Boris and Natasha, The Movie /
Reviewed by Ken Lieck, Fri., July 28, 2000
Boris and Natasha, The MovieD: Charles Martin Smith (1992); with Dave Thomas, Sally Kellerman, Corey Burton, Andrea Martin, Christopher Neame, Anthony Newley, John Travolta.
Dudley Do-RightD: Hugh Wilson (1999); with Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Alfred Molina, Eric Idle, Robert Prosky.
Wossamatta with Hollywood these days? What is this big obsession with attempting to take the low-budget, limited animation, made-for-TV short cartoons by the Jay Ward studios and somehow expand them into lengthy, special-effects-laden, multimillion-dollar, big-screen adventures like the current release The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle? The original Ward cartoons were often critically lambasted and not all that popular in their day -- what they were was cheap children's entertainment by a crew who still remembered the Termite Terrace days and generously peppered their work with puns and references designed to entertain the older viewers as well. The abortive final product of the first, long, and convoluted Hollywood path that was intended to lead to a Rocky and Bullwinkle feature film, Boris and Natasha: The Movie may be the last Cold War comedy, but it ain't no Dr. Strangelove, that's for sure. It starts out promising, using the conventions and trappings of the fondly remembered Ward cartoons, but after a bit of good silliness with maps, stock footage, and the flustered narrator, a convoluted espionage plot, and way too much effort in fleshing out our two heroic villains results in a film that's as hard to follow as it is to laugh at. Oh, some of the gags work, naturally, as in the case of the mysterious Agent X, who manages to keep his identity hidden throughout much of the film partially due to "bad lighting." The plot concerns the Fearless Leader (Neame) of Pottsylvania (which the map shows us is between Wrestlemania and Yoursovania) tricking bumbling spies Boris (Thomas) and Natasha (Kellerman) into going to America on a suicide mission. Once there, Boris remains his two-dimensional cartoon self, but Natasha becomes enamored of the American way of life and quickly becomes a fashion model and magazine cover girl (which, needless to say, is not a good occupation for an undercover agent). By concentrating much of the human-interest element on Natasha's long-unrequited need for Boris to become more of a sensitive male (Was Ms. Fatale ever less than perfectly happy with her man in the cartoons?), the film quickly loses its whole focus on the cartoon nature of the characters without giving them enough "real" personality to make up for it -- one minute they're bumblers, the next they're adequate secret agents -- so it's no wonder that Thomas and Kellerman never manage to quite get a grip on who they're supposed to be. The bit parters and cameos fare better, including a fantastic over-the-top John Candy performance reminiscent of several of his roles in SCTV's own Strangelove takeoff, the legendary "CCCP-1 takeover" episode. Andrea Martin's not bad as the pair's new American neighbor Toots, either. And yes, the moose and squirrel themselves do make a cameo of sorts, but just as one more example of how confused this movie is, so does June Foray, the original voice of both Rocky and Natasha -- but the voice of Rocky heard later is not her's and sounds nothing like the character!
On the other hand, the last thing one can accuse Dudley Do-Right of is too much complexity. From the makers of another Ward-inspired comedy, George of the Jungle (whose show came shortly after the Rocky and Bullwinkle days), this one is definitely for the kids, and to tell the truth, there's nothing wrong with that. Do-Right, after all, was never quite as heavy in its social commentary as most of Ward's other creations, being a melodrama spoof concerning a none-too-bright Mountie, one in a long tradition of light-hearted hero figures who always saves the day in spite of himself. Despite an ad campaign which seemed designed to keep adults away in droves, this kiddie flick actually sports less poop/fart humor than The Phantom Menace and resembles nothing more than one of those globe-trotting madcap comedies of the Sixties, like Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies. Do-Right endeavors to stop the evil plot of his arch enemy Snidely Whiplash (Molina) and win back the hand of his sweetheart Nell Fenwick (Parker). Fraser is only okay as Do-Right (for better or worse, he doesn't even attempt to imitate the classic voice), but Molina's Whiplash is a delight. The filmmakers make it clear they know it's always the villain who's the interesting character in these stories, so Molina is allowed scenery-chewing freedom to dominate the picture. In fact, it's only after a plot twist of fate, when Do-Right becomes a leather-jacket-wearing, Harley-riding miscreant himself, that Fraser gets to have fun and strut his stuff as well. Throw in Monty Python's Eric Idle as a prospector who becomes Do-Right's guru, and you've got about as amusing a G-rated caper flick as you're likely to find. Probably the biggest tragedy regarding this comedy is that "The Phox, the Box, and the Lox," a new animated Fractured Fairy Tale that was created to accompany the film and is by all accounts a total delight, is absent from the video release.