Rocky and Bullwinkle Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
12Mar/190

Rocky and Bullwinkle (and Friends): Episode 3, Jet Fuel Formula parts 5 and 6

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Jet Fuel Formula Part 5

In which a scrooched moose becomes an important trophy for spies and moonmen alike.

Today's episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle is a fun lesson in how to read older works of art. There's a temptation among critics (myself included) to think that certain lines or images are more progressive or "woke" than their surroundings might suggest. This episode opens on a fantastic image of Moon Churchill addressing angry moon men holding the above sign, "Progress is our least important product!"

The temptation is to read this as a literal progressive critique against the isolationist moon men borrowing one image of 20th century opportunistic conservatism. What's more probable is that Churchill, at the time, was a man whose image in the anglo world was still riding high on beating back invaders and that makes for a good fit into the caricature-friendly world of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Cartoons can be great mechanisms for social commentary but it's highly unlikely this cartoon that shipped its animation to be cheaply produced outside the US to save those sweet advertiser dollars was thinking that progressively.

Anyway, discussions on whether something's progressive in a '60s cartoon aside, this is a punchier start to Rocky and Bullwinkle than the previous parts. There's fine snappy timing on display as Rocky and Natasha both want to claim the genius of their respective pairs then pass it off once the moon men threaten the geniuses with more scrooching. Then there's the fantastic image of Bullwinkle frozen mid-hypnosis having to be carted around by Boris, who must be all muscle considering the heft of the titular moose.

22Dec/180

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.

20Dec/180

Rocky and Bullwinkle (and Friends): Introduction with Episode 1, Jet Fuel Formula parts 1 and 2

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Flashback: 1992, Universal Studios, Orlando Florida, and an 8-year old me has the honor of sitting next to a living legend. The legend is one Dudley Do-Right of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who climbed all the way to the top to greet me and my mother while enjoying a live-action version of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show together. Dudley Do-Right deftly answers lightly teasing questions from my mom about where Horse and Nell are while my attention is split between a living cartoon sitting next to me and the one playing out on stage. It all ends with a bang, Boris Badenov gets shot out of a cannon meant for Rocky and Bullwinkle, and I turn to see a smoky Boris stuck in an adjacent building while the show wraps up and Dudley gives me a salute before he goes off into the credits.

Dear readers, it was at that moment I learned magic exists and my adult mind remains steadfast that Dudley Do-Right is real, and strong, and my friend. A quick trip to the gift shop and a small plush facsimile of Rocky came home with me to be my companion as I wore down the multiple VHS copies of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show we owned. Sometimes I'd get up early enough to catch a syndicated glimpse of the stories that didn't make it to VHS, such as "Metal-Munching Mice" or "Bullwinkle's Testimonial Dinner".

Put differently, and why I'm going to be spending the next couple of months writing about The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, there is no "me" without the moose and squirrel. It introduced me to serialized storytelling, metafictional fourth-wall breaking, snappy dialogue, animation that made the most of a limited budget, and an unyielding reservoir of positivity with an excellent feel for puns. 2018's been a difficult year and trying to keep up with art that hasn't excited my senses, combined with a litany of horrible things that just kept happening, and the cumulative affect of the last few months has left me adrift in my depression.

After re-watching a few episodes to determine if this is a good way of spending my time I can safely say there is nothing like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. I'm not planning on watching or writing about the new series that launched but with enough time and distance into this project, maybe I'll give it a shot.

For now, as Bullwinkle put it, there's always room for one more! So please join me on this episode-to-episode breakdown of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.