Rocky and Bullwinkle Turn 50

HOWARD MEGDAL: I’ll never forget the time my father and I came home from the video store with a VHS showing some of the best episodes of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9, putting this moment somewhere in the late 1980s. In other words, the pleasure any episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle provides was evident during the show’s initial run from 1959 until roughly 1973 (give or take some syndication), in 1989, or even 2009, as the show reaches 50 years of age.

It is hard to overstate what it felt like to go from children’s cartoons such as Tom and Jerry or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, characterized by slow plots and lots of violence, to Rocky and Bullwinkle’s adventures, fast, filled with wordplay, and increasingly, as I learned more about history, full of entertaining references.

But while Moose and Squirrel were the stars, no character was anything but entertaining on-screen. Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale were an animated couple to enjoy. If anything, they were a far more enjoyable version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

The remaining stories- like Aesop and Son, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and Dudley Do-Right, all contained the same level of wit and energy. Coincidentally, the show provided much of the impetus for The Simpsons, a show just starting its run when I first experienced Rocky and Bullwinkle. (Obviously, Brian the Dog from Family Guy is related to Mr. Peabody).

I feel fortunate that in an era of DVD sets, I will be able to have the complete first three seasons for my child to watch, instead of the assorted two-hour block here and there that my father could find for me at neighborhood video stores. Children’s television hasn’t advanced much- if anything, most of the films are both filled with more violence and scatological humor in place of wit.

You should probably raise your children youselves, but if you pick only one TV show to raise your kids, make it Rocky and Bullwinkle.

JILLIAN LOVEJOY LOWERY: As a child, I wasn’t so into cartoons.  Bugs Bunny bored me, Woody Woodpecker grated on my nerves, Smurfs were insipid and creepy, and contentious duos like Tom and Jerry or Heckle and Jeckle were just too cruel.  Cartoons were never really my bag — until my mother introduced me to the wonderful world of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Truly, I never thought that I’d utter the following words, but thank God for syndication.  If not for the UHF channel that rebroadcast the show that my mom so loved as a child, I’d have not had the same experience.  Some of my favorite grade school memories are coming home from school, having a snack and enjoying Rocky and Bullwinkle with her.

How could one not adore the cagey Rocket J. Squirrel and his sweetly bumbling sidekick, Bullwinkle J. Moose?  Their clever banter and silly adventures were the perfect entertainment — smartly written, quick and fun.  Watching was effortless, but not in that hypnotizing, mind-numbing way of so many other programs.  Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop & Son were always big winners in my book, and I still wish that Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine were real.

My very favorite residents of Frostbite Falls were, hands down, Boris and Natasha, who made me realize how good it could be to be bad.  Natasha was glamorous, scheming and mysterious, and regardless of the fact that she was always foiled in the end, she still seemed the perfect villian.

It’s absurd to think that a cartoon that began 50 years ago would hold up so well, but Rocky and Bullwinkles does.  It sounds fresh, edgy and unpredictable — something that is decidedly rare in the vast majority of television programs today.  How can a cartoon that’s 50 years old still be relevant, with such a broad appeal?  Any one of any age can kind something enjoyable in each episode.  Think about that for a second.  It’s kind of epic.

Let’s face it — television today is dominated by schlock-y and exploitative reality programming, humorless sitcoms and uninventive dramas.  Our cartoons, however, are quite a lot more interesting.  As Howard pointed out above, The Simpsons and Family Guy would not exist if not for Moose and Squirrel before them, nor would most of the programming on Adult Swim — and Ren and Stimpy would never have had a chance. 

What with all the hoopla surrounding the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street, I’m surprised that Rocky and Bullwinkle’s 50th isn’t garnering more attention.  Though R&B’s run was not as long (nor continuous), I would nevertheless argue that it has just as broad of an appeal, though its focus and format are different.  With television quickly becoming a intellectual wasteland, it’s more important than ever to celebrate the shows that rise above the rest.

Moose and Squirrel forever!

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