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Review by Andrew Manning (7/00)

Release: 2000, Universal
Starring: Rene Russo, Jason Alexaner, Robert De Niro, Piper Perabo
Starring: (voice talents) June Foray, Keith Scott
Director: Des McAnuff
MPAA Rating: [PG] language, violence
Genre: Comedy/Family

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When cartoon villains Boris (Alexander), Natasha (Russo), and Fearless Leader (De Niro) enter the real world with aspirations to take it over, it's up to plucky young FBI Agent Karen Sympathy (Perabo) to foil their plans, with the help of legendary, out of work 'toons Rocky and Bullwinkle. A blend of live action and animation, based on the 1960s cartoon TV show.


A fun time at the movies for all except the most serious-minded.


Never having been a fan of the original Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon show, I can't say the prospect of nostalgia brought me in to see this movie. With the whiny squirrel, the bad jokes, and the apparent degradation Russo, De Niro, and Costanza had to subject themselves to, I thought this was going to be another pile of crap like The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I found that a six foot moose and a flying squirrel turned out to be the best comic duo of the year.

The bottom line is that The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is a fun movie. Sure, it's riddled with countless off-the-cuff puns, overly simplistic characters, a cheesy narrator, and a story that reads like a pre-schooler's storybook. But it's still fun. People criticize lead actors Rene Russo, Robert De Niro, and Jason "Costanza" Alexander for sinking to the bottom of the barrel by taking the respective roles of Natasha, Fearless Leader, and Boris--but let's keep it in perspective. At least they know they're taking simple roles in a simple kids' movie--they've never claimed anything else. Hell, Costanza is a family man, and I'm sure he's pleased with doing a movie his little kids can enjoy. It's the movie's whole-hearted embracing of its own campiness that makes it so fun. Rocky and Bullwinkle embodies the spirit of the original show and makes no apologies for doing so.

As one-dimensional as the roles are, I think some extra credit has to go to the chicks in the film. Rene Russo does a great job as villainous vixen Natasha Fatale--she's got the voice down cold, and she even mimics the stiff movements of the original cartoon character. Meanwhile, newcoming hottie Piper Perabo (of Coyote Ugly fame) works well as FBI Agent Karen Sympathy. The fresh faced star has a girl-next-door spunkiness that fits the role perfectly. Yeah, it's sort of a stretch to accept someone so young as an agent of the Bureau, but if Hollywood's taught me anything, it's that cute young chicks can play any role they want. If I could buy Denise Richards as nuclear scientist Dr. Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough, then it's obvious I'll buy any tight package with a funky name and outrageous occupation.

The story, while arguably flimsy, is fleshed out enough for a movie like this. Boris, Natasha, and their Fearless Leader manage to break out of the cartoon world into the real one. Fearless, of course, has a dastardly plan: by buying up all the airtime on cable television and broadcasting mindnumbing crap (known as RBTV--Really Bad Television), he zombifies the entire United States and tries to get the population to vote him in as President. (Incidentally, the flagship program of RBTV, a sitcom involving three Russian spies and their horse, is a pretty funny send-up of bad television programs, as is Bullwinkle's reaction to it.) The only ones who can stop the wicked trio are the ones who foiled them so many times in the past: Rocky and Bullwinkle. The FBI sends in spunky, doe-eyed agent Karen Sympathy to pull Moose and Squirrel out of 'toon-land and help them stop Fearless Leader. The result is a bumbling road trip with plenty of wackiness along the way.

Although he's not in the movie much, Robert De Niro single-handedly delivers one of the brightest moments for the older members of the audience, doing a self-parody of his patented "Are you talking to me?" routine in an Eastern European accent.

Several stars make cameos: Janeane Garofalo is Minnie Mogul, the script starved Hollywood suit who inadvertently brings Fearless and Company into the real world; Whoopi Goldberg is a judge who states the tongue-in-cheek rule of the legal system that celebrities are above the law; John Goodman is a small town police officer in a funny spoof of Cops (who cuffs Piper Perabo in this movie, then plays her father in Coyote Ugly); Nickelodeon stars Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson are college students who give Bullwinkle a helping hand; and Jonathan Winters, Randy Quaid, David Alan Grier, James Rebhorn, Carl Reiner, and Billy Crystal are thrown in for good measure.

I'm sure no one will be blown away by the merging of live action and animation in this movie--after all, we're too jaded thanks to modern special effects, and the technique hasn't really been breakthrough since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Nevertheless, the blending has been put to excellently natural use here, and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle is one of the few movies that has reincarnated a classic cartoon without totally screwing it up. It's respectable, maintains the original humor, and proves to be fun for the kids, as well as the kids-at-heart.


How the hell do you criticize a fun fluff movie that refuses to take itself seriously? I guess I could complain about the weak story, the flat characters, or even the apparent editing mistake in which Piper Perabo is suddenly loaded up with lipstick in one shot, only to have it disappear in the next. But all of that is inconsequential. I mean, does anyone really go into a movie like this with any expectations of filmmaking quality?

I suppose the biggest plot-hole was this perplexing point: if Karen Sympathy (ha, I love that stupid name) is an FBI agent on assignment, why is she locked up for half the movie in prison? Shouldn't it be an easy thing to prove her identity to the law? Hell, we know she has proper ID on her, because she shows it to Rocky and Bullwinkle when she first meets them. But instead of rationally clearing things up, she stages an escape from the joint. And speaking of which, why is there a young, dopey guy guarding the inmates? Aren't all women's prisons supposed to be locked down by husky bull dykes who periodically have to break up catfights with a firehose turned on full blast? (Sorry, I momentarily digressed into a different set of movie conventions.)

On a minor note, there was something particularly fake about Rocky's look--it's as if the animators decided to render a grey jelly bean on a computer rather than draw a squirrel. I also have to say that Bullwinkle's voice started to grate on my nerves about halfway through the movie. That, at least, was one advantage the TV show had over the theatrical release: you didn't have to listen to the goofy moose voice in booming THX surround sound if you didn't want to. Hoo-wah.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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