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IN SHORT: Fine fast food family fun.
To be honest, I walked in to the screening of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle with a knot in my stomach the size of a small state. Without a pun to be heard in any of the advance materials, advertising or trailer, I thought that (perhaps) a gruesome misinterpretation of a classic cartoon was about to be perpetrated on an adoring public -- that means (at minimum) me. For once, I am sooo glad that my gut feelings were wrong.
That being said, we're going to break our rules about not comparing to Source Material; a necessary change as the couple behind me at the McDonald's afterwards were ranting about "how much Bob De Niro took to make this crap." I turned to ask if they remembered the teevee show and they, both of them of an age to, said "No." Intellectuals. Feh. [The Cartoon Network] is rerunning the old shows. Catch up if you're out of touch.
The last thirty five years haven't been good to Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Stuck in rerun hell, the characters that remain have had all the life sucked out of them by doing the same stale material over and over again. Rocket J. Squirrel (voiced by June Foray) no longer has the will to fly. Bullwinkle J. Moose (voiced by Keith Scott), still possessing more brains in his pinkie finger than in his entire head, is blissfully unaware of anything other than the disappearance of the lush animated forests that once surrounded his fair town.
Across the sea, in the Evil Empire country of Pottsylvania, the Iron Curtain has fallen -- just as you would imagine it would -- forcing arch-villains Boris Badenov (Jason Alexander), Natasha Fatale (Rene Russo) and their fearless leader, Fearless Leader (Robert De Niro) underground and into a wild scheme to cross the thin line between 'toon and reality, and become "human". With the help of Phony Pictures' producer Minnie Mogul (Janeane Garofalo) they pitch their own Rocky and Bullwinkle movie. We assume moose and squirrel don't survive this one, but studio boss Carl Reiner, who hates moose pictures, queers the deal.
Plan B kicks in and F.L. debuts "RBTV" -- Really Bad Tee Vee -- a cable channel whose offerings are so awful, anyone watching will fall under a total zombiefication spell and be forced to vote Fearless into the Presidency of the United States. FBI boss Cappy Von Trapment (Randy Quaid) sends incompetent rookie agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to free Our Heroes from syndication and thus set in motion their efforts to once again save the world.
OK, enough story, let's get to the jokes. Remembering that the original segments were all of three and a half minutes long, it's probably too much to expect that a full 90 minutes of gags would work. The first 20 minutes of Rocky and Bullwinkle unload blast after blast of puns and visual gags with gatling gun-like ferocity. History is updated. Characters are introduced. Parodies of films stretching from Mission Impossible to E.T. and all the way back to Taxi Driver fill the gaps. Cameos by John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and supporting characters Keenan and Kel, as students at Bullwinkle's alma mater, Wossamotta U keep things moving. What passes for a running plot line peters out about halfway through -- some of the kidlets in the audience were vocal in not understanding what was going on -- but the happy buzz that carries over from the start gets you through as smaller gags try to keep up the momentum.
June Foray's return as Rocky, the voice she made famous, is delightful. Keith Scott fills non-relative Bill Scott's shoes as Bullwinkle (and William Conrad's as The Narrator) with dead on accuracy. DeNiro's Fearless Leader is such a radical departure from his "serious" roles that it's no wonder the clueless folk mentioned at the top of the page didn't get it. In the two dimensional world they inhabited, Boris and Natasha always were one dimensional villains. Jason Alexander gets to sputter and spew. Rene Russo doesn't get much to do. And all the toons are befuddled by the technological changes of the last 35 years, all of which work their way into the script.
It's a fine line writing jokes for adults and making pictures that will hold the attention of the kidlets. Jay Ward and Co did it first. This production does his memory honor. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is fit for popcorn and burgers and a long eventual run on video. The final point the film makes is that sometimes you've got to let yourself feel like a kid.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, he would have paid...
For those of us who pay attention to details, both Frank Comstock and Fred Steiner's themes for Rocky and Bullwinkle run throughout the movie. Fred's family. Cranky's happy. And our West Coast correspondent Paul Fischer is in agreement. His review here.
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