Rocky and Bullwinkle (and Friends): Episode 2, Jet Fuel Formula parts 3 and 4 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Rocky and Bullwinkle (and Friends): Episode 2, Jet Fuel Formula parts 3 and 4

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Jet Fuel Formula Part 3

In which a (literally) unseen third player in the cake baking rocket fuel saga emerges to threaten our heroes with scrooching.

In its second full episode and third part of "Jet Fuel Formula", Rocky and Bullwinkle hits a low then high point with its ramshackle animation. The dialogue jumps straight to the action even when the figures are doing little as we hear our heroes talk but there is no mouth movement. It's distracting, even with the Narrator doing his best wrangle some wry fun out of the surroundings with amusing and accurate summations like, "Well Rocky and Bullwinkle really started something just by trying to make a cake." Rocky and Bullwinkle's long-term reputation includes it being seen as little more than a radio play with some images and the opening of part three reinforces the notion.

Then the limited animation gets two characters who will make great use of the volatile quality. Gidney and Cloyd are two little green moon men ("They must be Congressmen," Bullwinkle muses) with a shaky grasp on their ability to turn invisible. Their appearance is both a bit unsettling and hilarious as their furrowed expressions become visible before the rest of their bodies do with their figures moving in and out of view according to some floaty animated logic we're not privy to. It's a fun effect, letting the Rocky and Bullwinkle team lean into the cheap production creatively by introducing two characters that don't need to be consistently animated at all - give or take the bushy mustache and gun capable of "scrooching" (what that is still to come).

Gidney and Cloyd also lean into Rocky and Bullwinkle's amused annoyance with then-modern life, which still resembles the now-modern life (which as of this writing is December 2018). Their training involved listening to loud music, dodging traffic, and having to inhale smog. These days we could just go outside in a major metropolitan city to get the same experience as being locked in with airborne pollutants. It's not crushingly insightful stuff, but their annoyed and beleaguered expressions enduring the annoyances of post-industrial life are well felt.

Fractured Fairy Tales: Puss and Boots

I had to double-back on this installment of "Fractured Fairy Tales" because I wasn't sure that the title really was "Puss and Boots." The old yarn is "Puss in Boots" and Rocky and Bullwinkle's writing typically isn't that lazy in adjusting the titles of their reference points. It's not good for a laugh, though I did chuckle when Puss' low class master questions Puss' need for boots with the feline responding, "That's the story, puss and boots."

Okay, chuckle is a bit strong, I smiled and continued to smile for most of "Puss and Boots" but it didn't have the same sharper edge that last episode's "Rapunzel" did. It's not without charm, especially with how easily impressed the king is with Puss' master taking baths. But the rough animation produces another odd effect in "Puss and Boots" by showcasing a perpetual case of crossed eyes of many characters. This retelling isn't unhinged and within the confines of fairy tales everyone responds about as you would expect given Rocky and Bullwinkle's wry sensibilities, so the googly eyed nature of the drawings detracts from the few jokes that land in the dialogue.

Bullwinkle's Corner: Little Miss Muffet

Now this, as the saying goes, is more like it. "The Swing" wasn't a representative sample of the metafictional fun Rocky and Bullwinkle have with Bullwinkle's poetry readings. "Little Miss Muffet" is where Rocky proves to be more of a distraction to the show than the plucky hero in the main storylines and Bullwinkle is a bit uptight.  It's hard to fault Bullwinkle when we see the various arrays of pulleys and half-finished sets he has to work with as he gives his poetry reading.

The writing matches the animation quality this time around with Rocky having a consistent question or response to Bullwinkle just trying to get the poem done. Rocky's suggestion of a world beyond the world we're watching as he tells the rigging crew to pull him up sparks the imagination nicely. Are the crew members like the unflappable business folks on trains or the shocked population annoyed that they've got to do the scene over again? I prefer Rocky and Bullwinkle not answering this, at least until Boris and Natasha start involving themselves more in the backstage shenanigans.

This is a tight segment and when Rocky asks, "What's a tuffet?" Bullwinkle's response of, "It's what I'm sitting on," has become something of a go-to expression when I'm trying to get to the point of a conversation that's dragged on far too long.

Peabody's Improbable History: Napoleon

Aside from "Little Miss Muffet", this episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle is something of a slog even though only twenty minutes have passed. "Napoleon", the Peabody and Sherman adventure that sets the pattern for their remaining stories, doesn't help here. Napoleon gets another bad case of the googly eyes while he's looking for his suspenders and his Captain Crunch-esque figure here does little to showcase Rocky and Bullwinkle's typically good grasp on history.

There's a fun little swordfight bolstered by the image of Sherman holding off a pirate while Peabody is his most dog-like running around with suspenders in his mouth. I also dig the uncommented-upon absurdity of Napoleon's little girl, who hasn't seen Napoleon in thirty years but still looks for all the world like a Shirley Temple stand-in. Those are the only two bright spots in an otherwise weak showing for the writing, characters, and visual gags.

Jet Fuel Formula Part 4

In which Bullwinkle is the target of a hypnotic plan from Boris while keeping an eye out for the lurking moon men.

An overall slow episode at least ends on the establishment of one of Rocky and Bullwinkle's best running gags and a pair of excellent dry jokes. Boris ended last episode trying to kill the moose and squirrel because of orders from their home country and Natasha reveals more of the message to show that the orders are -not- to kill them. There's a balance between making Boris and Natasha actual threats (open spies in America during the Cold War) and hilariously incompetent. It's a funny fit that their efforts are stymied by the same bureaucratic gridlock that's led their American counterparts to replace nuclear programs with fudge making.

The last two great gags play off the shared stupidity of Rocky and Bullwinkle along with the terrifying / dumb dynamic of Boris and Natasha. The latter's dry, "Of course not," when asked if she speaks English is a bit of wry vocal perfection as June Foray goes from sounding like she made a mistake, to letting the line drift longer looking for an exist, and ending on a bit of disbelief that she's speaking English and they're not catching on.

Inconsistent googly eyes finally pay off in the final gag where Boris (in one of his soon-to-be dozens of disguises) hypnotizes Bullwinkle into telling him everything. The sight of Bullwinkle, spiral eyes gazing into nothing, rattling off his days as a hat rack for an officer's club because Boris instructed Bullwinkle to tell him everything is a fantastic application of storytelling logic. There's no stopping to explain the joke, just Bullwinkle rattling on, and the episode closes on this magnificent note after a lot of piddling about.

NEXT TIME: The Scrooched Moose

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Posted by Andrew

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