From 1954-1973 the Rocky and Bullwinkle show went through many changes and passed through several hands, but it certainly touched the minds, and captured the hearts, of several generations along its journey! Jay Ward and Bill Scott, along with an incredible team of voice artists got together to create one of the most enduring classics in the cartoon world, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends. Originally, Rocky and Bullwinkle appeared on a show called The Frostbite Falls Review, created by Alex Anderson, but as this show failed to capture the attention of audiences, our beloved Moose and Squirrel went on to do their own series. Anderson did not continue to participate in this creation beyond that point as he did not want to relocate to Los Angeles.
Curiously enough, after Ward and Scott got sponsorship from General Mills they quickly pulled together a production team but did not have any animators. Instead, Ward convinced friends of his at Dancer, Fitzgerald & Sample, an advertising firm that had General Mills as a client, to buy an animation studio in Mexico called Gamma Production. Obviously, the money saved by this outsourcing was pleasing to General Mills, but it did cause a great deal of trouble for the show. During an interview in 1982 with Bill Scott, he talked about how the animation from this source was unreliable... "They were turning out the work very quickly and there were all kinds of mistakes and flaws and boo-boos. They would never check. Mustaches popped on and off Boris, Bullwinkle's antlers would change, colors would change, costumes would disappear. By the time we finally saw it, it was on the air." While Rocky and Bullwinkle may not be the best pure example of Animation, it is simply overflowing with creative juices, humor, charm, and great messages for kids and adults alike.
Each episode contains two short pieces in the ongoing adventures of our heroes, Bullwinkle Moose and Rocket J. Squirrel, separated by humorous vignettes and other cartoon gems like Mr. Know-it-All, and the much beloved Fractured Fairytales. Half of season one depicts one of my particular favorites in the Rocky and Bullwinkle serials, "Jet Fuel Formula", a 40 part serial in which Bullwinkle discovers a potential new rocket fuel while baking one of Grandmother Moose's cake recipes and is inadvertently blasted to the moon and back.
Meanwhile, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, (devious spys from a little known country) are charged by their Fearless Leader to keep an eye on things and find themselves alternately attempting to save or "keel moose" during Bullwinkle's quest to refine the jet fuel formula. The addition of two moon men, Gibney and Cllyod, who don't want Earth people cluttering up their tranquil moon home with tourists adds to the general chaos and hilarity. I've never forgotten their intriguing "scrooch gun" which appeared to place a successfully scrooched individual into a suspended state for however long you set the dial for. I've long since lost count of the number of times in my life that this little device would have come in handy!
Perhaps the real charm of this show though, is it's diversity and wide appeal. As much as I enjoy Rocky and Bullwinkle, they would probably still be wallowing in obscurity without the amazing array of characters and cartoons that supported their adventures. In Mr. Peabody's Improbable History we travel with Mr. Peabody, a brilliant and talkative dog, and his boy Sherman ("Every dog should have a boy!) to different events in history. These intrepid time travelers use Peabody's invention, the Wayback Machine, to reveal to us secrets lost from history books, like why Napoleon was so often depicted with his hand inside his jacket or how Lucretia Borgia's husband survived her poisoned cooking.
Fractured Fairy Tales, narrated by Edward Everett Horton , takes familiar children's stories and gives us a closer look at the "truth". In their retelling of Puss in Boots, for example, we learn that true success and happiness comes to those who know the value of a long hot bath! All of which can be experienced in this Season One collection. This show has been given a tribute moment or parodied in one form or another in such shows as Futurama, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Happy Tree Friends, Boy Meets World and The Powerpuff Girls.
Dudely DoRight, Tennessee Tuxedo, Commander McBragg (who always reminds me of the Monty Python skit, The 4 Yorkshire men), Aesop & Son, and Bullwinkle's Corner all contributed to what became an unforgettable cartoon experience. No matter which feature you watch though, each will be filled with puns, sight gags, culture references, innocent and not so innocent humor that continues to appeal to children and adults of all ages. Rocky and Bullwinkle were also responsible for the equally entertaining spin-off, George of the Jungle which also featured Tom Slick and the Super Chicken animations. I found it fascinating to watch these Rocky and Bullwinkle episodes in order as an adult. It was like having a split screen in my head. One showing me the memories linked to my first viewing and the other screen highlighting jokes and cultural references that I simply didn't get as a child. There are some nit-picky details found in this DVD offering that might offend purists, like using the Season Two opening instead of Season One, but in my opinion these things pale before the powerful charm of this animated classic.
Personally, I was quite pleased with the set up of this four disc set on season one of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Not only can you select a Play All option on each disc (approximately 3 hours of viewing), but you can also Select a Scene from any given episode and watch from that point. They have labeled this section very clearly too so you can see just which episode you left off at, or find that specific episode with the Fractured Fairytale on Rapunzel. Very Handy, and I wish more DVDs were this well organized and easy to navigate!
I usually find it annoying on a DVD when the menu page has a short perpetual loop. Here, it is the Rocky and Bullwinkle theme song, but oddly enough I didn't find it annoying at all. In fact, it only made me smile. After viewing Season One, my first thought was....Gosh, I hope Season Two is available! (I believe the complete seasons are now available up to season three) Definitely an owner for this cartoon fan, and well worth the asking price. In the immortal words of Rocky, "Now here's something everybody will enjoy!"
Image and Sound: As mentioned in the review, there are mistakes and glitches to be found throughout this animated series, but the remastering really punched up the colors and smoothed over quite a lot of these. The sound and picture are both crisp and clear despite the inevitable wear. 1.33:1 Aspect ratio and Dolby sound were quite adequate.
"Dear Bullwinkle" segments (show bumpers): This couldn't help but be an endearing extra for me. Bullwinkle's innocence and good nature are always welcome, even if briefly and in a live-action format.***
Classic commercials and promos : It was really interesting to see a black and white ad promoting "Rocky and His Friends", as well as seeing this famous cartoon duo do their part to encourage the purchase of War Bonds. This made me realize just how long this cartoon was around and certainly makes clear all of the Cold War references found within the cartoon. It also got me curious as to what other bits of trivia I may have overlooked, and sent me on some interesting rambles through the Internet. I had no idea that Jay Ward went so far as to set fire to a script in order to force the narrator to finish the page before he got burned!
"Rocky & Bullwinkle Savings Stamp Club" special episode: unexceptional
The Many Faces of Boris Badenov: I really enjoyed this peek at the many inexplicably successful disguises that Boris used! Small, but fun extra.
Sneak peek at "Complete Season 2" : Well, it set my mind at rest that I would indeed be able to purchase Season 2.
16-page booklet: An interesting overview of the creators and the show. I nice addition, although I would have liked to see or read more about the Behind the Scenes kind of information. Trivia is always a nice inclusion for me too.
Right from the start, Rocky and Bullwinkle is packed with cliffhangers, humor light and dark, puns, slapstick, silliness, poetry and food for the inquiring young mind. I only wish that there were more cartoons now that followed this excellent example. Years later, this show continues to appeal to viewers of all ages. That is really the best testament you can get!
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12
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