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“Rocky and Bullwinkle” was expression of Jay Ward’s humor

by Matthew Price Modified: April 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm •  Published: February 3, 2011
Rocky and Bullwinkle (Classic Media)
Rocky and Bullwinkle (Classic Media)

Jay Ward was around in television animation from the beginning: His “Crusader Rabbit,” co-created with Alex Anderson, was the first animated program created specifically for television. And his designs are still seen today; a version of the “Cap’n Crunch” character he created is still used to publicize the Quaker Oats cereal.

But the most perfect expression of the animation producer’s sense of humor lives on in “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”

All five seasons of the show, which began airing in 1959, are now available on DVD. A boxed set of the five — the first two, originally released as “Rocky and His Friends” and the last three as “The Bullwinkle Show” — was released last

month. Ward’s partner Bill Scott, who previously worked on “Gerald McBoingBoing,” became the voice and principal writer of Bullwinkle.

Rocky, aka Rocket J. Squirrel, and best friend Bullwinkle J. Moose, lived in Frostbite Falls, Minn., where they were often beset by Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, spy agents for the fictional nation of Pottsylvania.

“Rocky and Bullwinkle” was intended to work on two levels, says Tiffany Ward, daughter of Jay, who died in 1989. Tiffany Ward is now the president of Ward Productions.

“He said he wasn’t going to write down for children,” Ward said of her father. “He was writing humor for adults, and his belief would be that little kids would like the show because of the cute characters and the great voices of the moose and squirrel, and Boris and Natasha. And the middle-level kids he figured would really work harder to get the inside jokes because their parents would be laughing. And I believe he was right, and I believe that’s why, 51 years later, we’re still here and producing things that people still want to see.”

Ward said her father and Scott were among the first to really popularize irreverent humor in television animation.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman
Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Ward now oversees the use of the characters from the show, including “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” who are set to come to theaters in 2014 in a DreamWorks animated film starring Robert Downey Jr.

“We’re very excited about a movie we’re doing, an animated movie we’re doing with DreamWorks, should be March of 2014, on the Sherman and Peabody characters,” Ward said. “That’s in the works, and Rob Minkoff, who did ‘Lion King,’ is our director, and so that’s a lot of excitement now, and that’s a thing to look forward to in the next few years.”

Mixing the various animated sequences throughout “Bullwinkle” was intended by her father to help keep the show fresh, Ward said.

“He liked the idea that there would be a Rocky and Bullwinkle episode at the beginning and end of each half an hour,” she said in a recent interview. “And that he would mix up the remaining episodes that would be in the middle. So he liked the idea that kids would tune in and not know exactly what they were seeing.”

Other segments in the show included “Dudley Do-right,” “Aesop and Son,” “Fractured Fairy Tales” and “Mr. Know It All” and “Bullwinkle’s Corner.”

The complete archives of all of these are available in the DVD set. And fortunately, much of the work of restoring the material had already been done.

“Years ago, in the ’90s … the materials were all over the place, and they were in horrible shape,” Ward said. “We did a remastering that took three years and a lot of money to do. So since then, the materials have been very

well-organized.”

So translating the episodes to DVD was less difficult than it could have been. Still, Tiffany Ward wanted to make sure fans got new material on the DVD set.

“For each DVD, we tried to find special materials that the public hadn’t seen before,” she said. “Luckily, my father kept everything, so I had something like 20 file cabinets filled with what I call absolute treasures. So this particular one has all of those five years of production and some remaining materials that hadn’t been seen by the public before, pretty much, out of the files.”

- By Matthew Price
From Wednesday’s The Oklahoman

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by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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