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The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

In an era overflowing with pointless remakes of baby-boomer TV shows, the real surprise of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is not that it works this well — it's the fact that it works at all. While so many other live-action adaptations of cartoons fail miserably, Rocky and Bullwinkle succeeds because it treats the source material with the utmost reverence. Kenneth Lonergan's screenplay melds both the unapologetically bad puns of Jay Ward's original series with an abundance of self-referential modern jokes, and it feels just as natural to watch our favorite moose and squirrel comes to terms with modern technology (Bullwinkle discovers Microsoft's Solitaire game in one delightful scene) as it does to hear their traditional puns and wisecracks. As our story opens, the ever-excitable Narrator (voiced by Keith Scott) informs us that Rocky (voiced by original actress June Foray) and Bullwinkle (Keith Scott again) have grown disillusioned with life in the animated world of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Since their show's cancellation, the duo has survived on an ever-dwindling number of royalty checks. But opportunity knocks when that dastardly trio of villains, Boris Badanov (Jason Alexander), Natasha Fatale (Rene Russo) and Fearless Leader (Robert De Niro) escape from Cartoon Land and find themselves in the real world. Fearless Leader wastes no time in ripping off Mystery Science Theater 3000 with his plan to take over America: he'll project horrible television shows around the country, programs so inept that even the most brilliant minds in modern society will be turned into quivering bowls of jelly. Faster than you can say "Hokey Smokes," Rocky and Bullwinkle are summoned into our world to foil their old foes, once and for all. Even though CGI graphics sometimes can go awry, Rocky and Bullwinkle looks terrific, and Industrial Light and Magic has done a wonderful job of melding the animation with the cinematography. The performances also find just the right note between camp and utter sincerity. Jason Alexander and Rene Russo are perfectly cast as Boris and Natasha, but Fearless Leader is the real star of the show here, and if De Niro doesn't really sound that much like the animated character he's portraying, his performance is so campy and enthusiastic that it's an easy flaw to overlook. Regrettably, Universal's new DVD edition has not given the film the special edition treatment it so richly deserves. It's a disappointingly barren disc, containing little of note apart from a surprisingly tedious "behind the scenes" featurette and a few textual supplements. Still, the anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer looks stellar, and the audio (Dolby Digital 5.1) couldn't be clearer. But the absence of a commentary track with Keith Scott and June Foray is a significant disappointment. Keep-case.
—Joe Barlow

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