Despite having a Saturday morning TV slot in the '80s, the Rocky And Bullwinkle Show isn't exactly lodged in the public consciousness this side of the Pond. Which is a shame - - firstly because Jay Ward's brainchild paved the way for the sophisticated humour of The Simpsons, and secondly because its cultural insignificance hamstrings the box-office potential of a smart, snappy kids' movie.
Those familiar with the TV series, however, can rest assured that Kenneth Lonergan's script retains all the sly wit, right down to the narrator who greets each cinematic cross-cut with a portentous, ""Meanwhile..."." What's more, the writing cleverly plays off the TV programme's existence, taking full advantage of post-modern hindsight: ""How many times have they foiled my plans?" snarls De Niro's Fearless Leader. ""Er, 28"," comes the reply.
And yet you can't help wondering where all this reflexivity and chipping away at the fourth wall leaves R And B's target audience: kids. True, Pixar also aims bursts of wit over the toddler's heads, but John Lasseter and his tech-head pals understand the secret of timing, ensuring the little 'uns always have plenty to hold onto. Here, the adult wisecracks are sprayed about like bullets from a 'toon Tommy gun. If it's not De Niro sending up his ""You talkin' to me?"" speech it's a university called Wassamota U, and even the sight gags get in on the act by having flesh-and-blood villains (Rene Russo and Jason Alexander, both excellent) trying to kill our two-dimensional duo with plummeting safes and huge cannons.
Still, at least kids and adults alike can enjoy the ingenious melding of animation and live action, with the decision to plonk Rocky and Bullwinkle into the "real world" proving inspired. And, before you ask, Who Framed Roger Rabbit does get a mention in there.
Smart, slick and satisfying, Rocky And Bullwinkle boasts winning performances, star cameos (Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal) and the return of June Foray as Rocky's voice. But be warned: the quick-witted script will alienate smaller sprogs.