- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2000

''The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" gets off to a snappy, promising start by pretending to recap the careers of its title characters, the principal cartoon heroes sustained by Jay Ward's animation studio in its heyday. "Rocky and His Friends" debuted on ABC in 1959 and became "The Bullwinkle Show" a couple of years later on NBC. The series wrapped in 1964 after 326 episodes and now is part of the vintage inventory on cable's Cartoon Network.
The feature, directed by theatrical luminary Des McAnuff from a fondly knowing screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan, reawakens a couple of facetious strong points with gratifying promptness and gusto specifically, the sarcastic Narrator and literal-minded gags. The most conspicuous example of the latter: a picture of dawn breaking over the words "As dawn broke …"
Mr. Ward juxtaposed the rather minimal but emphatic illustrative style of his cartoon shows with a witty, mocking narration. Here, it mocks the obscurity of Rocky, Bullwinkle and the Narrator himself, forced to spend 35 years in retirement in their cartoon hometown of Frostbite Falls.
Ostensibly, Rocky the flying squirrel and Bullwinkle the moronic moose have been scraping by on residual checks for pathetic amounts such as 3 1/2 cents. Narrator confesses to moving back in with Mom, definitely a cantankerous sight for sore eyes.
Narrator gets some amusing mileage out of mocking Hollywood to get the plot under way. "Adventures," it seems, is a fundamentally disreputable project, originated in a spirit of mercenary despotism by the show's trio of espionage villains, who used to skulk for the apocryphal East European dictatorship of Pottsylvania: Fearless Leader, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale.
Rocky and Bullwinkle return as cartoon figures, amplified to a considerable extent by computer animation, while their adversaries and most other characters are embodied by actors, often trying too hard to sustain cartoon whimsies in live-action form.
The failure of Robert De Niro, Jason Alexander and Rene Russo to generate spontaneous hilarity while disguised as Leader, Boris and Natasha suggests that the roles might be unplayable in three dimensions. Leader's only highlight, for example, is an interlude during which Mr. De Niro kids his performance as Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver."
The pretext: The villains con a movie company into a deal that allows them to establish a sinister TV network, RBTV, short for Really Bad Television. Inane but hypnotic, their programming reduces the American public to grinning zombies. The same fate could await Washington, where the president, impersonated by James Rebhorn, already appears to be a hapless simpleton. Alert FBI agents recruit Rocky and Bullwinkle to combat the threat. After all, they have a perfect record at foiling Leader, Boris and Natasha.
Curiously, the movie retains its initial comic momentum for about a half-hour, the length of a vintage cartoon episode. Because Rocky and Bullwinkle were part of a repertory cast, they had even shorter shifts in their prime. The big-screen incarnations are agreeable, and an endearing link with the past is maintained by the fact that June Foray, the original voice of Rocky, is still active and inimitable. But the movie needs constant reinforcements of guest performers and discursive episodes to justify feature length.
One of the better side trips casts Whoopi Goldberg as the judge in a case in which Bullwinkle outsmarts himself by arguing the wrong side. John Goodman plays a highway patrol cop in an amusing spoof of TV shows predicated on police videos.
Perhaps the most effective short-termer is Rod Biermann as the nice cluck who keeps waiting patiently for the return of Piper Perabo as FBI cupcake Karen Sympathy.

Two stars out of a maiximum of four stars
TITLE: "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle"
RATING: PG (Fleeting comic vulgarity)
CREDITS: Directed by Des McAnuff. Written by Kenneth Lonergan based on characters developed by Jay Ward.
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes

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