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'Rocky and Bullwinkle'

Movie Review: Rocky's rotten revival - Classic cartoon should have stayed in the past

Friday, June 30, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

I never met a man and an actor I liked more than Robert De Niro -- or a movie I disliked more than this one.

Jay Ward's TV cartoon program "Rocky and His Friends," which debuted in 1959, was never known for great (or even good) animation.

Costs were cut by sending out the cartooning itself to be done in Mexico City -- at four sloppy drawings per second.



STARRING: Renee Russo, Robert De Niro, Jason Alexander.


Critic's call: One Star


But plucky Rocky, the flying squirrel, and his partner Bullwinkle the Moose were popular for spoofing old movies, satirizing politics and for shameless puns. (Boris and Natasha once usurped the throne of Applesauce-Lorraine; Bullwinkle tried to break into movies as "Crag Antler" in a Brando sendup.) Bright, verbal kids were fond of the show, which moved from ABC to NBC and ran until 1964.

How to get 'em out of re-runs 35 years later?

For "Rocky and Bullwinkle," their movie resurrection, R&B take their leave of two-dimensional Toontown and assume crude three-dimensional forms that resemble nothing more sophisticated than stuffed animals with one facial expression or rubber blow-up flotation devices to keep kids from drowning at the beach. Al Gore is more animated.

Thus poorly and primitively armed for live action, they are dead in the water.

Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader -- with a monocle and cigarette holder and Nazi accent -- is the deranged head of RBTV (Really Bad Television), whose goal is to take over the United States by getting everyone hypnotized and hooked on its mindless programming. As plots go, this crosses the line between irony and stupidity: It has already happened -- in real as well as cartoon life! But never mind. It's up to Rock and Bull and pretty FBI Agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to thwart the evil scheme.

De Niro, in any case, does a kind of bad Dr. Strangelove imitation that is neither scary nor funny, when it should be at least one or the other. Juxtaposing his German villain with the equally unfunny Boris and Natasha -- Cold War Russian curiosities -- makes no sense whatsoever.

Short bits o' shtick by the likes of Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, John Goodman, Whoopi Goldberg, et al -- after the initial surprise of recognition -- fail to enliven the proceedings. The wit is dim. The moribund state-of-the-art technique is full of special defects.

One could conclude that it's clean fun for 4-year-olds -- pretty nonviolent, nonthreatening stuff. But one could also conclude that it's terminally moronic and by far the dumbest, most embarrassing thing Robert De Niro has ever done.

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