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by: Scott Renshaw

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is not a bloated big-screen vehicle that misses the point of its source material entirely. Indeed, the opening five minutes represent a surprsingly clever brand of self-awareness, the kind that promises a brisk and satisfying stroll dose of cartoon nostalgia. From the outset, it's clear that this is Jay Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle, complete with adult references, howlingly awful puns and still more howlingly awful puns. Could this finally be the kind of live-action cartoon Hollywood has been trying to make for years, only to botch the job over and over again?


Believe me, I wanted to get giddy over The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which opens with protagonists Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose. (voiced by original Rocky June Foray and Keith Scott, respectively) living tedious animated lives in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota 35 years after the cancellation of their television series. Their arch-nemeses Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale and Fearless Leader have been similarly stuck in re-runs, until Fearless Leader formulates a plan to get them yanked into the real world. The now-real Leader (Robert DeNiro), Boris (Jason Alexander) and Natasha (Rene Russo) then develop a scheme for world domination through stupefyingly bad television, and it appears that nothing can stand in their way. Unless, that is, wet-behind-the-ears FBI agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) can yank a pair of cartoon animals into reality to save the day.

The aforementioned prologue gets Rocky and Bullwinkle off to a fast start, with Keith Scott doing amusing work both as Bullwinkle and replacing William Conrad as the narrator. The opening sets up Frostbite Falls as an animated ghost town, its economy left in a shambles when the moose and squirrel's show got the axe; even the narrator has been reduced to commenting dramatically on events in his home after being forced to live with his mother. It's a funny idea, as is the idea of Fearless Leader's plot to entrap a Hollywood producer (Janeane Garofolo) by offering the movie rights to "Rocky and Bullwinkle." Jay Ward's cartoons were always a strangely deft mix of smart and silly, which is a fairly accurate description of Rocky and Bullwinkle for a few hundred blissful seconds.

Then, inevitably and tragically, we leave the hand-drawn world for something considerably more drab. Whatever twisted force convinces studio executives that The Flintstones, George of the Jungle, Dudley Do-Right or Rocky and Bullwinkle have something more to offer us with human actors is in need of immediate exorcising. There's something about an animated world, even a crudely-drawn animated world, that changes the rules; Ward could get away with groaners that would make you want to stuff a sock in a human mouth that uttered them. It certainly doesn't help that some of the human actors appear befuddled by the whole enterprise. Rene Russo waits for about half an hour before she gets to utter a word of dialogue, and still looks like she's waiting around for the rest of the film. As for newcomer Piper Perabo, what little comedic timing she may have isn't enhanced by acting opposite a pair of visual effects. DeNiro has fun with Fearless Leader, but it's not nearly enough. A self-deprecating gag referring to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? doesn't change the fact that Roger's concept was made for its format, and vice-versa. Rocky and Bullwinkle are cartoons in a human world simply because they could be.

There are more than a few decent gags in playwright Kenneth Lonergan's script for Rocky and Bullwinkle -- the title of Fearless Leader's perfectly awful televsion series will set me to giggling for a few days -- and a lack of bombast that makes it infinitely easier to swallow. It's also a cheerful film that's perfectly suit


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