Rocky and Bullwinkle are back in their own short, thanks to DreamWorks’ Mr. Peabody & Sherman feature, and, although they didn’t make it to the big screen, you can see their latest antics on the upcoming Blu-ray/DVD (Oct. 14). June Foray, of course, voices her iconic squirrel but the lovable moose (voiced by Tom Kenny) is the star, getting hoodwinked into marrying a robot controlled by Boris (Robert Cait). Like Peabody & Sherman, it captures the zany spirit of Jay Ward only the CG animation is fittingly less refined and more squashy and stretchy.
Director Gary Trousdale (Beauty and the Beast), like Rob Minkoff (The Lion King), who helmed the Peabody & Sherman feature, is naturally a huge Ward fan (he even has a Super Chicken sound file to cheer him up when he’s down). “As a kid, you got lost in the jokes, the characters, and the fun. Funny situations.”
But the CG transition was smooth, keeping in mind “everything from how the characters are constructed, how they move, how the camera works.” They kept it in check.They didn’t want bad animation but they didn’t want it too polished either. “We wanted to have the snap and fun of the old stuff but still be worthy of DreamWorks today. It’s a tightrope. And sometimes we had to kick scenes back.”
Jason Schleifer, the head of character animation, worked on the short before starting Peabody & Sherman. According to Trousdale, “he hooked into the style and the sensibility and did all the research and drilled his crew.I like snappy timing so there was a little bit of pushing and speeding it up and overlapping, but I also liked to let it breathe for a second.”
Working with the legendary Foray was fun if challenging. After all, she owns Rocky (but they went with Lauri Fraser for Natasha, which didn’t sit well at all with her). “I think we pissed her off because when she was doing Rocky & Bullwinkle she would just rattle off like she was doing live radio. So if she had three characters that were all in a room talking, she would just perform the scene…done, move on! And we had her doing multiple takes and she never had to do this before. She wouldn’t take a seat either.” But she was spot on as Fearless Leader’s mom, taking advantage of the lower pitch in her voice and she gets the last word.
And trying to find the right Bullwinkle was hard. They didn’t merely want a Bill Scott sound alike. Not surprisingly, Kenny was the best possible choice because he’s so funny. Both Trousdale and exec producer concur that he’s become the Foray of his generation.
Writers Robert Ben Garant and Tom Lennon also couldn’t resist putting in a slew of cameos from the Ward universe. “Some were from the actual show (Captain Peachfuzz), but Dudley and Snidley are just visiting and passing through.I just wanted to populate the wedding with every Jay Ward character. You can’t build all those characters. And even the townspeople we got to tweak from existing models from other shows.”
At the moment, the possibility of other Rocky and Bullwinkle works is very much up in the air (DreamWorks has an option on a movie and Neflix was pitched a potential series when it greenlit Peabody & Sherman). But it all brings a smile to Ward’s face, the keeper of her father’s beloved legacy.
“I always look for the passionate fans of Ward,” she says in helping select a director. “The characters made fun of themselves like in the originals. Even Fearless leader’s game room is funny.”