March 7, 2014 at 2:42 PM ET
“Welcome to Cold War II,” ForeignPolicy.com announced this week as Russian troops marched in Crimea and East-West tensions mounted. It was shades of the early 1960s, when young baby boomers were glued to their black-and-white TVs to watch a dim-witted moose and a plucky squirrel evade a pair of spies from the fictional (but distinctively Eastern bloc) nation of Pottsylvania.
Could there be a more fitting time for Rocky and Bullwinkle to mount a comeback?
“It’s always time for Rocky and Bullwinkle,” retorted Mark Evanier, the veteran TV and comic book writer who, along with artist Roger Langridge, chronicles their adventures in an all-new series hitting comics shelves this month. “They’re such a great repository of comic timing and spirit, and they’re funny characters. If I had my way, there’d still be a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon on every week.”
When Evanier was young, there was. “I loved it; I never missed it,” he told TODAY.com. “I felt in sync with them.”
Evanier is uniquely qualified to pick up the mantle of the moose and squirrel: His career spans comic books, TV comedy (on such series as “Welcome Back, Kotter”) and cartoons (most notably the TV versions of the “Garfield” comic strip). "If anybody can do it, it's Mark Evanier," declared June Foray, the voice of Rocky in the original cartoons. "He's a hell of a good writer, and he knows everything about animation."
A legend with her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Foray also supplied the voices of Natasha, Dudley Do-Right's girlfriend Nell and myriad other characters. At age 96, "I'm still working and I still get awards; I don't even have room for them all," she told TODAY.com. "I just did a commercial for Geico as Rocky."
Which just goes to show how far the moose and squirrel's legacy has outlived their original 1959-64 TV run. Based on two of their supporting characters, the new film "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" opens in theaters Friday. It is executive-produced by Tiffany Ward, daughter of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s producer and co-creator, Jay Ward. The computer-animated 3-D film is a far cry from the TV show, which was crudely animated but cleverly written, mixing zany antics for kids with sly wordplay and cultural references only grown-ups could appreciate.
"People still love Rocky because of the irony and the brilliance of the dialogue," Foray said.
“As you watch them over and over, you think, ‘Oh, I get that now’; you have that pride of being hipper than you were before,” Evanier said. “I think there are a few things adults will get in the comic. I have a Kardashian joke in one of the issues.
“It isn’t a question of maturity; it’s a question of references,” he added. “If you do a joke about something that was typical in the ’60s, there’s a risk kids won’t get it. I think Rocky and Bullwinkle are timeless.”
So are their archenemies, Boris and Natasha. “It’s great to have master villains,” Evanier said. “If you bring in a new villain, you have to have a new motivation. [Boris and Natasha] are trying to kill the moose and squirrel because it’s their job.”
Fearless Leader, dictator of Pottsylvania and Boris and Natasha's boss, has an autocratic mien reminiscent of a certain real-life leader. “Fearless Leader connects with Putin,” Evanier acknowledged. “And with the guy who will replace Putin, and the guy who’ll replace the guy who replaces Putin.”
But unlike the Russian strongman, the moose and squirrel will endure, Evanier feels. “They’re superstars,” he said. “It’s my job to live up to the standard and not to reinvent them.”