Thursday, November 19, 2009

“Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”

Although that foine broth of a boy, Inner Toob’s own Toby O’Brien, inducted the characters in his TV Crossover Hall of Fame this week, it was That Little Round-Headed Boy who reminded me that today marks the fiftieth anniversary of television’s best animated cartoon series, Rocky and his Friends (also known as The Bullwinkle Show…and other various incarnations). The irony of this statement is that while the program certainly wasn’t a yardstick for the best animation the cathode ray tube had to offer, I’ve yet to come across any series that matched Rocky and Bullwinkle for pure unadulterated hilarity and joy. The scripts, the voices, the characterizations—everything came together in this show that even today continues to entertain young and old alike.

Which, in a nutshell, is why the program still has such a dedicated fan base—as a kid, I watched the adventures of Moose and Squirrel religiously both weekdays and on Sunday mornings via ABC (it preceded a boring series entitled Make a Wish, hosted by musician Tom Chapin, and even then I knew that once the closing credits of Bullwinkle were done there were no more cartoons to be seen that morning). It mattered very little that it was poorly animated; kids rarely care about the quality of cartoons as long as there are explosions and movement. It wasn’t until later on in life that I started to get a lot of the humor on Rocky and Bullwinkle—sly, subversive and topical satire that often went over the heads of its young audience but which afforded the adult contingent a hearty chuckle. I remember a segment of Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties—one of Rocky and His Friends’ many supporting cartoons—where the impending nuptials of villainous Snidely Whiplash to his daughter Nell prompts Inspector Fenwick to remark: “I shall hate to call you ‘son,’ Whiplash…perhaps I can elongate it a bit and make it come out all right.” (I still can’t believe they got that past the censors.)

Today, my vocabulary is riddled with Rocky & Bullwinkle-isms: “Hokey smoke!”, “Sharrup you mouth!”, “That voice…where have I heard that voice?”, “Fan mail from some flounder?”, “Say the name…”, “Now there’s something you don’t see everyday, Chauncey…”/”What’s that, Edgar?” and of course, “And now here’s something we hope you really like!” TLRHB also mentions the wonderful performers on the show—narrator William Conrad, Bill Scott, June Foray, Paul Frees, Hans Conried, Walter Tetley—and gives a special nod to Edward Everett Horton, the narrator of Fractured Fairy Tales, who he remembers seeing “as a kid seeing a Fred Astaire movie on TV.” (I had the same experience myself, only it was seeing Charlie Ruggles—“Aesop” from Aesop & Son.)

The TLRHB post is a fun nostalgic read, as is a similar tribute from Mark Evanier (who takes a little time to plug the new June Foray autobiography as well). As for myself…well, I think I might take sometime later today to put on one of the Rocky & Bullwinkle DVDs put out by Classic Media (“A thunder of jets and an open sky/A streak of grey and a cheerful “Hi!”). (By the way—is Classic Media ever going to put the final season of this series on DVD? It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop…)

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Anonymous said...

When my oldest son was a mere child, he would sit on my lap as we watched Rocky and Bullwinkle. That little boy is now in his forties.

A few years back he found a set of Rocky and Friends videos, bought them, and went home to relive his childhood. He soon called me to say he finally understood why I laughed so hard with him sitting on my lap.

Jim from Jim's Journeys

Elisson said...

Rocky and Bullwinkle was one of those rare series that was funny enough to keep kids interested, but that was loaded with plenty of puns and Adult Subtext for the grownups.

The animation was of minimal quality, but who cared? The characters and stories were great, the voice acting brilliant.

I've written previously of my own encounter with the Moose and Squirrel... or their creator, anyway...

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I've written previously of my own encounter with the Moose and Squirrel... or their creator, anyway...

And I'm still envious. ;-)

Sebina C. said...

I don't believe they have ever aired it here in Denmark. I really want to check it out and one these days I'll buy some of it on DVD, I hope.

My childhood memories of watching cartoons are always the most vivid for some reason.