ANIMATION SPIN
September 12, 2017 posted by

“The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” Book & Recording

Next Monday would have been June Foray’s 100th birthday, so this is a very different kind of “Spin,” taking a first-person approach for a very special project.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE
Read-Along 24-Page Book and Tape
Buena Vista (Disney) Records 60473 (Audio Cassette with Book / Stereo)

Released in 2000. Executive Producer: Ted Kryczko. Producer: Randy Thornton. Writer: Greg Ehrbar, Based on the Screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan and Characters Developed by Jay Ward. Engineer/Associate Producer: Jeff Sheridan. Layout/Design: Jordan Foley. Production Supervision: Wendy Baker, Nancy Cushing-Jones, Cindy Chang, Sarah Harris, Running Time 17 minutes.

Cast: June Foray (Rocky); Keith Scott (Bullwinkle, TV Announcer); Corey Burton (Narrator); Robert DeNiro (Fearless Leader); Jason Alexander (Boris); Rene Russo (Natasha); Carl Reiner (P.G. Biggershot); Janeane Garafalo (Minnie Mogul); Randy Quaid (Cappy von Trappment); Piper Perabo (Karen Sympathy); Carol Jones (Judge); Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell (Martin and Lewis).

There have been June Foray recordings in our family household since I was a baby, which is hardly unique. One of my fondest memories happened one evening after a dreadful day of school. My dad came home from work and out of the blue asked, “Do you have the Pixie and Dixie Cinderella record?” I told him I didn’t. “Well, you have it now, son.”

Hanna-Barbera Records were the latest thing back then and he knew I was nuts about them. Getting a new one didn’t happen often, so this was one of the most wonderful things he could have done. There was no reason except that he loved me. I listened to that record over and over, long before I realized that June Foray and Paul Frees were doing all the voices. I turned parts of the album into skits and plays in junior high, even college. I wrote about it for Spin here. June Foray herself didn’t have a copy (she probably had given more than one of them away and ran out), so it meant a lot to be able to provide her with one.

There was another recording I gave June that she wasn’t aware existed: Disney’s Buena Vista Records read-along version of Universal’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. This was another wondrous audio connection with June—but this time, I was the writer of the recording. It would be the first and the last time I would ever have been graced with the privilege of writing something upon which “Lovely Lady June” performed, even though we weren’t in the same place during its production.

However, Actor/author Keith Scott did work alongside June Foray, plus the entire cast and crew of the film as both the voice of Bullwinkle and the narrator. Keith was kind enough to share his experiences for today’s Spin:

“The experience of working on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle was certainly a career highlight for me…one of the very few long form jobs I’ve ever done. Mostly I’m in and out of a session in under an hour, but this ended up being an 18-month assignment.

“Essentially Charles Fleischer’s role on Roger Rabbit (where he was on-set doing the Roger voice) set the template for future combos of live action / animation production…I was required on set most filming days for six months to do either Bullwinkle or the Narrator dialogue for precise timing, as much of the CGI animation by ILM wouldn’t be finished and married to the live principal photography for almost a year. And rather than have a crew member read the lines badly they got me to travel with the film.

“As I expected, it went way over schedule (I was originally told it would be two months tops). Still, between the start of filming and final release date it was a year and a half of back-and-forth to Hollywood for me, doing many post-production voice-over sessions alongside my beloved June Foray. We also spent a further six weeks side by side doing publicity and interviews in all media. Of course, we were both highly aware the film tanked pretty badly, but we loved it because, for all its flaws, there was a lot of Jay Ward homage in there and we tried so hard to maintain the flavour of the original cartoons.

“A major delight was briefly working with the great Robert DeNiro, who also produced, and who was such a nice man (and respectful of we oddball voice experts). On two Saturdays, he invited June and me to rehearse with him playing Fearless Leader at the Four Seasons; we screened a couple of old episodes of the show, including one I enthused about in which the villains all sing ‘Hail Pottsylvania.’ I remarked how it was a pity that song wasn’t in the movie. By Monday, DeNiro had pulled some strings and demanded that the song be included in the movie, and the director never let me forget how my suggestion had upped the budget!! But it was a funny scene, all right.

“My book, The Moose That Roared, was being edited at the same time, and the publisher decided to time the book’s street date with the opening of the movie. So that was a period of my life where all my lifelong love of Jay Ward cartoons and voice talents came to fruition in one fell swoop.

“I knew they were going to do a read-along using grabs from the movie, but that small job didn’t have the budget to fly me back across the ocean to do the narration, so my friend Corey Burton did a fine job.”

Writing the read-along version was a pleasure from beginning to end. One of the challenges of doing an adaptation for a forthcoming movie is that the production isn’t finished, so there isn’t much in the way of reference beyond the script. I had to guess how things would look and sound. Because it was Rocky and Bullwinkle it wasn’t as tricky as usual because the classic cartoons were implanted in my head.

Like Keith, Corey Burton paid off every molecule of comedy in the narration, finding nuances that continue to make me marvel, catching the madness of both Jay Ward and William Conrad. The movie may have “underperformed,” but the read-along remains one of the purest joys of my career. A trip through a writer’s Wayback Machine with some extraordinary people.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

The challenge—and the fun—was writing narration that approached the style of the original series. I didn’t use much of the movie narration because the read-along had to be so much shorter, but I could come up with wild Ward-like phrases and it was a blast. My favorite line is, “Just outside Chicago, she reunited with Rocky and Bullwinkle when the long arm of the law clutched all three in its meaty grasp.”

10 Comments

  • I need to watch that movie again. While I didn’t think it was as awful as some critics made it out to be, I remember being tremendously disappointed that it was no better than it was, given the source material.

  • I remember the Mars candy bar promotion. I was confused by the rules at the time, and ate a lot of Snickers, Milky Way, Twix and probably 3 Musketeers just to win, and also, seeing to movie itself that I borrowed the Buena Vista Rocky and Bullwinkle VHS tapes to see the source material.

    As it for being “awful”, it was ranked #10 in Mat Brunet’s Top 10 Worst Films Based on a Cartoon:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcwKX7BfTAE

  • Thanks, Greg. Nice article as usual and always enjoyable for me to relive that period of my working life. (One small thing I noticed…Jason Alexander did not do the TV announcer voice, that was me guilty as charged!)

    • Ah! We’ll have to fix that error, Keith. I love your TV announcer performance –very funny!
      The only dialogue that was changed for the recording was the judge. Guess Whoopi’s dialogue wasn’t in the budget.

  • June was such a wonderful performer that I hesitate to say anything that might be construed as criticism; still, I feel her performance in this film is kind of tired.

    • Well it must be noted that June was forty two and at the very top of her game when she began doing the Rocky cartoons in 1959. We did this feature film forty years later and she had recently had medical issues, along with the inevitable and frustrating aging process. By the age of 81, she couldn’t hit the high notes and energy level she used to be able to reach, but she sure still sounded totally Rocky and Natasha to me. And her enthusiasm for the project was undimmed, despite the fact she got tired during the post sessions if they started to drag on. I must say the team was respectful of her status and her age, and we did several small sessions rather than long ones. What a trouper she was going on to work until around the age of 94.

  • I haven’t seen this movie before, so I’ll probably give it a chance, even if most people say it’s bad.

  • The film is worth seeing. It tries hard, even if it doesn’t always succeed.

    And I gotta say, Keith’s book is absolutely wonderful. THAT should be read by any Jay Ward fan, for sure.

    • Thanks a lot, Randall.

  • Sorry, but I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and still do (though I wish Norman Lloyd had been given more to do). It also has one of the finest puns I’ve ever heard in a movie: Trapped at the top of the Crossroads of the World lighthouse, Perabo asks Bullwinkle if he knows how to rappel. He replies, “Why, sure! We’ve been repelling audiences for years!”

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