moose and squirrel again. As directed by Des McAnuff, whose Cousin Bette (1998) I admired, and who produced last year's excellent The Iron Giant, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle moves along smoothly and lightly. Though Rocky and Bullwinkle's greatness made newer shows like "The Simpsons" possible, they no longer have to work very hard to please us. They simply have to show up.

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