The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle

The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle (2000)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Robert De Niro, Rene Russo, Janeane Garofalo, Piper Perabo, Jason Alexander, Randy Quaid
Extras: Featurette, Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes, Cast & Crew Bios

Apparently, Hollywood is still trying to capitalize on the "Baby-Boomer" nostalgia market by releasing films based on old television shows. This trend has been going on since the late 80s and the results have been mixed, as the quality of these films has varied greatly. Two films in this genre were based upon the work of animator Jay Ward – the surprisingly fun and humorous "George of the Jungle" and the unwatchable "Dudley Do-Right". Universal then decided to try their luck with Ward’s most famous creations, Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose. Would the result be a winner like "George of the Jungle", or a stinker like "Dudley Do-Right"? We can now learn the answer, as Universal Home Video brings "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" to DVD.

"The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" opens with an animated recap of the history of the show. We learn that since their show was cancelled in 1964 (I had no idea that the show was that old!), Rocky and Bullwinkle have been spending their time in their hometown of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, living off of their residuals and watching the town fall apart. Even the narrator from the show is out of work and down on his luck! Meanwhile, with the fall of the Iron Curtain, Rocky and Bullwinkle’s old enemies, Boris, Natasha, and Fearless Leader are now unemployed as well. Fearless Leader decides that he will find a new way to conquer the world – through mass media! So, after inking a deal with a Hollywood producer, the villains are pulled into the real world, where they become fully-formed 3-D human characters. Soon, Fearless Leader (Robert De Niro), Boris (Jason Alexander), and Natasha (Rene Russo), are off to New York, where they establish RBTV (Really Bad Television) and plan to destroy the minds of TV viewers.

When the FBI learns of Fearless Leader’s diabolical plan, director Cappy Von Trapment (Randy Quaid), dispenses young agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo of "Coyote Ugly") to find Rocky and Bullwinkle. Through a very clever and funny play on Hollywood lingo (which I won’t spoil), Karen is able to bring Rocky and Bullwinkle out of the animated world and into the real world. The problem is that they are in Los Angeles and they must get to New York to stop Fearless Leader. As the trio sets out for the Big Apple, Boris and Natasha to stop "Moose and Squirrel". So begins a cross-country adventure, which is full of action and celebrity cameos, as Rocky and Bullwinkle race against the clock to save the world.

Being a fan of the original animated shorts, I went into "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" with some trepidation. But, I’m pleased to report that I really enjoyed the film. "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" is very funny and surprisingly clever, but it has a warm story as well. To put it simply, if you aren’t totally turned off by Rocky and Bullwinkle (and I fully realize that some people are), then you’ll probably enjoy this movie. The film is well-paced and director Des McAnuff keeps the action moving along rather well.

While De Niro, Alexander and Russo all do well in their roles, the film does seem to slow down a bit when they are on screen. This can be traced to the fact that the 2 1/2-D animation used to bring Rocky and Bullwinkle to life is so well done (note the detail with their shadows). This impressive animation gives the characters personality and they seem to light up the screen. Yes, the story is very hackneyed and predictable, but it simply serves as a tool for Rocky and Bullwinkle to go from one adventure to another and meet several famous stars along the way.

Considering how much I enjoyed the film, I can’t help but regret the fact that it didn’t perform at the box office. While watching "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle", it became quite clear why the film didn’t receive good word of mouth. The movie pokes fun at the media and politics and at times, is too clever and hip for its own good. The scene in which Karen brings Rocky and Bullwinkle to our reality had me giggling hysterically, but I can see how those who weren’t very familiar with the entertainment industry just wouldn’t get it. This is truly a shame, as "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" is one of the best family films that I’ve seen in years. I’d say that it’s the most family appropriate film since "Babe". There is no profanity, and the small amount of violence is very cartoon-like. A gun is brandished during the finale, but it’s never fired. Also, the movie contains some great messages about having faith during difficult times and believing in who you are. I can only hope that "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" will find its target audience on video.

"The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" comes to DVD from Universal Home Video, in a package that isn’t quite as spectacular as the film itself. The movie is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. As DVD technology advances, most of the newer films released by the big studios all look fairly good, so it can be difficult when it comes to judging the quality of a video transfer. But not in this case. The transfer on "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" is perfect. The image is crystal clear, with no sign of noise, artifacting, or defects from the source print. The colors are sharp and bold, with fleshtones looking very natural. The clarity of the image gives the picture an amazing depth, which works very well when Rocky and Bullwinkle are in the desert. The transfer holds up quite well when you closely examine the computer-generated characters and notice how natural they look. It’s quite obvious that a good bit of care went into making this transfer.

The DVD of "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" offers two fine audio tracks. Both the <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 track and the <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 track show a nice use of surround sound. The dialogue is clear and audible and there is no interference from sound effects. The audio is also well-balanced, with no sudden loud bursts. The rear speakers are constantly in action, with music cues and surround sound effects. The DTS track shows a slightly wider soundfield, but both the DTS and the Dolby Digital 5.1 show a good use of stereo surround sound, with the onscreen action matching the audio in each designated speaker. Overall, there is a very nice audio package.

Sadly, the DVD is nearly shorn of special features, which undoubtedly has to be attributed in part to the inclusion of the DTS track on this release. Nonetheless, we do have a 25-minute "Spotlight on Location" featurette, which gives a nice overview of the genesis of the film. Tiffany Ward, daughter of the late Jay Ward, is prominently featured and explains how she wanted to bring her father’s work to the screen. There is a very brief explanation of the digital animation, but for once, I wanted to know more. I would have loved to have seen some behind-the-scenes footage showing how they pulled off the scene where Rocky and Bullwinkle walk through the desert. The other special features are the theatrical trailer, production notes, and biographies. The disc also has some DVD-ROM extras, such as "Screen Friends," a program in which Rocky, Bullwinkle, and the other characters will respond to your vocal commands. Pretty neat!

I hate to sound like a Mr. Know-it-all, but if there were ever two stars who deserved to be in a film like this, it’s Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose. "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" is quite a find, as it’s funny and clever enough for adults, but exciting and spellbinding enough for children. The digital transfer on this Universal DVD is flawless, and is a good demonstration of just how good a DVD picture can look. While the DVD is oddly bereft of extra features, the film alone makes this title worth checking out, which makes me want to say, "Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a great DVD out of my hat!"