No puns unintended

Review: Return of `Rocky and Bullwinkle' pulls a rabbit out of a hat.

June 30, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Moose and squirrel are back: bad news for no-goodniks everywhere, great news for laughter-deprived movie audiences.

"The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" marks the return, after more than 35 years in reruns, of Frostbite Falls, Minn.'s, most famous residents. Yes, that All-American flying rodent and his dim-witted companion are back in business, once again seeking to foil the evil machinations of the fiendishly fiendish Boris Badenov, his sultry companion, Natasha Fatale, and the relentlessly rotten Fearless Leader.

Fans of the animated duo's TV series, which elevated punning to heights unseen since the prime of the Marx Brothers and mocked the Cold War with merciless abandon, have double cause to rejoice. Rocky and Bullwinkle have not only returned, but they've been placed in the hands of filmmakers who know what they're doing.

The result is even rarer than a talking moose and squirrel - a big-screen adaptation of a small-screen pleasure that captures the spirit of its source. Writer Kenneth Lonergan and director Des McAnuff must have graduated with honors from Wossamotta U.

The film also has the good fortune of bringing back June Foray as the voice of Rocky. Keith Scott seamlessly replaces the late Bill Scott (no relation) as the voice of Bullwinkle.

When we first greet our heroes, they're rotting away in retirement in Frostbite Falls. Time has not been kind to this tiny hamlet: Homes are decaying, trees have been felled, even the pristine shores of Veronica Lake have been fouled.

Things are not much better in Pottsylvania, home of Boris and Natasha. But then Fearless Leader devises an appropriately nefarious plan: He persuades small-time Hollywood apparatchik Minnie Mogul (Janeane Garofalo, one of a series of stars who show up in minor roles) to sign them to a contract.

And when, through the magic of computer animation, she reaches through her computer screen to retrieve a copy of the document, both it and the three baddies who signed it become real. (It's really best not to try and understand all this stuff fully; your head will just start to hurt.)

Fearless Leader (Robert De Niro, chewing considerable scenery) is delighted to be flesh and blood, and comes up with a typically evil plan: He buys all the cable networks and replaces them with RBTV (Really Bad TV), cramming the schedule with such mind-numbingly awful programs as "Three Funny and Witty Spies and Their Horse Who Will Also Be a Spy."(Bullwinkle, of course, doesn't see any difference between TV then and TV now. But then, he's just a moose.)

The mind-numbing part is key, for the programs are designed to zap viewers' minds. And with every American turned into a mindless zombie, Fearless Leader will be able to force them to vote for him in the coming presidential election. Oh, the horror!

Realizing something rotten is afoot, FBI leader Cappy Von Trapment (Randy Quaid) summons Moose and Squirrel back into service. And who should Fearless Leader order to dispose of our heroes but their old nemeses, Boris and Natasha (Jason Alexander and Rene Russo, who plays Ms. Fatale as though born for the part).

Soon, it's just like old times, as Moose and Squirrel take to the road (sure, they could fly and make it across the country quicker, but then, as the ever-helpful Bullwinkle points out, this wouldn't be a road picture), and Boris and Natasha take off after them.

Safes fall from the sky, sticks of dynamite turn up all over the place, puns and malapropisms are tossed back and forth ("Do you believe we used to get paid for this routine," Bullwinkle asks), Boris and Natasha act rotten, Rocky and Bullwinkle are consistently true blue and the world is ...

Well, I don't want to give the ending away. But you don't see any Pottsylvanians in the White House, do you? Well, do you???

"The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" may not be on par with the best of the original TV adventures devised by creator Jay Ward. It doesn't have anything as brilliant as the Kurwood Derby, or the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayam (a jeweled trinket Bullwinkle found on the shores of Veronica Lake). But it does have a store called Radio Shed, Crymia River and a visit to the town of de Bitter, Ind.

It's also got moose and squirrel in prime form. The world is in good hands. Or hoofs, if you're a moose.

`The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle'

Starring Rocket J. Squirrel, Bullwinkle J. Moose, Rene Russo, Jason Alexander, Robert De Niro

Directed by Des McAnuff

Released by Universal

Rated PG (Cartoon violence, rampant punning)

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