Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A happy memory of childhood is trying to keep up with the non-stop jokes in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which jumped into prominence (in 1961 I believe) when it launched NBC's dynamite Color Sunday night lineup. We didn't have a color TV but the NBC Peacock station IDs nevertheless made us feel like part of the all-color spirit. Filled with corny gags and topical jokes that zoomed over the heads of children everywhere, the show was an instant hit. Classic Media's The Best of Rocky and Bullwinkle Volume 2 is an economical sampler for fans of what Boris Badenov, in thick Russian accent, called "Moosansquirrel".
Jay Ward's The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was a manic half hour packed with a score of quickie cartoon blackouts, some only lasting four minutes or so: Dudley Do-Right, Fractured Fairy Tales, Peabody's Improbable History and The Poet's Corner. These were separated by various unusually surreal bumpers, like Bullwinkle pulling a lion out of his hat ("I think I'm gonna need a new hat") or our heroes sprouting from the ground along with a field of good old American corn. The separate seasons of the show are already available as exhaustive sets that include all of those individual attractions. This disc is an "all Rocky & Bullwinkle" effort, taking three of their lengthy serialized adventures and playing them straight without all the extra stuff. Even with the overlapping cliffhanger format, they're certainly easier to watch. We tuned in all the time as kids but I don't remember ever seeing an adventure complete from beginning to end.
Only ten seconds or so are required to put us back into the show's anarchic, sarcastic and always good-natured spirit. The drawings barely suffice to tell the story and provide just enough animation to sell the verbal jokes. The cornball humor seems to come at a fast pace now so in 1961 it must have moved like greased lightning. Hero and straight man Rocket J. "Rocky" Squirrel has an idiotic expression on his face and is frequently referred to as 'plucky.' Moronic moose Bullwinkle gets all the good gags. Bill Scott provides Bullwinkle's wonderful, easy to imitate voice, but nobody can approach master voice talent June Foray as the slightly hoarse, always chipper Rocky. "Aw, if you're gonna be a hero you gotta do stupid things once in a while!" 1
Clever gag writing is the whole show. Bullwinkle proudly proclaims that, "When it comes to humility I am the greatest." William Conrad's self-important announcer spoofs narration conventions and is frequently interrupted or corrected by the characters. Boris and Natasha delight in their evil doings, while their Pottsylvanian spymaster Fearless Leader (no, not Geoffrey Kleinman) thinks up sadistic solutions to every problem. Fearless Leader has a facial scar that runs right across his mouth and teeth, and is clearly modeled on nasty Nazis from old films like Hangmen Also Die! The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show is an equal opportunity employer of ethnic villains, as long as they're Russians or Nazis.
The writing makes self-referential fun of the cartoon format and the realities of television. When Boris's pistol refuses to shoot, Natasha gasps, "Boris we forgot! There's no violence allowed on television any more!" To lead into a segue across the globe to Pottsylvania, Boris sneers at the camera, "Now we go through the magic of the four-second cross dissolve!"
Plenty of old-fashioned puns are heard, and each episode ends with gag title suggestions, like "Rocky Goes to College --- or Rock Enrolls." The shows also abound with topical references, many of which weren't pitched at youngsters like Savant. As a punishment a character isn't allowed to watch American Bandstand, but an infantile college professor wants to see Ding Dong School. A bunch of snobby college students refuse to party with Bullwinkle: "We're all going down to picket Norman Mailer at the Student Union!" A football coach is named Rocky Knut and a famous football hero is named "Blue Grange" because "Red Grange" is too controversial.
My favorite exchange comes when Rocky discovers that the football team they're supposed to play is from a girl's school: "Aw, what kind of game can you play with girls?" Bullwinkle (aside): "Boy, this really is a children's show, isn't it?"
The disc contains three complete Rocky and Bullwinkle adventures. Wossamatta U. starts appropriately, with the school's president firing five English teachers so it can divert their salaries to a new football team. Bullwinkle becomes the star quarterback after Boris bribes a player with a pro contract. The Treasure of Monte Zoom stretches a thin "X Marks the Spot" treasure hunt into a variety of absurd situations, such as having Boris pretend to be Ernest Hemingway in The Old Man and The Sea so Bullwinkle will help him pull on a chain in the middle of a lake. The chain pulls the plug at the lake's bottom. To drain it, you see. Like, empty. Goof Gas Attack sees Boris zapping America's brain trust with a gas that makes them stupid, threatening our missile defense system at "Cape Carnivorous." Being brain-challenged, Bullwinkle is unaffected. This show features an appearance by wrong-way Captain Peachfuzz, an already addled admiral who talks and acts like Ed Wynn. Also, Fearless Leader admits that his evil country Pottsylvania has no resources except Hate, which it always directs at the United States. As far as foreign policy goes, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show is completely up to date for 2007.
The disc's extra is something that Savant had forgotten entirely. The original Sunday night broadcasts of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show began and ended with brief live action puppet intros and kissoffs showing a cute Bullwinkle puppet, presumably manipulated by Bill Scott. The patter here is even more satirical than in the cartoons, with Bullwinkle making fun of the sponsor in the same manner that Alfred Hitchcock did. The puppet claims that the entire evening's lineup of shows is really part of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and says that besides Sing Along with Mitch, there's a new show called Hum along with Fidel. Speaking to the kids in the audience, Bullwinkle tells them that they all can have a TV in their bedroom, just by unplugging Mom and Dad's set and dragging it in there. He'll be back next week with advice about a new topic, "charging admission."
Classic Media / Genius Entertainment's The Best of Rocky and Bullwinkle Volume 2 is attractively packaged with easy to navigate menus. Wossamatta U has twelve chapters while The Treasure of Monte Zoom and Goof Gas Attack have only eight apiece. Unfortunately, no English subtitles are provided, but a second track in Spanish is. The pace already seems fast in English, and the Spanish shows go like a house afire.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Best of Rocky and Bullwinkle Volume 2 rates:
Sound: Excellent English and Spanish tracks
Supplements: Live action puppet show intros
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 21, 2007
1. I once spoke briefly on the phone with the delightful Ms. Foray. She identified herself using the chirpy Rocky voice, as if she always announced herself that way to strangers. How wonderful a Rocky and Bullwinkle recording session must have been, with all of those talented nuts together in the same room.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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