Jay Ward may not a household name, but many of the characters he created are.
As the Grand Poobah at Jay Ward Productions he produced the animated television shows that gave us Rocky & Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Peabody and Sherman and George of the Jungle among others.
His cartoons weren’t just for kids. The Los Angeles Times wrote, “The good ones, which Ward was a master at creating, worked at two levels: one direct and another wonderfully satiric.”
This weekend his characters take over the big screen in Mr. Peabody & Sherman, an animated film starring the voices of Modern Family’s Ty Burrell, Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann.
Based on Peabody’s Improbable History segment from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, the movie sees the duo use the WABAC machine to ping pong through time, interacting with everyone from Marie Antoinette to King Tut to Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman isn’t the first film based on Ward’s characters.
In a 199 television movie (originally shot in 1988 for theatrical release) SCTV alum Dave Thomas played Boris Badenov, “world’s greatest no-goodnik.” With his partner-in-crime Natasha Fatale (Sally Kellerman) he leaves Pottsylvania for the United States to retrieve a micro-chip. TV Guide said, “as a 90-minute feature film, it’s at least 80 minutes too long,” but it’s worth a gander to see one of the rare live action performances of June Foray, the original voice of Rocky.
Brendan Fraser brought two of Ward’s characters to life, George of the Jungle and Dudley Do-Right.
George of the Jungle is a riff on Tarzan. He’s boy raised in the jungle by an ape (John Cleese) but who never mastered the art of swinging from tree to tree. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 56% Fresh Rating, but the film remains most memorable for the catchy “George, George / George of the Jungle / Strong as he can be / Watch out for that tree,” theme song by the Presidents of the United States of America.
Two years later Fraser was back in another Ward inspired movie about a bumbling Canadian Mountie called Dudley Do-Right who “always gets his man.”
Co-starring with Sarah Jessica Parker and Alfred Molina, the story saw Dudley track his nemesis, the depraved Snidely Whiplash. Bad reviews—USA Today’s called it a “Dead-carcass spinoff of Jay Ward’s animated TV favorite.”—doomed the movie, but the character lives on as part of an amusement park ride called Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls at the Islands of Adventure theme park.
Finally, despite an big name cast—Jason Alexander, Rene Russo and John Goodman—The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle bombed at the box office despite Robert De Niro doing a take on his famous “You talkin’ to me?” speech from Taxi Driver.