Originally debuting back in 1959, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is now back in a big way thanks to DreamWorks Television Animation, DHX Media, and Jay Ward Productions, debuting this Friday on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a super-silly and expertly animated comedy series that’s sure to please returning fans as well as a whole new generation of audiences meeting Moose and Squirrel & Co. for the first time.
I had a chance to chat with The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle co-creator, writer, and executive producer Scott Fellows (The Fairly OddParents, Big Time Rush) about bringing the classic cartoon into the modern era. We talked about the quantum leap in the evolution of animation technology since the original series’ debut as one of the first cartoons produced specifically for television, finding the right cast for these iconic roles, and landing on the right tone to please returning fans and hook modern audiences. It was a great talk for a great show, so I hope you enjoy both!
What is your first memory of the original ‘Rocky & Bullwinkle’?
Scott Fellows: Well, I think when I started watching Rocky & Bullwinkle, it must have been in syndication, so I’m going to guess like around ’73 or so is when I really started getting into cartoons. I just remember that show’s open: you remember the song, you remember the whistling, you remember Rocky’s soaring sound effects and how they popped up amongst the daisies after the crash, so you knew right away what a playful, fun, silly cartoon it is. And then I think the other thing I always remembered was truly how chaotic the show was when they went to all the different factions like Fractured Fairy Tales and zipped away to other parts. The bigger thing I remember was how lovable Bullwinkle was and how great that voice was, just making me giggle.
Why is this the right time for a ‘Rocky & Bullwinkle’ reboot?
Fellows: First of all, they’re such legendary characters and they haven’t had enough screen time, so we need more Rocky & Bullwinkle. And let’s not forget, we talk about Rocky and Bullwinkle, but right behind them in the Cartoon Hall of Fame is, of course, Boris and Natasha. The four of them together really have been so much fun to write for. The other thing is, the 2D artistry that they’ve put in, not just DreamWorks and our art director Chris Mitchell but DHX [Media], is … the technology to build cartoons has been so great that you really get a chance to give Rocky and Bullwinkle the animation they deserve. If you know the history of it, one of the brilliant things from Jay Ward, not just creating that world, but creating the animation studio to make it affordable to air on television, which was unheard of in the late 50s and early 60s. Just like George Lucas wants to go back and fix special effects in the early Star Wars because the technology now is so great, we really have a chance to put the vision that he had, and the writing, and the characters, and maybe give it the animation it so richly deserves.
It’s amazing. I was at DHX the other day and was like, “Are those cloud shadows just scrolling across?” They layers that we can do and really just the beauty, it’s stunning. It’s an amazing-looking cartoon. And I can’t take any credit for that!
What experiences did you bring from previous shows you’ve worked on that help in the production of Rocky & Bullwinkle?
Fellows: That is a two-word answer: Guy Moon. I worked with Guy, who’s our composer, on Big Time Rush and Fairly OddParents. It’s something in the background, but music is one of the most important elements in a cartoon. Bringing Guy Moon onto this show just elevated it because of the orchestration, the nods to the classics of Carl Stalling, their interpretation of EDM when Rocky and Bullwinkle need to dance or whatever, that was really terrific. Guy came in with the music and really brought it to another level.
How did you balance the modern look versus the classic characters?
Fellows: The tone, I don’t think, has really changed. These are still two best friends who love each other and go on wild adventures and will do anything for each other, and then you’ve got the world’s most famous cartoon spies chasing them and causing havoc. That tone really hasn’t changed. So when the animation came back, all I was really looking for was something that expressed to a 21st century audience, something that conveyed that same warmth and mirth and playfulness and adventure. It was easy. The minute I walked in and saw the designs for Rocky and Bullwinkle, I just laughed. I thought they were great. They just captured the sweetness, the playfulness, and the insanity of that cartoon. That’s Chris Mitchell our art director who really worked that. As far as my influences in the artwork, it was mostly along the lines of storytelling to make sure our backgrounds were connecting and, because we sort of did these mini-movies or arcs or adventures, a lot of my tasks were to make sure everything was lining up because we weren’t just doing these half-hour episodes that were stand-alones, we were doing these arcs that all had to tie in together.