Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose are the central protagonists of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, an American animated television series produced by Jay Ward, which, though originally aired on ABC, which 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 Goodyear's Akron Plant, for inflation testing.
Originally, Rocky was supposed to appear with his buddy Bullwinkle in the 1961 Parade. However, Goodyear eventually scrapped 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 has seen some rough days though. In 1964, the balloon was blown everywhere and nearly became one with the spectators below, and in 1971, due to the heavy rain & wind, the balloon had to be grounded for the safety of the crowd. The balloon would return in 1972, and would become a crowd pleaser for the next decade.
The balloon's only major accident came in 1982 when a large gust of wind resulted in Bullwinkle's nose 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' for the 1983 parade.
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, as 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 it's age and how it performed in 1983.
Originally, there were plans to bring back the old balloon to 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 2000, it was reported that the 1st version of the 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 sometime after.
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 due to him getting deflated during preparation due to cold weather. Since the balloon's retirement, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has been without a Bullwinkle balloon.
- The eye pupils on the original Bullwinkle balloon were blue from 1961-1978, which is inconsistent with his animated appearance, as his pupils are actually black.
- Bullwinkle and the original Happy Dragon were the first character balloons to reach 20 appearances in 1980.