Apparently, I’m supposed to cut Des McAnuff’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000) slack because it faithfully duplicates the approach of the baby-boomer TV cartoon classic that ran from 1959 to 1964. As a member of that generation, it’s meant to appeal to me. I’m also supposed to give it points because the actors appear to be having fun. (Hmm. They get paid a large amount of money to have fun, while I get paid a very small amount of money to not really enjoy myself. There’s something inequitable about this.) I will admit, however, that the movie’s heart seems to be in the right place and it does have a clever premise, so some slack—not much—will be cut.
The central problem with an undertaking of this sort is that it takes what was amusing in seven-minute segments and expands that to feature length, where there’s a good chance the amusing turns into the tiresome. The old TV show was constructed so that Rocky and Bullwinkle episodes were broken up with other, often completely unrelated material. Here, you’re stuck with 90 minutes of moose, squirrel and bad guys. It doesn’t help that the film added Piper Perabo as an FBI agent.
There are some clever bits. The basic premise of cancelled, out-of-work cartoon characters living off dwindling residual checks is solid. Having the cancelled show’s old narrator (or an approximation of him) reduced to narrating his own life is pretty clever, too. It’s amusing—for a while—to see Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader, but I could never get away from the feeling that he did this just to put himself with Al Pacino’s cartoonish turn in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990). (And he doesn’t even come close.)
All this might have worked better with another director. Whoever decided that Des McAnuff should direct shouldn’t have. On what basis? That he directed the stage production of The Who’s Tommy? What kind of basis is that? The results suggested that he’d never seen a cartoon in his life and probably isn’t a lot of fun at parties either. All things considered, I got more fun out of the much maligned earlier attempt of bringing characters from the show to film, Boris and Natasha (1992)—if only for Sally Kellerman’s Natasha.
The film won’t harm you and it has some good moments—just not enough of them to sell me on it.