Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose are the main characters of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, an American animated television series produced by Jay Ward, which, though originally aired on ABC, was moved to NBC in 1961 and remained there until 1964 when the show was canceled. The duo are anthropomorphic-animal characters, Rocky, a plucky flying squirrel, and Bullwinkle, a dimwitted but good-hearted moose, who go on adventures to confront their Russian-like spy adversaries, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. They are also accompanied by a large supporting cast that includes (among other characters) the Canadian mountie Dudley Do-Right, a boy named Sherman, and his intellectual talking-dog friend, Mr. Peabody.
History with the Macy's Parade
The design had to be worked out as carefully as any other lighter-than-aircraft, starting with an aerodynamic study comparing the volume of helium to the area of material to determine its lifting power. The balloon's finalized design featured the lovable moose in an orange-and-white striped bathing suit, with head and antlers above the rest.
After design came pattern cutting, fabrication, cementing of seams, and painting in the Goodyear plant in Litchfield Park, Arizona, the balloon was shipped by truck to Goodyears' Akron Plant, for inflation.
A smaller balloon of Bullwinkle's best buddy, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, was planned to appear alongside the balloon. However, Goodyear eventually rejected the idea as they feared the balloon would be disproportionate to the 65-foot moose.
All told, the balloon required 1,000 man-hours of work for Bullwinkle to achieve 'balloon-dom' and was made up of 500 yards of neoprene-coated nylon.
When the Bullwinkle balloon made its Parade debut in the 35th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1961, it became instantly recognized as a crowd-favorite. The balloon proved to be so popular that it continued to appear in the Parade over the next two decades, even after production on the show ceased in 1964.
The balloon's first major accident came in 1982 when a large gust of wind caused Bullwinkle's nose to be punctured by a lamppost along Central Park West. The balloon's nose slowly lost helium and was eventually pulled from the line of march a few blocks away from the Parade's finish line. After this accident, the balloon was repaired and labeled 'Parade Ready'.
Before Bullwinkle's 1982 appearance, he would appear at the 1982 edition of the White House Easter Egg Roll, where the balloon was made to look 'sitting down' in a field. After that, he was replaced by the recently-produced Olive Oyl balloon the following year.
Bullwinkle would make another appearance outside of the Parade in October of 1983, when he, alongside Woody Woodpecker, traveled south to the opening of a Macy's department store in Aventura, Florida.
During the balloon's last appearance in the 1983 Parade, the Bullwinkle balloon did not bide well with the weather forecast. High winds and rainfall caused the balloon to be lowered significantly, causing the balloon's knees to scrape off the concrete. Additionally, the balloon's neck gave out, due to the weight caused by the balloon's large antlers and head. After this appearance, it was decided that the original Bullwinkle balloon would be ultimately retired due to the noticeable wear-and-tear.
Plans to bring back the original balloon were brought up to help celebrate the Parade's 70th anniversary in 1996. This, however, would prove fruitless, as the balloon had long been unable to fly due to the balloons age.
After this, the balloon would sit at the Parade Studio for many years to rot away. In a balloon quality report conducted in February of the year 2000, it was reported that the Bullwinkle balloon was "in very rough shape, and will need much work in order to fly again. Most of the rip panels require extensive work in order to get them to seal, especially the antlers. The paint is bad. but it may be that the balloon won't be able to take the weight of a repaint and still fly. There is also much diffusion which needs to be addressed.". The balloon's stitching began to fray not long after, and the balloon was disposed of sometime prior to the 2011 Macy's Parade Studio move-out.
Rocky and Bullwinkle
After a failed attempt to bring back the original Bullwinkle balloon, designers at the Macy's Parade Studio hit the drawing board once again to conceptualize a brand-new Bullwinkle balloon. The final design featured Bullwinkle sporting a Wossamotta University sweatshirt and a blue propeller hat. Hitching a ride on the dim-witted moose's back is Rocky the Flying Squirrel, as a callback to the failed plans of the 1961 balloon.
The balloon was notable for being the Parade's first-ever animated balloon in the form of the propeller cap on Bullwinkle's head. The feature was conducted by attaching a mobile battery inside the balloon, which gives life to the otherwise static balloon.
After the balloon had been completed at the Raven Aerostar Headquarters in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, it was shipped to the Macy's Parade Studio where it underwent various tests before its first public appearance. Weeks later, Rocky and Bullwinkle would pair up for Macy's BalloonFest 1996, where a special segment was filmed for the Parade's television coverage on NBC. The segment showcased how the balloon went from a flat piece of fabric to a 68-foot long balloon cartoon.
After two years of absence, Rocky and Bullwinkle finally made their second Parade appearance together in 1999. During their last appearance, in 2000 ― which was to promote their new CGI feature film ― Rocky was not seen with Bullwinkle, because he had deflated during preparation. Although the balloon was promised to reappear in 2001, the balloon was a no-show for that year's event. Since the balloon's retirement, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has been without a Bullwinkle balloon.
Listed below are the music tracks that played during the balloon's appearances on the NBC telecast.
- The Bullwinkle Show' theme remix (1996, 1999-2000)
- The eye pupils on the original Bullwinkle balloon are blue, which is inconsistent with his animated appearance, his pupils are actually black.
- Bullwinkle and Happy Dragon were the first character balloons to reach 20 appearances.