Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy birthday, Rocky & Bullwinkle

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 1:25 PM

For this baby boomer pop culture fan, the most important thing happening today is the 50th anniversary of the first episode of animator Jay Ward’s Rocky & Bullwinkle. For a show with so-so ratings at the time, produced on a shoestring by a small group of smartasses, Rocky & Bullwinkle had an enormous impact, if only for its influence on Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. An irreverent, mocking tone in a cartoon? Taking on current issues and pop culture fads? Talking directly to the viewers? Arguing with the narrator? Spoofing other shows? All stuff we take for granted today, all those things started — and that’s no exaggeration — with R&B.

Cartoons on television were a bland wasteland in the medium’s early years, when, out of the blue, here came a flying squirrel and a dimwitted talking moose who wisecracked, were silly for silly’s sake, and treated kids as if they were smart enough to get all the jokes. (Although, at times, the jokes were for grown-ups’ enjoyment, such as the intro for an episode of Fractured Fairy Tales that started, ''Once upon a time there was a little village on a hill, called Daniels on the Rocks.'')

Rocky and Bullwinkle’s adventures, largely spent fighting two Cold-War-spoof Russian spies, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, were matched by other segments that became as popular as the title duo. Peabody’s Improbable History, in which Peabody, a bespectacled, talking dog, and his young adopted human son, Sherman, traveled in the “Way-Back Machine” to famous historical events, is still hilarious; the pair even showed up in a 1994 episode of The Simpsons. Many boomers, though, claim that the stories and exquisitely awful puns in Fractured Fairy Tales were a highlight of their childhood. In any case, here’s the show’s opening sequence.

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