Much of the fun of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons came from the constant wordplay and ironic humor that marked the 60s series. The various puns and wink-wink self-references flew around more than that little squirrel. The live action-meets-animation film chapter, then, has the right idea. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle starts off as a giant, 4th wall-busting sequel, with a giddy mix of groaners and knee-slappers. But, remember the other effective trait of a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon? It came in short, sharp tastes, not a 90-minute overload.
Despite all its frivolity, that is the problem with The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. After a surprisingly savvy and funny introduction, this wildlife road comedy can't generate enough smart-ass creativity to sustain its feature length. And as the appearance of well-timed cameos grab most of the movie's laughs later on, it's sadly apparent that those walk-ons (thank you John Goodman, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, and others) become a crutch.
Our story begins in a fashion that the late Jay Ward, the show's creator, would appreciate: a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon, complete with our familiar narrator, explains that our heroes have been living a poor life back in Frostbite Falls, forced to live off their measly residual checks from the show's reruns. Meanwhile, Boris, Natasha, & Fearless Leader are still trying to make life miserable for everyone. When the Iron Curtain falls (literally) on the hurtful trio, they stay underground, burrowing until they get to a place in the universe where the blur between fantasy and reality is most apparent: Hollywood.
Of course, they've signed a movie deal in seconds (giving away all of Rocky and Bullwinkle's rights), and poof, they're human, in a wonderful sell-your-soul metaphor. Our evil lineup: Boris becomes Jason Alexander, who loses the character somewhere and sounds like an angry old man returning soup at a deli; Natasha morphs into Rene Russo, who looks the part and nails the accent; and Fearless Leader is producer Robert De Niro, with clipped German speech, and a mocking sense of himself and the movie. While the baddies' evil plan is to make American television hypnotically awful, the FBI calls upon our heroes to save the day... and make American television more innocuous for everyone, I guess.
Once a newly-rendered Rocky and Bullwinkle are "captured" by Piper Perabo as a fresh-faced FBI agent, and the trio hit the road, the movie just doesn't live up to its zippy introduction. (An intro, by the way, where Bullwinkle announces that all this exposition is making him tired!) Once the action and chase scenes begin, Ken Lonergan's script wavers between pleasing the adults with smart jokes, and creating a soft, inspiring story for kids. In the end, I believe that neither audience is too thrilled with the results.
One of the real treats, though, is that the ageless June Foray returns as the voice of Rocky, portraying the squirrel's realistic optimism as well as ever. Keith Scott, the narrator to George of the Jungle, plays both the current narrator as well as the voice of our favorite moose. And Piper Perabo is adorable as agent Karen Sympathy (say it out loud) - it seems that she can successfully put away her current sex kitten persona to appeal to the kids here.
While this kind-hearted movie gets weighed down deciding whom it's aimed at, the story plods along to its eventual conclusion, and what started as a three-dimensional treat ends up flat. My suggestion: more Moose and Squirrel, in new, ten-minute episodes available on home video.
One happy family.