Tuesday, August 31, 2010

DVD Review: Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends: The Complete Season Four

Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends: The Complete Season Four

(Released August 17, 2010 by Vivendi Classic Media)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Let’s get this matter out of the way up front. The TWO ORIGINAL television programs from which this material is culled were titled: ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS followed by THE BULLWINKLE SHOW.

If ever there were a show called “Rocky and Bullwinkle” – or “Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends” – it would have been something cobbled together for syndication.

And “cobbled together” may be the best way to describe the attempts to recreate a fifty-year old show with many different component parts. Same applies to the early Hanna-Barbera series.

It may actually be IMPOSSIBLE, by this point in time, to reconstruct a show like this in an exact duplication of its original form. Pieces are lost to history. Shows had differing content of “new vs. repeat” material, etc. And, frankly speaking, not everyone associated with such a project HAS ACTUALLY SEEN a show like this in its original state. They might be forced to go by hearsay and the inescapable “Things They Read Somewhere on the Internet”.

Given this, I’d have to say that the producers of this series of DVD collections have done a fine job of creating something called “ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE AND FRIENDS” out of the remains of ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS and THE BULLWINKLE SHOW.

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

Authenticity of the Experience: Please refer to the opening paragraphs above.

Music Substitution: The original theme music, and that which heralds the start of the many of the component parts, has been substituted. The new music is inferior to anyone who can still hear the old themes echoing in the recesses of his or her mind. There’s even a faux-William Conrad voice calling the series “Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends”, as this music plays. Thankfully, the episodes themselves were rarely scored; so watching them still feels “right”.

Bugs: Not a guest cameo by “The Bunny”, alas, but a transparent (but annoying nonetheless) “R&B” Logo at the lower right corner of the screen. Just as you’d see on modern TV broadcasts. GET A CLUE, PRODUCERS… We KNOW this is “Rocky and Bullwinkle” (…or are you plugging “Rhythm and Blues” music?) without the BUG. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that we buy DVDs… TO GET AWAY FROM THAT INTRUSIVE CLUTTER! Since this is the 4th edition, I don’t think this is going to change.

Some Double-Dipping: The Rocky and Bullwinkle serials “Treasure of Monte Zoom”, “Guns of Abalone”, and “Goof Gas Attack”, included here, were all previously released on the various “Best of…” mini collections. But, I guess we can forgive that, as they are packaged here as Season Four. The six-part “Painting Theft” and the twelve-part “Banana Formula” serials appear to be new to DVD.

The Extra Features: There are NO extra features! Can’t really complain too loudly, given the amount of material at the price – but something (even old promos and the like) would be welcome.

All in all, there’s really not a lot to complain about, once your ears adjust to the non-authentic music (I’m not certain mine will ever COMPLETELY do so, due to so many years of watching the original broadcasts) – and if you can manage to look past or ignore the BUGS (I can’t completely do that either).

The Number of Episodes vs. the Price: 19 episodes for an MSRP of 19.98. Not bad at all, when compared with the concurrent BUGS BUNNY and DAFFY DUCK sets (Click on each for reviews.) that give you Fifteen individual cartoons (and no Extra Features) for that same MSRP of 19.98 – yielding the equivalent of FIVE SHOWS vs. the NINETEEN you get here!

The Packaging: Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends: The Complete Season Four comes in a very sturdy package that “opens like a book” with two discs – one on each inside page. It is nicely illustrated, though the portrait of Rocky must be one of the WORST drawings of the Flying Squirrel ever done. (Compare the good “Rocky rendition” here with the one leading off this post!) And, when you’re talking about a bad drawing of a Jay Ward character, you’re really saying something! Despite this, it remains one of the BEST efforts in DVD packaging I’ve seen of late.

Content Notes: A double-sided, color page of Content Notes is provided inside the package. This is a far better approach than that usually taken for contemporary Warner animation collections. (See many of my Warner reviews.)

Menu and Navigation: Menu navigation is very easy. BIG NUMBERS represent the “number of the episode”, and there is a full screen description of the contents of each episode for you to read before selecting it. This is especially helpful in that you won’t mistakenly play the show with “Chapters 3 and 4” of a “Rocky and Bullwinkle” serial, when you intend to play the show with “Chapters 5 and 6”. You can also play individual cartoons, or the episode as a whole.

The Talent: Producers Jay Ward and Bill Scott. Voice actors June Foray, Bill Scott, Paul Frees (who steals every show as “Boris Badenov”), William Conrad as “Our Narrator”, Edward Everett Horton, Daws Butler, Walter Tetley, Hans Conreid, and Charlie Ruggles put on a tour-de-force in every episode.

Show Content and Interstitials: Oddly, for this FOURTH SEASON, they appear to use the original First Season opening and closing sequences (with the music substitutions and faux-Conrad voice). And, for the First Season set, they used a LATER opening and closing made for ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS. Go figure. By this time, it should be THE BULLWINKLE SHOW credits anyway. As I said: “cobbled together”.

Each show contains two chapters of the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” serial, two component features (“Peabody’s Improbable History”, “Fractured Fairy Tales”, “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties”, or “Aesop and Son” – adding to the mixed up nature of reconstructing the series), a short Bullwinkle segment (“Bullwinkle’s Corner” or “Mr. Know-It-All”) and program interstitials that were used to introduce commercials and component features. You all remember “Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit of out of my Hat!”? Yeah, that stuff – and more of it than I remember there being, back in the day. Great to have those!

Shorter Serials: Though I always loved this show, I often felt less than satisfied because – no matter when I seemed to watch it – I only felt as if I were getting PART OF SOMETHING, instead of a “full-story”. The first serial “Jet Fuel Formula” (on the Season One DVD) was a whopping 40 (!) parts long! Imagine today’s kids hanging in that long for ANYTHING.

Of course, as I grew older and wiser, I realized that a “complete story” was not the point of the R&B serials – and that “getting there was ALL of the fun”!

Though, perhaps in response to this, the serials by this time were anywhere from FOUR to EIGHT chapters (with one 12-part exception) – and would cover anywhere from two to four shows. Honestly, I think it works better this way.

The Humor: If Jay Ward has one lasting legacy, it is the HUMOR of his animated series. He stuffed them full of great jokes and satire and, when they were chock full, he stuffed them some more.

Here are FOUR examples from “SHOW # 3” alone:

Boris Badenov (…such a great joke in itself) realizes he’s just made a terrible mistake.




Turns out, though, that they DID plug the competition – in these next two examples.

Boris ends a chapter by making a BET with the Narrator – who announces the title of the next chapter as “Dollars to Donuts – or The Wonderful World of Cruller” (The Disney Sunday program that followed “The Bullwinkle Show” on NBC.)

Or, in a “Fractured Fairy Tale”, one character suspiciously accuses another thusly: “What are you, a spy from Hanna-Barbera?”

And, in what may have been the “Groaner of the Year”, an “R&B” chapter satirized “Modern Art”.



…Oh, how do you not love that! And all of this is in just ONE SHOW!

Overall: Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends: The Complete Season Four is a great package, as long as you’re understanding of its shortcomings in the area of authenticity. Again, I’m not certain the true authentic experience CAN be recreated, so I’m willing to accept it as is.

Indeed, give it extra points if you’ve never seen either ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS or THE BULLWINKLE SHOW in olden days. The content not only “holds up” but has vastly improved with age – the limitations of ‘50s-‘60s animation notwithstanding, of course.

It doesn’t matter if you have the earlier season sets, as this is a fine sampling of Jay Ward’s greatest creations.

Hokey Smoke, just buy it and enjoy it!

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