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Movie Review

In search of a new world to conquer, the evil Cold War megalomaniac Fearless Leader leaves animated Pottsylvania accompanied by his two inept spies, Boris and Natasha, and heads to Hollywood. His scheme: buy up time on all cable TV channels and fill the airwaves with lame programming designed to hypnotize the masses and convince U.S. citizens to vote him in as their next president. Who can thwart these villains? The same moose and flying squirrel who did so regularly until their TV show was cancelled and driven into reruns in 1964—Rocky and Bullwinkle. They join forces with an idealistic young government agent named Karen Sympathy (get it, Care and Sympathy?). Bad puns fly, but this often clever tribute to the cartoon mammals of old employs self-aware, self-deprecating humor ("Even their wordplay has become hackneyed and cheap," says the chiseled narrator) so that it’s hard not to forgive its goofiness and grin right along. The film also skewers the medium of television with zingers that will have discerning parents wanting to shout, "Amen!"

Positive Elements: Television’s mind-numbing, dumbing-down effect is central to the plot—and to Fearless Leader’s plot. Tainted programming from the villain’s vault of broadcast inanity is said to create "mindless zombies totally incapable of independent thought," to which another man replies, "Totally different from regular TV." Wink, wink. Another scene finds studio exec Minnie Mogul (Garofalo) weeding through scripts in her Hollywood office, discarding one after another because they’re too intelligent. Meanwhile, friends rescue each other and try to save the free world. Bullwinkle is passionate about reforesting his pen-and-ink home of Frostbite Falls. When things seem rough, Rocky tells Karen, "You need the most faith when things look the most hopeless" (though he doesn’t imply where that faith should be placed).

When Boris and Natasha blow up Karen’s convertible, thus stranding her and her cartoon passengers, Karen steals their truck and is chided by Rocky who has a moral problem with stealing regardless of the circumstances. Her response is, "Rocky, it’s not 1964 anymore. You’re in the real world now." But it’s Karen who eventually learns that "right" and "wrong" don’t change from one generation to another. Though generally upright, she also lies, steals another truck and misuses a friendship, for which she is grilled in court by Bullwinkle (who’s supposed to be defending her) and comes to realize that there are more important things than just getting the job done without regard for ethics. Once she cracks on the stand, Bullwinkle says, "Now our consciences are clear and the healing can begin." A very cute and straightforward means of making a moral statement. A recurring anti-cynicism theme is finally driven home when Karen’s inner child forces her to repeat, "What you believe in when you’re young can still be true when you grow up."

Sexual Content: None, though in a quick-cut introduction, a girl opens her jacket to reveal a somewhat immodest, two-piece outfit.

Violent Content: A ‘toon mother crowns her narrator son with an iron skillet. A parody TV-show promo shows a car carrying real-life spies exploding on impact with a wall. Designed to transport cartoons onto the Internet, a computer-based superweapon zaps a character, leaving a little splatter behind (the rodent appears later inside the computer unscathed). Rocky and Bullwinkle endure abuse—from being flattened by a bus to falling from heights—but always come out unscathed. Human characters get battered and bruised, but without fatalities (heads are conked together, two bad guys fly through panes of glass, etc.). Cartoon violence is rampant, but relatively harmless. Characters pull guns on each other, but no shots are fired.

Crude or Profane Language: The narrator utters "d--n" once for shock comic effect. Also, two crude expressions and several exclamations of "oh my god!"

Drug and Alcohol Content: Champagne is used twice to celebrate victory, first by Boris and Natasha and later by the "good guys."

Summary: More clever than expected, this movie maintains a brisk pace and packs in more gags than most people will pick up on the first pass. Of course, I grew up watching Jay Ward’s Rocky and Bullwinkle (in reruns) and thus appreciated much of the self-aware humor. Preteens may not get it. And some viewers will undoubtedly tire of the literal-minded puns, illogical behavior and general silliness. But Rocky and Bullwinkle has a good heart and a clear vision of good and evil. When the lines begin to blur, cartoon pals are there to restore order and remind us that the values we held as unaffected children still have merit. Mild language is unfortunate and may be deemed inappropriate for younger audiences, but teens and adults should get a kick out of this special effects-packed response to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Besides, any film that playfully accuses Hollywood of mass "Zombiefication" can’t be all bad.

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Credits

Rating

PG

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Cast

Piper Perabo as Karen Sympathy; Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader; Jason Alexander as Boris; Rene Russo as Natasha; Randy Quaid as Cappy Von Trapment; Keith Scott as Bullwinkle and the Narrator; June Foray as Rocky; appearances by Jonathan Winters, Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Janeane Garofalo, Whoopi Goldberg, Carl Reiner, Kel Mitchell, Kenan Thompson, James Rebhorn, David Alan Grier, Don Novello (out of Father Guido Sarducci garb) and others

Director

Des McAnuff ( )

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Universal Pictures

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Reviewer

Bob Smithouser

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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