***This article was written for the June/July 2018 issue of Animation Magazine , No. 281***
Everything old is new again, and “Moose and Squirrel” are back in a big way this year. Jay Ward, Alex Anderson and Bill Scott’s beloved animated characters Rocky and Bullwinkle, who made their TV debut back in November of 1959, are now stars of their own animated DreamWorks series, which premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, May 11.
The new show, which is exec produced by Scott Fellows (Supernoobs, Big Time Rush, Johnny Test) and Jay Ward’s daughter, Tiffany Ward (Mr. Peabody & Sherman, George of the Jungle), follows the adventures of the clever flying squirrel (voiced by Tara Strong) and the laid-back moose (Brad Norman) as they find themselves in all kinds of wacky adventures. Oh, and of course, Russian superspies Boris and Natasha (Ben Diskin and Rachel Butera) are there to make their lives more complicated.
Fellows, an animation veteran whose many credits include stints on Disney’s Doug and Nick’s The Fairly OddParents, tells us that he had just finished working on the show Supernoobs and was thinking about what to do next when he was approached by head of DreamWorks TV Animation Marjorie Cohn about running the new Rocky and Bullwinkle show. “I thought it was kismet,” says Fellows. “You don’t get offered to run such a legendary show from such a legendary creator every day. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“There are a handful of characters in TV animation that are as lovable as Rocky and Bullwinkle,” he adds. “Bullwinkle is so sweet and has this adventurous spirit, and Rocky is the classic best friend who always goes along with whatever crazy thing Bullwinkle comes up with. They made you laugh, and you always rooted for them. There was also this genuine sweetness under all the humor. Of course, Bill Scott and June Foray were amazing as the voices.”
A Big Adventure
Fellows joined the team at DreamWorks Animation’s Glendale offices about a year and a half ago and hit the ground running. Working closely with the DHX studio in Vancouver, the production is a hugely collaborative effort between the writers and the artists at both facilities. Over 60 people at DWA and around 65 at DHX work on the Flash-animated toon.
One of the project’s secret weapons is the cool look created by veteran character designer and art director Chris Mitchell, who also worked on DreamWorks’ The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show. “Thanks to Chris’s work, we knew that the show was going to look terrific,” says Fellows. “When I came on board, it was already decided that the show would be in 2D. Some of the artists came from the Peabody & Sherman show. We wanted to pay homage to Jay Ward and all the cartoons we grew up with. Our goal was to have something that is stylized, modern and beautiful, and winks at the historic origins of these amazing characters.”
Fallows says he was a huge fan of the Warner Bros. Termite Terrace artists and the Hanna-Barbera toons when he was growing up. “I loved all those characters, the sounds effects, the single-camera filmmaking and cuts,” he recalls. “All those classic Chuck Jones and Robert McKimson shorts and the music they used — they’re all in my head. All the great silliness, wild storylines and amazing characters — they were all my art school, and they helped me through my career at Nickelodeon, too … I can’t really bitch at my kids for watching too much TV these days!”
The importance of introducing a new generation of young audiences to the magic of Jay Ward’s world is something that is always on Fellows’ mind. “Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris and Natasha are four legendary characters in the forefront of animation,” he says. “We were all very aware that by taking this job, we open ourselves to a lot of scrutiny … How do you follow in the footsteps of these legends? Tara Strong had to honor the legacy of June Foray as she voiced Rocky … But everyone in Glendale and Vancouver wanted to honor this cartoon and bring it to the 21st century. It was very reassuring that the art we had to work with was terrific, and we were really connecting to the old cartoons.”
The new show creators had to make subtle changes to adjust for the streaming format of the project. As Fellows points out, “Some of the storylines of the classic shows were so spread-out, so we had to condense them for our show. We still tease the next episode at the end of the show, and we have act breaks like they used to.”
The series’ first season is made up of 13 episodes, which have three large story arcs — one is a spy thriller, the second one is an outer space adventure, and the third has a “monsters in the English countryside” plotline. “I’m really excited to see how everyone will react to the shows,” says Fellows. “You can easily binge on each story arc as a two-hour package. It’s a great, flexible format, and we’re adjusting to the possibilities of it all. It’s really exciting to be in the middle of this new wave of animation delivery.”
(Incidentally, the first season’s eclectic guest voice lineup includes Tom Kenny, Mario Lopez and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.)
Fellows says now that the show has delivered its first season, he is really proud of his team’s complete dedication to get everything right. “Of course, we have deadlines and budgets, and don’t have an endless amount of time, but everyone loves these characters. I think we are so fortunate to work in this field, and it’s so rare that you work on a project that you absolutely love. This is my first job at DreamWorks, and it’s been so great to be working here. We all strived to explore the color palettes and have fun with the humor and to push the envelope a little bit. It was all about making a terrific, entertaining cartoon!”
The first season of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is available to Amazon Prime users in the US, UK, Germany, India and Japan as of May 11.