Home > Reviews > THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE – Mark Mothersbaugh


adventuresofrockyandbullwinkleOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Rocket T. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose. The names hardly roll off the tongue, do they? Not quite the same ring as those other revered characters in the annals of cartoon history, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. But, despite everything, these two peculiar animated heroes are cult figures in the United States (although, much like The Grinch, they never caught on in the UK). I vaguely remember some kind of badly-animated cartoon series featuring this duo from somewhere in the foggy mists of my youth, but never really paid it much attention. The fact that a movie based on these two was ever made amazed me. The fact that it was directed by Des McAnuff, who previously made the deliciously dark comedy Cousin Bette, amazed me even more. And then when I found out that both Robert De Niro and Rene Russo were in it, I had to call for the smelling salts.

Without wanting to be unkind to the talented people both in front of and behind the camera, I avoided The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle like the plague when it finally opened in the UK in February 2001. Apparently, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is set some thirty years after the cartoon TV show was cancelled, and finds the titular characters living in relative obscurity in Frostbite Falls. Suddenly (and don’t ask me how because I don’t know) they find themselves transported from toontown into the “real world” a la Roger Rabbit, swiftly followed by the nemesi, Fearless Leader (De Niro), and his henchpeople Natasha (Russo) and Boris (Jason Alexander looking like Peter Lorre). Before too long, Fearless Leader sets up his own TV station (RBTV = Really Bad Television) and plans to take over the world by brainwashing his viewers with mind-numbing “entertainment”. Oh, the irony of it all. And so, our intrepid duo set out to thwart their nefarious plan… or so said the gravelly-voiced narrator anyway.

Mark Mothersbaugh is an unusual character. Formerly the lead singer of the progressive funk rock group Devo, and lately the front man with the equally unusual Mutato Musika, Mothersbaugh has also been quietly carving out a scoring career for himself in the low-budget and independent arenas. His most high profile assignment to date has been to score the clever Rugrats TV series and its two spin-off movies, but has also recently worked on a slew of big-screen successes such as the Adam Sandler comedy Happy Gilmore, The Last Supper, Rushmore, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and Dead Man on Campus. As far as I am aware, this Supertracks promo of his work on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is the first time a full Mothersbaugh score has been available on disk – selected cues on song compilations notwithstanding.

Musically, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is an extremely mixed bag. There are some lovely moments, notably the serene piano theme in ‘Hard Times in Frostbite Falls’, a quirky but attractive harmonica element in ‘The Bitter End’, and the overwhelmingly upbeat ‘A Really Happy Ending’. In addition to this, there are a few good-natured and surprisingly large-scale action cues, notably ‘The Green Light’, ‘Big Action’, ‘Chase on the Runway’ and the finale ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle Save the Day’, that somehow manage to lampoon the music from James Bond, Independence Day and the elastic band theme from Seinfeld in one fell swoop, while working in sections for electric guitars and cymbaloms along with way as well. There are brief allusions to the scoring styles of Scott Bradley and Carl Stalling here and there too, notably through the continued use of “boinging” effects, and the extremely rapid ascending brass scales that often features in Tom & Jerry chase sequences.

Several other cues are made up out-and-out comedy music that lurches around from style to style in an attempt to stay fresh and vibrant, but in reality just comes across as being madly schizophrenic. It’s one of the golden rules of comedy scores that the music itself should never be funny in itself, but Mothersbaugh seems to have veered in the other direction entirely, throwing every instrumental variation and musical style he can imagine at the score with no regard for flow or cohesion. As a listening experience, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is similar to what one might experience while channel-surfing on the radio. The other major problem is the choppiness of the album; many of the cues lurk around the minute mark, and never have a chance to expand on themes of build up and kind of consistency. At times, it’s like a bad baroque album – change, change, change.

Having said that, Mothersbaugh is nothing if not inventive. There are several skewed takes on Frank Comstock’s original R&B theme in ‘Logo and Main Title’ and ‘Rocky: The Flying Squirrel’, ‘Boris Badenov’ and others, while other tracks manage to interpolate renditions of classic tunes such as like “Hooray For Hollywood” and “America the Beautiful” into the underscore proper. It’s rather unfortunate that the surprisingly serious and tender closing song “Through the Eyes of a Child” (performed with theatrical gusto by Lisa McClowry), bears the same as one of the mercilessly satirical ditties from the South Park movie. As soon as I saw this title, the first thing I wondered was whether any of them know a guy called Steve who could detail my car for $20.

In the end, though, it’s painfully obvious that Mothersbaugh was just trying to hard to be wacky and quirky with this score, and that he desperately wanted to emulate Danny Elfman. Now, if Elfman had scored this it could have been a completely different kettle of fish… I’m thinking Beetlejuice, but we’ll not get into that. Ultimately, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is a fragmented, loony, but annoyingly enjoyable slice of nothingness, and at least I now have a Mothersbaugh section to my CD rack. Oh, just one more thing. Mark? If you’re reading this, for God’s sake, lose the plastic hairpiece. It makes you look like an action figure.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Logo & Opening Titles (0:50)
  • Hard Times in Frostbite Falls (0:51)
  • Rocky: The Flying Squirrel (0:34)
  • From Pottsylvania to Hollywood (written by Richard Whiting and Johnny Mercer) (1:38)
  • The Green Light (2:26)
  • Frenetical Action/Green Light Shines (1:00)
  • On the Highway/The Test Machine (1:00)
  • Zombie Drone/Secret Agent Man (written by P Sloan and Steve Barri)  (1:15)
  • Fearless Leader/Boris Badenov (1:31)
  • Boris and Natasha (0:52)
  • The Bitter End (1:17)
  • Zombified People/Big Action (2:20)
  • Implausibly Coincidental (0:50)
  • Chase on the Runway/Hang On! (3:17)
  • Hail, Hail Pottsylvania (written by Fred Steiner) (0:44)
  • Put Your Hands Up/Vegomatic (5:16)
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle Save the Day (4:40)
  • America the Beautiful (written by Katherine L. Bates and S. Ward)  (1:10)
  • A Really Happy Ending (1:56)
  • Through the Eyes of a Child (written by Mark Mothersbaugh, Lavant  Coppock and Lisa McClowry, performed by Lisa McClowry) (4:31)

Running Time: 37 minutes 58 seconds

Supertracks MMCD-01 (2000)

Music composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Suzette Moriarty, Ladd McIntosh, Carlos Rodriguez, Walter Fowler and Elizabeth Finch. Synthesiser orchestrations by Chris Guardino, Tom Heil, Larry Dominello, Kevin Kliesch and Benoit Grey. Theme from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle written by Frank Comstock. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by Laura J. Perlman. Mastered by James Nelson. Album produced by Mark Mothersbaugh and Ford A. Thaxton.

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