Rocky and Bullwinkle rarely get the credit which they deserve. While the show certainly has a loyal following, I've always been hard-pressed to find someone who likes it. The live-action updating The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle failed miserably at the box-office. (I have been to Bullwinkle's Restaurant and thought that it was pretty cool.) Maybe the fact that the show debuted in 1959 has affected its popularity today. That may all change with the release of the complete first season of Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends on DVD.
The title Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends is actually a misnomer, as the show was originally called "Rocky and his Friends", and would also be known as "The Bullwinkle Show" and "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle". The program was a mixture of different segments, which would be rotated on each episode. Each show would of course feature the exploits of Rocky and Bullwinkle. In the first season, the duo was involved in two storylines, with two segments being shown per episode. The first storyline was entitled "Jet Fuel Formula", and consisted of a whopping 40 segments stretched out over 20 shows. This storyline opens with Bullwinkle attempting to make a mooseberry fudge cake and creating an explosion which lands he and Rocky on the moon. Once they return from the lunar surface, the government wants to know the secret to Bullwinkle's rocket fuel -- but he can't remember how he made it. Also after the fuel are Rocky & Bullwinkle's arch nemeses, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. Following the conclusion of "Jet Fuel Formula", "Box Top Robbery" began, spanning 6 shows and 12 segments. In this story, Bullwinkle is accused of making counterfeit cereal box tops, which can, of course, be used as currency to get cool prizes. But, it's really Boris and Natasha who are making the box tops and it's up to Rocky & Bullwinkle to stop them. (This series really emphasizes the bizarre humor the show.)
Intermingled with the "Rocky & Bullwinkle" segments were four other offerings. "Fractured Fairy Tales" (20 segments in the first season) is comedy at its simplest. The creators take famous fairy tales and then adds strangely humorous elements. Similar in nature is "Aesop and Son" (6 segments in the first season), in which well-known parables get the comedic twists. The extra which appeared the most was "Peabody" (AKA "Mr. Peabody and Sherman") (21 segments in the first season). In this show, Mr. Peabody, a brilliant dog, and his boy, Sherman, travel back in time to meet famous individuals and generally disrupt their lives. And finally, we have "Dudley Do-Right" (5 segments in the first season), that dedicated Canadian Mountie who is constantly saving his beloved Nell from the dastardly Snidely Whiplash.
All of the elements of Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends may be one of the greatest combinations of dumb and smart humor to ever be broadcast on television. Anyone who's ever seen "Rocky & Bullwinkle" knows that the show is of corny puns and that every other joke is a play on words. But, you've also got a smart satire of the Cold War with the Boris & Natasha characters. And nearly every element of the show is spoofing some aspect of American pop-culture. With "Fractured Fairy Tales", "Aesop and Son" and "Peabody" we have a brilliant combination of the familiar and the bizarre. Each of these stories takes an element that the audience will know (or possibly not, as Mr. Peabody visits Lucretia Borgia and Franz Schubert. Lucretia Borgia? Really?) and then adds a deftly strange comic touch that takes the story into the land of the unfamiliar. The humor displayed on this show paved the way for future comedies, from The Monkees to The Simpsons.
Sony Wonder brings Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends to DVD in this handsome four disc set. The shows are presented in their original full-frame format. The video portion here is really a mixed bag. It's very clear that great pains were taken to restore and preserve the images, as the picture looks sharp and clear. But, there are still defects from the source materials, such as minor scratches and black spots -- but, as the shows are over 40 years old, that's to be expected. The colors are good for the most part, but some of the segments look a bit faded. (This is difficult to judge, as Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends has never been the most colorful cartoon.) While there are certainly some problems here, the shows look very good considering their age. (It should be noted that each segment carries an "R&B" bug in the lower left-hand corner which disappears after a few seconds. Strange.)
The shows are presented on this DVD with their original Dolby Digital mono audio tracks. These tracks provide clear dialogue, but there is some audible popping and hissing at times. Other than these facts, the tracks are serviceable, but unremarkable.
The Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends set features a handful of extras, all of which appear on Disc 4. We begin with "Dear Bullwinkle", a 7-minute live-action segment in which a Bullwinkle puppet answers "Dear Abby"-type letters. The shots of the puppet are edited with old movie footage, and there are some great jokes here. Next up is 2-minutes of classic promo spots. These four spots are in black & white and color and feature gags not seen on the show. This is followed by "Rocky & Bullwinkle Saving Stamp Club", a 5-minute public-service ad, in which Rocky & Bullwinkle urge their viewers to collect saving stamps with which to buy a U.S. Savings Bond. What? This spot is interesting, as it also features Boris, Natasha, Mr. Peabody, and Sherman, but there should have been at least a text accompaniment explaining exactly what these saving stamps were. "Boris Badenov, Master of Disguise" is a 1-minute montage of Boris in all of his crazy outfits, saying "Allow me to introduce myself...". Finally, we have two episodes from "Metal Munching Moon Mice", the first storyline from Season 2 of the show.
The humor in Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends certainly isn't for everyone, as some will consider it too stupid, but fans of the show should love this set. Seeing these shows again demonstrates that while some of the humor is quite dated, much of it is still funny today. This show was a trailblazing work for both cartoons and TV comedy in general, and it's about time that it got this kind of respect.