The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, a blanket term to cover the many iterations of the cartoon characters seen on TV over the years, arrived almost 60 years ago. The animated variety show followed the misadventures of Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose as they were pursued by Russian-esque spies Boris and Natasha under the orders of Fearless Leader. But there were also other segments like “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties”, “Peabody’s Improbable History” and “Fractured Fairy Tales” to break up the action.The iconic moose and squirrel and their friends found a home on TV in syndication for decades and have appeared in numerous adaptations.
The latest remake, Amazon’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, manages to honor the classic tone and themes of the title team’s escapades while bringing them into the 21st century and giving the show the quality animation it deserves. You can see for yourself since the new series from DreamWorks Animation Television, DHX Media, and Jay Ward Productions is now available on Amazon, or you can read along below for my review to see what makes the show worth watching.
The first thing you should know about The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is that it features just that: The adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. The episodic variety show aspect has been traded in for more serialized storytelling. The brand-new, 13-episode series is broken down into three distinct arcs with their own particular genre to spoof: The 007-like, 5-episode “Stink of Fear” kicks things off, followed by the 4-episode, sci-fi mini-movie “The Dark Side of the Moose”, and the 4-episode horror-thriller “Moosebumps!” brings it all to a close in more ways than one. This storytelling decision puts the onus on Rocky and Bullwinkle, the antagonistic Boris and Natasha, and a crazy supporting cast of characters rather than spreading things out among other players.
In order to pull this off, the show has to rely on the strength of its cast to deliver the pun-filled, wry humor that fans know and love while the cast itself has to step into the shoes of iconic actors who came before them. There’s none better than Tara Strong to take on the role of Rocky from the late, great June Foray, and her delivery is impeccable throughout. A relative newcomer to the voice-acting world, Brad Norman gives us a solid and silly Bullwinkle as a perfect complement to his flying squirrel pal. Rachel Butera and Ben Diskin bring their own significant voice-acting experience to the task of channeling Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, a pair of super-spies who are just as hilarious and entertaining as their anthropomorphic animal enemies. Let’s not forget Piotr Michael‘s Fearless Leader, who gets less screen-time than his cohorts but absolutely makes the most of it. And I’m happy to say that the Narrator, a character that usually only steps in to introduce a scene or tell you what happened “Previously on…”, gets a big part to play in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, handled expertly by Daran Norris (The Fairly OddParents).
Another big draw for this series is its animation. The classic Rocky & Bullwinkle was one of the earliest made-for-TV cartoons but its animation was pretty rough, despite its popularity. Now, thanks to DreamWorks and DHX, the slapsticky duo and their pals get the animation they richly deserve. Every frame is a painting in this series. There are so many layered elements, and so much cartoon craziness and creative character designs throughout that it really feels as if the original cartoon has simply gotten an overhaul with modern technology. The traditional, 2D, hand-drawn feel is still there–the characters don’t pop out of the screen and are, thankfully, not CG 3D–but the animation is smooth, fluid, and unrestrained by technological limitations. It’s a beaut, Rock!
So while the voice cast and the animation should drawn in a fair number of people, it’s the stories that will keep them sticking around to push play for each new episode. Or honestly, as is the way these days, to just binge-watch a handful of episodes at a time. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is tailor-made for this sort of viewing experience since the 13 episodes are divvied up into manageable chunks, each with their own, remarkable intro sequence and theme song. “The Stink of Fear” sees Rocky and Bullwinkle caught up in an international game of espionage between the equally bumbling super-spies of both Pottsylvania and a newly introduced “heroic” spy agency. This five-part mini-series plays with time a little bit, showing how our title pals wind up in a perilous situation early on, only to revisit how they got into this mess to begin with and how they might find their way out of it.
If half the fun is watching Rocky and Bullwinkle luck their way through these situations, the other half is watching the new and returning cast of characters act and react amidst these antics; spare a fraction of your attention for the many Easter eggs scattered throughout, as well. I’m happy to say that both “The Dark Side of the Moose” and “Moosebumps!” carry on this super-fun storytelling style and bring the whole first season to a close in a satisfying way.