I’ve long, long been a fan of Rocky and Bullwinkle, but it’s only been recently where I’ve revisited the show and found myself utterly fascinated. Take a look at the 9-second intermission animation commonly played at least once per episode. The titular moose and flying squirrel climb frantically in silhouette to the top of a crumbling mountain, which is then shattered by lightning, thereon plunging our heroes into the depths, only for them to ultimately be reborn as flowers.
Rocky and Bullwinkle
1959-1964 · 326 segments
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Welcome to The Long Haul! In our inaugural series, we salute the canon of moose and squirrel.
I don’t want to read too deeply into a short bumper segment on a program intended for kids – John K. of Ren and Stimpy already did that for me – but it’s a truly unique, surreal sequence, and one that reflects positively upon the program as a whole. Broadcast from 1959 to 1964 under the names Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show, Jay Ward built his animated series out of loose, free-wheeling narratives drawn from the spirit of classic radio dramas. Story arcs could last anywhere from four to 40 installments, which is a ridiculous level of serialization for the time for a program aimed at young viewers.
Rocky depicts a world where the fourth wall was never even built. The show’s narrator is as much of a character as the rest of the ensemble, capable of interacting equally with our heroes and with Cold War-era villains Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, his omniscient knowledge (and meek countenance) sometimes even altering the course of the plot.
My favorite element of the show’s storytelling is that each individual Bullwinkle segment is as much recap as it is new material, frequently going so far as to present a completely new twist on the same storyline. The resulting effect is that, cumulatively, the viewer is essentially presented with two comic variations on the same storyline over the course of the serial. Unless someone can present me with an earlier example, this is where Arrested Development‘s fake “Next time on …” bumpers were born.
Rocky and Bullwinkle is famous for its low-budget animation, with visual assets notably reused and backgrounds often only vaguely drawn in. Personally, I find the ramshackle production values charming the same way I find Avery Brooks’ hammy acting endearing in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. As in, not great in a technical sense, but the aura it lends to the series is indispensable.
There’s not much more I can say about the show without squandering potential material for later entries, so I’ll just leave it at here and dive into the series. Rocky and Bullwinkle consists of 163 episodes collectively containing 326 actual Rocky and Bullwinkle sequences. I’ll tackle it by story arc, with longer ones probably tackled over the course of more than one post. In the meantime I’ll recount highlights from the show’s endlessly entertaining side segments, the most notable of them being Peabody and Sherman, Aesop and Son, and Fractured Fairy Tales.
… Well, it looks as if our time has just about run out! I’ll be back with my thoughts on the first half of the show’s monstrous debut serial, Jet Fuel Formula, featuring the show’s most charmingly cheap animation of all.