Something ‘Fractured,’ Something New
“Dudley Do-Right” isn’t the only popular Jay Ward creation coming to movie theaters today. Accompanying the Universal live-action comedy (starring Brendan Fraser as the dashing Royal Canadian mounted do-gooder) is a new animated short rescued from the files of “Fractured Fairy Tales.”
Which means “The Phox, the Box & the Lox” isn’t altogether new. Produced and directed by Steve Moore (who made the 1997 Oscar-nominated “Redux Riding Hood”), the five-minute short is actually based on a 19-year-old unproduced script by Ward veteran Bill Scott (who wrote most of the 326 segments of “Rocky and His Friends” or “The Bullwinkle Show”). This should delight boomers craving something old and something new. Indeed, watching this newly produced “Fractured Fairy Tale” is like stepping back in time. Moore and the animators are dead-on with Ward’s zany touch. But then all they had to do was follow Scott’s witty and sarcastic script. Apparently nothing has been altered or updated.
The brainchild behind “The Phox, the Box & the Lox” is none other than Ward’s daughter, Tiffany Ward, who served as executive producer. What better way to maximize Ward mania on the big screen and keep her father’s renowned eccentricity alive?
“Fans have been so hungry for anything Jay Ward,” she says. “It seemed like a great idea to have a theatrical short to go along with each feature. It’s the kind of multipurpose programming my father would’ve appreciated.”
In keeping with the irreverent tradition of “Fractured Fairy Tales” (part of Ward’s classic Rocky and Bullwinkle series that aired from 1959-64), the short turns a dusty parable on its head with a clever twist: In a town called Pudding on the Rietz, a sly fox (sounding like Phil Silvers, no less) tries to con a nitwit into opening a treasure chest with a rhyming curse emblazoned on the front. But nothing is what it seems in Ward’s world. The fox gets his comeuppance while the lox gets the box and the girl (in this case, a beautiful milk maid).
Ward has already observed viewers approving of the offbeat characters, primitive animation and anachronistic tone at an industry screening. “Baby boomers who grew up with these characters get the in-jokes, kids love the simplicity of the animation and middle kids try to get the adult humor.”
She claims it wasn’t such a hard sell convincing Universal Cartoon Studios to produce the short. But she insisted on retaining the kind of creative control her father enjoyed in his heyday.
“I made sure they followed the script exactly,” Ward adds. “Because it’s a theatrical short, it’s been spruced up and it’s more colorful, but it has much the same feel. It still has my father’s sweetness and moral vision.”
One thing fans will miss is the voice of the late, great Edward Everett Horton as the venerable narrator. He has been replaced here by Scott Weil, who provides a pretty good imitation of Horton’s wryly authoritative manner.
However, there’s one familiar voice that’s sure to please everyone: June Foray as the milk maid. She, of course, is best known as the voice of Rocky and Natasha from the Rocky and Bullwinkle series and Nell from “The Adventures of Dudley Do-Right.” Even in her 70s, there’s no mistaking her girlish twang.
With a bit of her father’s marketing genius in her genes, Ward isn’t stopping here. For starters, she’s planning all new animated shorts for the Peabody and Sherman characters and Dudley Do-Right (also based on unproduced Scott scripts from 1980). The Peabody and Sherman short would accompany next summer’s live-action/CGI release of “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle”; and the “Dudley Do-Right” short would accompany a live-action feature based on Peabody and Sherman (still in development at Universal). She’s ambitiously progressed from consultant to executive producer on all Ward-inspired features.
She’s also developing a sequel to “George of the Jungle” at Disney, and a live-action feature based on another of her father’s animated favorites, the race car driver “Tom Slick” (in which, she says, Fraser has expressed interest).
Ward mania, though, extends far beyond film. There’s a whole new line of merchandising licensed to Universal, as well as domestic and international theme parks planned for the near future. In addition, the entire Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series (comprising 160 half-hour episodes) has been refurbished for Universal Home Video, and there are two Rocky and Bullwinkle holiday TV specials in the works, too.
“These characters are definitely family,” Ward suggests, recalling that she was teasingly referred to as Bullwinkle’s sister in college. “And I treat them as such, preserving their purity. They really are like brothers and sisters.”