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IN SHORT: For Kidlets [Rated [PG]]
For those of us ancient enough to remember Rocky and Bullwinkle, this year's big screen revamp of Dudley Do-Right kicks off with a nod to the past, a "brand new" Fractured Fairy Tale cartoon, entitled The Phox, The Box and The Lox. It doesn't resemble anything Grimm that I can recall, but it was a pleasant way to kick off the festivities at a sneak preview packed with parents and kids. Keith Scott again steps in for the late and unrelated Bill Scott. June Foray's pipes are still in good form, and we'll be treated to the lady's return to her best known work in next summer's The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, starring Robert De Niro. If you'll allow me the indulgence of dropping one more name (and a killer piece of trivia); composer Fred Steiner, responsible for teevee themes to Perry Mason, most of underscore of the original Star Trek, and The Bullwinkle Show has oft told cousin Cranky that of all his work, the Dudley theme is his favorite. It sounds damned fine coming off the big screen.
Jay Ward's cartoon was a parody of silent movie serials like "The Perils of Pauline" -- a helpless damsel in distress faced a deadly demise and/or torture at the hands of a dastardly villain in a black coat, always waiting for her pure-hearted and always upright Hero to find and rescue her in the nick of time. Under Ward's direction, Our Hero was dimmer than a two watt light bulb, the Fair Maiden was not much brighter and The Villain had all the fun.
Not much has changed in the 1990s. Dudley Do-Right (Brendan Fraser), is the Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman that he always wanted to be. Love of his life Nell Fenwick (Sarah Jessica Parker), is off discovering the world and evil, nefarious and dastardly Snidely K. Whiplash (Alfred Molina), is having a wonderful time leading and, in turn, double crossing his Gang of 999 black masked marauders. Their homestead of Semi-Happy Valley has fallen on hard times. The mines are closed. The slawdog stand is empty. The only profitable business in the town is the nightly Indian Corn Festival, a dinner dance extravaganza with fireworks run by the far from native born Kumquat Nation, headed by The Chief (Alex Rocco).
Snidely's plan is to take control of the town, rename it after himself, salt the mines and streams with gold and then reap huge profits from the gullible prospectors who will descend seeking the nonexistent metal. The only potential bump in the road is Do-Right, who is easily diverted into chasing things that go bump in the night. When Nell returns from her world travels, she must choose between the savior of the town who cheats at miniature golf or the man in uniform whose beloved Horse has run away.
Nell may be dim but she ain't stupid. That's about all I need to say, lest I make Dudley Do-Right sound like a movie with a logical story. The gags in the original were all slapstick, bad puns and innuendo and only the first of that list has made it to the big screen. It isn't the slapstick that got the kids rolling in the aisles, it was the sight of Do-right getting slapped around by a stick wielding Prospector (Eric Idle) in a play on Pat Morita's role in The Karate Kid that did the trick. Dudley Do-Right also homages Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark as it weaves unsteadily through the creative minefield that confronts any 8 minute cartoon expanded to the full 90 minutes. The basics of the cartoon are still there: The Announcer (Corey Burton) that explains the action and drops in jokes to fill the gaps; Nell's father Inspector Fenwick (Robert Prosky), and Do-Right's Horse who supplies all the brain material our hero is lacking.
Those of us who are old enough to remember the original have kidlets small enough to enjoy it for the first time. Said kids are the target for this flick, not us nostalgia bound coots. What little of the plot I've laid out collapses under the weight of visual gags and a couple of Indian dance numbers that will confuse the grownups and keep the youngsters enthralled. A handful of really funny you've-got-to-be-an-adult-to-get-'em gags come close to saving the day for us fogeys, as does a terrific performance by Alfred Molina. But Brendan Fraser's Dudley is so totally off the mark that Cranky doesn't know where to point his stubby little fingers -- at the actor or at writer/director Hugh Wilson for taking a two dimensional character to the big screen and creating an even smaller hero.
The single digit kidlets who don't have years of friendship with the original won't have much problem with v.1999 but this wasn't "my" Dudley Do-Right. Saying any more would break my rules about not comparing to Source Material so Cranky's gonna shut his face and get this over with.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Dudley Do-Right, he would have paid...
Rental level for the grownups. Dudley Do-Right is one of those movies at which you can let your kidlets feel like big boys and girls -- you can let 'em see the flick unsupervised without any worry about anything on the screen.
And if you're like any of the parents I know, you won't have any problem in it while you're standing in the back of the theater keeping an eye on the kidlets from a safe distance. Ain't it great to be a grown up?
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