The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends is the blanket title for an American animated television series that originally aired from November 19, 1959, to June 27, 1964, on the ABC and NBC television networks. The current blanket title was imposed for home video releases over 40 years after the series originally aired and was never used when the show was televised; television airings of the show were broadcast under the titles of Rocky and His Friends from 1959 to 1961, The Bullwinkle Show from 1961 to 1964, and The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (or The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle or The Adventures of Bullwinkle and Rocky) in syndication. Produced by Jay Ward Productions, the series is structured as a variety show, with the main feature being the serialized adventures of the two title characters, the anthropomorphic moose Bullwinkle and flying squirrel Rocky. The main adversaries in most of their adventures are the two Russian-like spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. Supporting segments include Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties (a parody of old-time melodrama), Peabody's Improbable History (a dog named Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman traveling through time), and Fractured Fairy Tales (classic fairy tales retold in comic fashion), among others.
Rocky and Bullwinkle is known for quality writing and wry humor. Mixing puns, cultural and topical satire, and self-referential humor, it appealed to adults as well as children. It was also one of the first cartoons whose animation was outsourced; storyboards were shipped to Gamma Productions, a Mexican studio also employed by Total Television. The art has a choppy, unpolished look and the animation is extremely limited even by television animation standards at the time, yet the series has long been held in high esteem by those who have seen it; some critics described the series as a well-written radio program with pictures.
The show was shuffled around several times (airing in afternoon, prime time, and Saturday morning timeslots), but was influential to other animated series from The Simpsons to Rocko's Modern Life. Segments from the series were later recycled in the Hoppity Hooper show.
There have been numerous feature film adaptations of the series' various segments, such as the 2000 film The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which blended live-action and computer animation; and the 1999 live-action film Dudley Do-Right. Both films received poor reviews and were financially unsuccessful. By contrast, an animated feature film adaptation of the "Peabody's Improbable History" segment, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, was released to positive reviews in 2014. A rebooted animated series, The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show, debuted on Netflix in October 2015.
The idea for the series came from Jay Ward and Alex Anderson, who previously collaborated on Crusader Rabbit, based upon the original property The Frostbite Falls Revue. This original show never got beyond the proposal stage. It featured a group of forest animals running a television station. The group included Rocket J. Squirrel (Rocky), Oski Bear, Canadian Moose (Bullwinkle), Sylvester Fox, Blackstone Crow, and Floral Fauna. The show in this form was created by Alex Anderson. Bullwinkle's name came from the name of a car dealership in Berkeley, California, called Bullwinkel Motors. Anderson changed the spelling of the last two letters of the name and gave it to his moose.
Ward wanted to produce the show in Los Angeles; however, Anderson lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and did not want to relocate. As a result, Ward hired Bill Scott as head writer and co-producer at Jay Ward Productions, and he wrote the Rocky and Bullwinkle features. Ward was joined by writers Chris Hayward and Allan Burns; the latter eventually became head writer for MTM Enterprises. In a 1982 interview, Scott said, "I got a call from Jay asking if I’d be interested in writing another series, an adventure script with a moose and a squirrel. I said, 'Sure.' I didn’t know if I could write an adventure with a moose and a squirrel, but I never turned down a job."
The series began with the pilot, Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Production began in February 1958 with the hiring of voice actors June Foray, Paul Frees, Bill Scott, and William Conrad. Eight months later, General Mills signed a deal to sponsor the cartoon program, under the condition that the show be run in a late-afternoon time slot, when it could be targeted toward children. Subsequently, Ward hired the rest of the production staff, including writers and designers. However, no animators were hired. Ad executives at Dancer, Fitzgerald, & Sample, the advertising agency for General Mills, set up an animation studio in Mexico called Gamma Productions S.A. de C.V., originally known as Val-Mar Animation. This outsourcing of the animation for the series was considered financially attractive by primary sponsor General Mills, but caused endless production problems. In a 1982 interview by animation historian Jim Korkis, Bill Scott described some of the problems that arose during production of the series:
We found out very quickly that we could not depend on Mexican studios to produce anything of quality. They were turning out the work very quickly and there were all kinds of mistakes and flaws and boo-boos ... They would never check ... Mustaches popped on and off Boris, Bullwinkle's antlers would change, colors would change, costumes would disappear ... By the time we finally saw it, it was on the air.
The show was broadcast for the first time on November 19, 1959, on the ABC television network under the title Rocky and His Friends twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, following American Bandstand at 5:30 p.m. ET, where it was the highest-rated daytime network program. The show moved to the NBC network starting September 24, 1961, broadcast in color, and first appeared on Sundays at 7 p.m. ET, just before Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. Bullwinkle's ratings suffered as a result of airing opposite perennial favorite Lassie. A potential move to CBS caused NBC to reschedule the show to late Sunday afternoons (5:30 p.m. ET) and early Saturday afternoons in its final season. NBC canceled the show in the summer of 1964. It was shopped to ABC, but they were not interested. However, reruns of episodes were aired on ABC's Sunday morning schedule at 11 a.m. ET until 1973, at which time the series went into syndication. An abbreviated fifteen-minute version of the series ran in syndication in the 1960s under the title The Rocky Show. This version was sometimes shown in conjunction with The King and Odie, a fifteen-minute version of Total Television's King Leonardo and His Short Subjects. The King and Odie was similar to Rocky and Bullwinkle in that it was sponsored by General Mills and animated by Gamma Productions. NBC later aired Bullwinkle Show reruns at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday afternoons during the 1981–1982 television season.
On cable, the series had extended runs on Nickelodeon (1990–1994), Cartoon Network (1993–2002) and Boomerang (early 2000s). Since the late 2000s, The Program Exchange has typically only licensed the series for short-term runs; nationally, the series has seen limited airings on WGN America (2009), VH1 Classic (2012) and Boomerang (2013).
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The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show remained in syndicated reruns and was still available for local television stations through The Program Exchange as late as 2016; WBBZ-TV, for instance, aired the show in a strip to counterprogram 10 PM newscasts in the Buffalo, New York market during the summer 2013 season. The underlying rights are now owned by Universal Pictures, which holds the library of predecessor companies DreamWorks Animation and Classic Media, and who in turn with copyright holder Ward Productions forms the joint venture Bullwinkle Studios, which manages the Rocky and Bullwinkle properties; Universal's purchase of Classic Media coincided with The Program Exchange's shutdown.
Sponsor General Mills retained all United States television rights to the series. Two packages, each containing different episodes, are available. The syndicated version of The Bullwinkle Show contains 98 half-hour shows (#801–898). The first 78 comprise the Rocky & Bullwinkle story lines from the first two seasons of the original series (these segments originally aired under the Rocky and His Friends title). Other elements in the half-hour shows (Fractured Fairy Tales, Peabody's Improbable History, Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, Aesop and Son, and short cartoons including Bullwinkle's Corner and Mr. Know-It-All) sometimes appear out of the original broadcast sequence. The final 20 syndicated Bullwinkle Show episodes feature later Rocky & Bullwinkle story lines (from "Bumbling Bros. Circus" through the end of the series, minus "Moosylvania") along with Fractured Fairy Tales, Bullwinkle's Corner, and Mr. Know-It-All segments repeated from earlier in the syndicated episode cycle. Originally, many syndicated shows included segments of Total Television's The World of Commander McBragg, but these cartoons were replaced with other segments when the shows were remastered in the early 1990s. A package, promoted under the Rocky and His Friends name but utilizing The Rocky Show titles, features story lines not included in the syndicated Bullwinkle Show series.
The most recently syndicated Rocky and His Friends package retains the 15-minute format, consisting of 156 individual episodes, but like The Bullwinkle Show, the content differs from the versions syndicated in the 1960s. The various supporting segments, including Fractured Fairy Tales (91), Peabody's Improbable History (91), and Aesop and Son (39) segments are syndicated as part of Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, and 38 of the 39 Dudley Do-Right cartoons are syndicated as part of Dudley Do Right (sic) and Friends. Syndicated versions of the shows distributed outside of the United States and Canada combine the various segments under the package title Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends; it is this version of the show that is represented on official DVD releases through DreamWorks Classics and the official online version found on Hulu.
The lead characters and heroes of the series were Rocket "Rocky" J. Squirrel, a flying squirrel, and his best friend Bullwinkle J. Moose, a dim-witted but good-natured moose. Both characters lived in the fictional town of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, which was purportedly based on the real city of International Falls, Minnesota. The scheming villains in most episodes were the fiendish spies Boris Badenov, a pun on Boris Godunov, and Natasha Fatale, a pun on femme fatale. Other characters included Fearless Leader, the dictator of the fictitious nation of Pottsylvania and Boris and Natasha's superior, Gidney & Cloyd, little green men from the moon who were armed with scrooch guns; Captain Peter "Wrongway" Peachfuzz, the captain of the S.S. Andalusia; various U.S. government bureaucrats and politicians (such as Senator Fussmussen, a recurring character who opposed admitting Alaska and Hawaii to the Union on the grounds of his own xenophobia); and the inevitable onlookers, Edgar and Chauncy.
When first shown on NBC, the cartoons were introduced by a Bullwinkle puppet, voiced by Bill Scott, who would often lampoon celebrities, current events, and especially Walt Disney, whose program Wonderful World of Color was next on the schedule. Compared with the dim-witted and lovable moose that most fans of the series would grow up with, in this short-lived version Bullwinkle was portrayed as a sarcastic smart-aleck. On one occasion, "Bullwinkle" encouraged children to pull the tuning knobs off the TV set. "In that way," explained Bullwinkle, "we'll be sure to be with you next week!" The network received complaints from parents of an estimated 20,000 child viewers who apparently followed Bullwinkle's suggestion. Bullwinkle told the children the following week to put the knobs back on with glue "and make it stick!" The puppet sequence was dropped altogether. Scott later re-used the puppet for a segment called "Dear Bullwinkle," where letters written for the show were read and answered humorously. Four episodes of "Dear Bullwinkle" are on the Season 1 DVD.
Each episode is composed of two Rocky & Bullwinkle cliffhanger shorts that stylistically emulated early radio and film serials. The plots of these shorts would combine into story arcs spanning numerous episodes. The first and longest story arc was Jet Fuel Formula consisting of 40 shorts (20 episodes). Stories ranged from seeking the missing ingredient for a rocket fuel formula, to tracking the monstrous whale Maybe Dick, to an attempt to prevent mechanical, metal-munching, moon mice from devouring the nation's television antennas. Rocky and Bullwinkle frequently encounter the two Pottsylvanian nogoodniks, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale.
At the end of most episodes, the narrator, William Conrad, would announce two humorous titles for the next episode that typically were puns of each other (and usually related more to the current predicament than to the plot of the next episode). For example, during an adventure taking place in a mountain range, the narrator would state, "Be with us next time for 'Avalanche Is Better Than None,' or 'Snow's Your Old Man.'" Such a 'This,' or 'That' title announcement was borrowed from The Adventures of Sam Spade radio shows produced in 1946–1950. The narrator frequently spoke with the characters, thus breaking the fourth wall.
Episodes were introduced with one of four opening sequences:
Episodes ended with a bumper sequence in which a violent lightning storm destroys the landscape, appearing to engulf Rocky and Bullwinkle in the destruction and accompanied by dramatic piano music. The music would become more lighthearted, and the ground would scroll upward while the outlines of the heroes gradually appeared. We then see a smiling sun overlooking a barren field which rapidly fills with sunflowers until Rocky and Bullwinkle finally sprout from the ground.
The Rocky & Bullwinkle shorts serve as "bookends" for popular supporting features, including:
The following table summarizes which characters were voiced by which actor, as documented in the Frostbite Falls Field Guide and June Foray interview in the Complete Series boxed set, as well as Rocky and Bullwinkle sub-articles here on.
|Bill Scott||Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Fearless Leader, Mr. Peabody, Gidney, Mr. Big|
|June Foray||Rocky, Natasha Fatale, Nell Fenwick, various witches, princesses, and hags in Fractured Fairy Tales, and every other female character in the show|
|Paul Frees||Boris Badenov, Captain Peter Peachfuzz, Cloyd, Inspector Fenwick, narrator for Dudley Do-Right (shared), various historical figures in Peabody's Improbable History|
|Daws Butler||Aesop Junior, various characters in Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop and Son|
|Hans Conried||Snidely Whiplash|
|William Conrad||narrator for Rocky and Bullwinkle, narrator for Dudley Do-Right (shared)|
|Edward Everett Horton||narrator for Fractured Fairy Tales|
There were attempts to revive Rocky & Bullwinkle throughout the 1970s. A revival in 1981 parodied the Super Bowl. A script was written, storyboards were produced, the network gave it a green light, but the project was canceled because of objections from the NFL. (Actual team owners were parodied and Boris was fixing the game.)
Another revival attempt took place at Disney in the mid 1980s, back when they were distributing the show on VHS. Developed by Tad Stone and Michael Peraza, the revival was named The Secret Adventures of Bullwinkle and would have been a modern take on the old Bullwinkle show, with the return of characters like Mr. Peabody and Sherman and Dudley Do-Right and would have featured new segments like "Fractured Scary Tales", a parody of horror films, and a new "Mr Know It All" skit that, among other things, had Bullwinkle programming a VCR. Before the two presented their pitch, they soon found out Disney did not have the rights to the actual series, only to the video distribution of the old Bullwinkle show, and the concept was abandoned.
The program debuted on home video with two compilation CED Videodiscs released by RCA during the format's rise in the early 1980s, featuring complete, uncut story arcs and accompanying alternating segments and bumpers. Volume 1 contained the complete story for "Wossamotta U", while volume 2 contained "Goof Gas Attack" and "The Three Mooseketeers".
Buena Vista Home Video released the show on VHS, Betamax and LaserDisc in the early 1990s, under the title The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. These are presented differently from when broadcast. Two "Rocky and Bullwinkle" chapters were sometimes edited together into one (removing the "titles" for the next chapters as well as part of the recap at the beginning of the next), usually showing the storyline in four or five chapters per video. For example, the 12-episode Wossamotta U. adventure is reduced to seven episodes, and runs about seven minutes shorter. The "Bullwinkle Show" closing was used on these.
The first eight videos were released under the "Classic Stuff" banner, with covers and titles being parodies of famous paintings or painters. Four more videos were released under the "Funny Stuff" banner, but unlike the first eight, these were not numbered, the video titles matched the title of the featured "Rocky and Bullwinkle" storyline, and the covers represented scenes from shows (such as Bullwinkle pulling a rhino out of a hat as the cover for "Painting Theft"). (The change in the banner might have been due to a video magazine publishing a letter criticizing the editing.) The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle Season 1 is available in Cracker Barrel for VHS.
|Volume # (LD #)||VHS/Betamax name||Ep||Additional segments|
|1. (1)||"Mona Moose"||"The Treasure of Monte Zoom"||Fractured Fairy Tales: Riding Hoods Anonymous, Bullwinkle's Corner: How to Be Happy (Though Miserable), Peabody's Improbable History: Robinson Crusoe, Dudley Do-Right: The Disloyal Canadians, Mr. Know-It-All: How to Get into the Movies Without Buying a Ticket|
|2. (1)||"Birth of Bullwinkle"||"The Ruby Yacht"||Peabody's Improbable History: Robin Hood, Bullwinkle's Corner: Little Miss Muffet, Fractured Fairy Tales: Sleeping Beauty, Mr. Know-it-All: How to Catch a Bee and Make Your Honey Happy, Dudley Do-Right: Flicker Rock|
|3. (2)||"Vincent Van Moose"||"Goof Gas Attack"||Fractured Fairy Tales: Rapunzel, Dudley Do-Right: Finding Gold, Mr. Know-It-All: How to be an Archeologist – and Dig Ancient History, Aesop and Son: The Dog and His Shadow|
|4. (2)||"Blue Moose"||"Rue Britannia"||Peabody's Improbable History: Cleopatra, Bullwinkle's Corner: The Queen of Hearts, Dudley Do-Right: Mountie Without a Horse, Fractured Fairy Tales: The Ugly Almond Duckling|
|5. (3)||"La Grande Moose"||"Box Top Robbery"||Dudley Do-Right: Saw Mill, Fractured Fairy Tales: The Frog Prince, Aesop and Son: He Who Laughs Last|
|6. (3)||Canadian Gothic||Four "Dudley Do-Right" segments, instead of a "Rocky and Bullwinkle" storyline ("Marigolds", "Trading Places", "Lure of the Footlights", and "Whiplash Captured")||Aesop and Son: The Hound and the Wolf, Fractured Fairy Tales: The Frog Prince, Bullwinkle's Corner: Simple Simon, Mr. Know-it-All: How to Do Stunts in the Movies without Having the Usher Throw You Out, Peabody's Improbable History: The Royal Mountie Police|
|7. (4)||Whistler's Moose||"Moosylvania" and "Moosylvania Saved"||Aesop and Son: The Mice in Council, Mr. Know-it-All: How to Direct a Temperamental Movie Star, Bullwinkle's Corner: Tom Tom the Piper's Son, Peabody's Improbable History: Whistler's Mother, Fractured Fairy Tales: Little Red Riding Hood|
|8. (4)||Norman Moosewell"||"Wossamotta U"||Bullwinkle's Fan Club, Peabody's Improbable History: William Shakespeare, Fractured Fairy Tales: Rumpelstiltskin, Dudley Do-Right: Dudley's Brother|
|9. (5)||"Pottsylvania Creeper"||"Pottsylvania Creeper"||Dudley Do-Right: Recruiting Campaign, Bullwinkle's Corner: Mary Had a Little Lamb, Peabody's Improbable History: Lawrence of Arabia, Fractured Fairy Tales: The Red-Haired Duke, Mr. Know-It-All: How to Sell Vacuum Cleaners, Aesop and Son: Two Heads are Better than One|
|10. (5)||"Painting Theft"||"Painting Theft"||Peabody's Improbable History: Mati Hatti, Fractured Fairy Tales: The Enchanted Prince, Bullwinkle's Corner: Hickory Dickory Dock, Dudley Do-Right: Coming-Out Party, Mr. Know-It-All: The Old West|
|11. (6)||"The Weather Lady"||"The Weather Lady"||Peabody's Improbable History: William Tell, Bullwinkle's Corner: Wee Willie Winkie, Dudley Do-Right: Mortgagin' The Mountie Post, Mr. Know-It-All:How to Escape From Devil's Island, Fractured Fairy Tales: Hansel and Gretel|
|12. (6)||"Banana Formula"||"Banana Formula"||Peabody's Improbable History: Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mr. Know-It-All: How to Make Friends, Aesop and Son: The King of the Jungle, Bullwinkle's Corner: The Ditzy Daffodils, Dudley Do-Right: Trap Bait, Fractured Fairy Tales: The Golden Goose|
Years after the Buena Vista releases ended, another series of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" VHS tapes were released, both separately and as a boxed set. These videos included Upsidaisium, The Last Angry Moose, Metal-Munching Mice, Much Mud, and Rue Britannia. However, these were released through Goodtimes Video and were not authorized by Ward Productions. The copies used were from 16 mm Bullwinkle Show prints. Some other companies also released unauthorized editions of Rocky and Bullwinkle, including Nostalgia Family Video which also released all 98 of The Bullwinkle Show package shows via 16 mm Bullwinkle Show prints and Bridgestone Multimedia released eight episodes as Rocky and his Friends using an old broadcast 16 mm print.
The copyright status of these 98 episodes (along with some episodes of Hoppity Hooper) is disputed.[better source needed] As of 2017, the copyright is generally recognized as valid, and attempts to post the gray market releases on video sites have historically been greeted with DMCA takedown notices.
In 2002, Jay Ward Productions established a partnership with Classic Media called Bullwinkle Studios. From 2003 to 2005, the partnership produced DVDs of the first three seasons of the series, which were renamed (for legal reasons) Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends. Releases then stalled until 2010, when season 4 was released, in part to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the series. The complete series was released on January 4, 2011, marking the debut of season 5 on DVD. A standalone release of season 5 was released on March 29, 2011. The DVDs for the first 3 seasons were distributed by Sony Wonder, while season 4, 5 and Complete Series sets are currently distributed by Vivendi Entertainment.
The DVD releases differ somewhat from the originals. The original opening bumpers as seen on the network run were restored, but the title of the show was replaced with the name "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends" (never used during the show's television run) and a modern logo with styling inconsistent with the rest of the animation (pictured) somewhat clumsily inserted into the original bumpers. A William Conrad sound-alike was used to announce the new title, which some viewers found jarring. In addition, a semi-transparent "R&B" logo appears for five seconds at the beginning of each segment in the lower right-hand corner. Some segments were moved from their position in the original episodes. Also, the season 5 shows on DVD recycle supporting features found on the DVDs for the first four seasons. Mathematically, this makes sense since the total number of supporting features (assuming two used per show) exactly equals the number of shows created during the first four seasons. The first set, most of the second set, and the fifth season set use the second opening and closing used for the Rocky and His Friends broadcast, while the last two story arcs in the second set, as well as the third and fourth season sets, use the original opening and closing from the Rocky and His Friends broadcast. Frank Comstock's musical themes are replaced on the sets with Fred Steiner's music produced for The Bullwinkle Show. In addition, the first four season sets include optional Spanish-language audio tracks.
In 2005, Classic Media released a series of "best of" DVD compilations of popular segments of the series: two volumes of The Best of Rocky and Bullwinkle, plus the single-volume The Best of Boris and Natasha, The Best of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, The Best of Fractured Fairy Tales, and The Best of Dudley Do-Right. These compilations contain episodes from the entire run of the show.
On October 30, 2012, Classic Media released a DVD called The Complete Fractured Fairy Tales which includes all 91 Fractured Fairy Tales segments.
During the time the show was available on Hulu (it was offered as a free series before it went to a subscription-only model), the DVD version of the episodes were used instead of the syndication prints.
|DVD name||Ep #||Release date (Region 1)||Discs||Extras|
|Complete First Season||26||August 12, 2003||4||Network promos; "Savings Stamp Club" episode; "Dear Bullwinkle" bumpers; "The Many Faces of Boris Badenov" (a montage of Boris scenes); two segments from Season Two's "Metal Munching Mice"|
|Complete Second Season||52||August 31, 2004||4 (double sided)||Interview with June Foray; Three Cheerios commercials (storyboard and final versions); "Moosecalls: The Best of Bullwinkle Sings" (a parody of television ads for compilation records); a segment from Season Three's "Missouri Mish Mash"|
|Complete Third Season||33||September 6, 2005||4||Bullwinkle puppet openings; "The Best of Bullwinkle Follies" (a vaudeville themed montage of clips); the first segment of Season Four's "Painting Theft"|
|Complete Fourth Season||19||August 17, 2010||2||None|
|Complete Fifth Season||33||March 29, 2011||4||Audio outtake from "Goof Gas Attack"|
|Complete Series||163||January 4, 2011||18||In addition to previous extras, a 70-page "Frostbite Falls Field Guide" detailing the history of the show; "Exceptional Adequacy" award ribbon|
It was always our intent to create shows that would be entertaining on many levels. Rocky and Bullwinkle are still funny to me now, but on a new level. There were jokes that I didn't get as a child that I now understand the references to. They were able to create shows that were funny to both groups without sacrificing anything. That is a hard job to do and we always strove to emulate that quality
In addition, those who snag the 3-D Blu-ray version will enjoy a new animated adventure with Rocky and Bullwinkle.