Voice of Rocky makes comeback

It's back, and bigger than ever. The film version of the endearing cartoon, Rocky and Bullwinkle, opens today across the country, and the sympathetic Cartoon Network presents its Rocky and Bullwinkle Mini-Marathon (July 1, 4-7 p.m.) for longtime fans.

It was always a cartoon geared as much to knowing parents as to innocent children. College kids rushed home from class to watch, because Rocky and Bullwinkle indulged in a kind of sophisticated satire unknown in cartoons today. Rapid-fire puns, political parody, and literary references made it fun for grown-ups.

"Oh, we offended everybody," says June Foray, who did the original voices of Rocky the Squirrel and his nemesis, Natasha Fatale, the wicked Russian spy - plus most of the other females, as well.

"But we did it in a nice way - we were never mean spirited," says the reigning queen of 'toon town in a recent telephone interview. "We took potshots at Congress, the law, college presidents - at everybody. There was no crudity, there was just sophistication and wit."

So perfect was her little-boy voice for the 'toon, she was asked to do Rocky's voice for the film, too. "It was fun [to come back to], but it never really left," she says. "Rocky and Bullwinkle" have been in reruns, and Ms. Foray has done CD-roms and commercials featuring the flying squirrel and his large friend.

"Wouldn't it be nice to do a series again?" she asks. "Some of the writers are still around, so maybe they could do it. But the writers [of the film] have really captured the spirit of the original. I saw the film in a preview last week, and it turned out really great."

Shooting the film was not much different from doing the cartoon. "We recorded first and then the animators took over. Thomas Wolfe said, 'You can't go home again,' but I did.... It really feels great. I'm not so contentious as Rocky sometimes is, but I love playing him again."

She says Keith Scott, an Australian actor who does the voice of Bullwinkle for the film (he is no relation to Bill Scott, the original Bullwinkle) does a terrific job in the role.

Foray believes the two energetic friends stayed popular all these years because "these were two heroes out to save the world.... People appreciated the intelligence of it. The puns were brilliant. And the children loved it because of the characters and situations."

Foray started her radio career at age 12. By the time she was in her late teens, she had written 40 stories for children and performed many of them on the radio. Now "Tall and Small Tales" is available by Helion Audio Books, written and narrated by Foray.

Another tv trip down memory lane, also inspired by the movies, is AMC's Hollywood Rocks the Movies: The Early Years. The well-made documentary, narrated by Ringo Starr, premires July 2 (10 p.m.-12:30 a.m.) as part of AMC's "Rockstock," a four-day festival of "classic" rock 'n' roll films (ending July 5).

Film buffs will enjoy all the clips from "B" flicks starring such teen idols as Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. But pop-music fans will clue into the history of rock 'n' roll as embraced by the movies. Some of those movies are dull as rocks - unless you happen to have happy memories from the period. And then, of course, the beach-party movies really do "rock."

But the documentary is never dull. Says David Sehring, AMC Network vice president of acquisitions and programming, "So much happened in that period from about 1955 to 1960. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, 'Little Stevie Wonder,' Elvis, Fats Domino ... it brought a lot of people together. Social behavior is reflected through the music."

Well, maybe. Or maybe the music changed social behavior. But whatever the case, watching the changing history of film and its rock component from the early days when movies like "Rock Around the Clock" and "Don't Knock the Rock" were set-ups for singers to perform, to "Easy Rider" and "Hard Day's Night" in which the rock sound-track explained and advanced the plot, is a kick. What would "The Big Chill" have amounted to - or a film like "Magnolia" today - without the pop tunes that explain what's going on in the story?

AMC started running beach-party movies, Elvis vehicles, and other rock movies over the past few months on Saturday nights at 10 p.m. So successful has this programming been, that Mr. Sehring plans to launch a new nostalgic network in 2001 called American Pop. In the meantime, Sehring has plans to make more documentaries, covering each decade.

Sehring has entrusted the task to Kevin Burns (no relation to Ken), a very talented filmmaker who did "Hollywood Rocks the Movies." The next one, covering the disco craze and punk of the 1970s, will air early in 2001.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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