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ROCKY & BULLWINKLE & FRIENDS
Season One

Review by Michael Jacobson

Creator:  Jay Ward
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Classic Media
Features:  See Review
Length:  Unlisted
Release Date:  August 12, 2003

“Boris…you are sure this plan will work?”

“There’s a first time for everything, Natasha…”

Shows ***

I’ve been searching for the answer to three major questions for years now.  The first is, what is the meaning of life?  I’ve still got a ways to go on that one.  The second is, when are Rocky and Bullwinkle coming to DVD?  Fortunately, Classic Media has provided me with the solution to that query with their release of the four disc set Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends Season One.  For the record, the third is, why is the world’s most popular pencil called No. 2?  But we’ll leave that for another time…

It’s hard to believe, but that plucky squirrel and affable moose have been tickling our funny bones for about 45 years now.  The comic creations of Jay Ward first came into being while Eisenhower was in power.  There are three dimensional flesh and blood stars out there that can only WISH they had the same staying popularity!

I love these guys and their wacky cast of friends and foes, from the deliciously wicked but inept Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, to the goofy Captain Peachfuzz, to the stalwart narrator (voiced by Robert Conrad), Rocky and Bullwinkle were lovable good guys who relied on honor, skill, and mostly good old fashioned luck to save the day.

Their adventures were all cliffhangers, with each part leaving you anticipating the next until the adventure was included.  Filling the space in between were the appearances of other friends who all became recognizable icons in their own right.  Dudley Do-Right was a scream, and Aesop and Son were funny and thoughtful.  My favorites were always the Fractured Fairy Tales narrated by Edward Everett Horton, and some good ones were included in Season One, especially Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty (though I found the one for Pinocchio to be surprisingly mean-spirited).  Personally, I never cared for Peabody’s Improbable History.  Mr. Peabody was too snobbish for my taste, and as much as I love dogs, he’s the only one I ever wanted to hit on the nose with a rolled newspaper.  But Season One begins with a treat for fans, as it shows how Mr. Peabody and his pet boy Sherman first got together.

But the real stars were always Rocky and Bullwinkle, and their adventures were the stuff of goofy scenarios, laughable pratfalls, double speak and running gags.  Most of their stories I would gladly rate in the ***1/2 to **** range, but like many shows, the cast and crew seemed to be finding their footing in the first year.  The first adventure, “Jet Fuel Formula”, was comprised of 40 episodes…40!  One advantage of DVD viewing is that you can keep the story together in your head a little easier…watching these over broadcast nights might be conducive to forgetting early plot elements as the story meanders.

Over the course of that first adventure, you can see some of the evolution of the show.  Our first glimpses of Boris are not what we remembered…he was slightly taller, more angular than round, and with red eyes.  But as the show progressed, he eventually took on the form of the bad guy we all loved to hate.

The story involves Bullwinkle’s family recipe for a mooseberry fudge cake which turns out to be explosive.  In fact, the mooseberry mix is potent enough to get a ship to the moon and back, which leads our heroes toward two interested parties:  the U.S. Government, and Boris and Natasha, those dahling nogoodnick spies of the Cold War era.  They also attract the attention of a couple of moon men who don’t WANT their home world to be taken over by earthlings.  The story leads the boys all across the country and the world, and even to the mean little country of Pottsylvania, where Boris and Natasha hail from!  There are some laughs to be had, but for those paying attention, you might be asking questions such as, why are they going to Pottsylvania as supposedly the only country in the world to grow mooseberries while Fearless Leader has sent Boris and Natasha to Frostbite Falls in order to acquire some mooseberries?  Ah, but why think so much?

The second adventure is much better and a true classic.  “Box Top Bandits” was not only funnier (and shorter), but it marked the beginning of Rocky and Bullwinkle as a controversial show as well.  Hard to believe looking back, but yes, our friendly cartoon heroes got into trouble from time to time.  There was the time Bullwinkle asked the kids in the audience to yank off their television knobs in order to stay tuned to NBC all the time…the apologetic moose later came back and asked the kids to glue the knobs back on.  There was also the time Rocky, Bullwinkle and company served the NBC peacock for Thanksgiving dinner!

And “Box Top Bandits” saw a share of trouble by poking fun at sponsor General Mills, actually naming some of their REAL box top promotions in the show!  Gotta love those guys.  Apart from that, the story centers around how the world economy is really based on the box top, and is in great danger because someone somewhere has been counterfeiting the box tops and using them to clean businesses out of their premium items (guess who?).  It’s once again up to Rocky and Bullwinkle, who has actually hoarded the world’s biggest collection of box tops himself, to save the day!

It’s easy to see why the love for these shows has lasted…despite the limited animation (which actually adds to the charm, in my opinion), the characters were great, the scripts were witty, and the entire presentation was just plain fun.  As a fan, I’m personally glad to be able to collect these shows on DVD a season at a time, instead of the mishmash way a different company had released them on VHS in the early 90s.

Rocky and Bullwinkle’s stars continue to shine.  This four disc set is the proof.

NOTE:  For some reason, all of the original “Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” intertitles have been altered to say “Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends”…maybe just to update them, but it didn’t really seem necessary.

Video **

I’ve never really seen an exemplary production of Rocky & Bullwinkle for home video, and these discs, other than being issued on a digital medium, aren’t much of an improvement.  Basically, the cartoons show their age with some dirt and scratchiness here and there, and an occasionally dingy look overall.  It’s far from unwatchable…in fact, for fans who’ve stayed loyal over the years, these shows won’t look different from what you remembered.  Until a full scale restoration is proposed, this is probably as good as can be expected.

Audio **

Likewise, the mono soundtracks show their age a little bit…from time to time you can hear a little bit of background noise and pops and such.  Dialogue sounds a little thin, but it always did…nevertheless, the spoken words are clear and intelligible.  Dynamic range is negligible.  Overall, about par for the course, but not much more.

Features **1/2

The extras are all on Disc Four and are a small but interesting collection of tidbits for the Rocky and Bullwinkle fans.  Four “Dear Bullwinkle” segments are a trip, because they feature a live action puppet of our favorite moose as he answers mail from readers!…sort of.  There are some classic commercials advertising the show for it’s original run on NBC.  The “Rocky & Bullwinkle Savings Stamps Club” features some shorts promoting U.S. Savings Bonds, and features a rare appearance of Sherman and Mr. Peabody interacting with Rocky and Bullwinkle! 

Rounding out is a montage of Boris’ disguises from Season One and a sneak peak at Season Two.

Summary:

Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends Season One is a solid set and a good introduction to the plucky characters that would become and remain a huge part of our comedy consciousness for decades.  This collection not only shows you how it all started, but will leave you ready for more!