Okay, perhaps “Banned” isn’t the word to use for The Flintstones: On the Rocks, the 2001 adult-oriented TV movie starring everyone’s favorite modern stone age family. Perhaps “deliberately prevented from being rebroadcast or released on home video by Cartoon Network” is the more accurate statement. But “Banned” is easier on the keyboard.
Fred (Jeff Bergman) and Wilma Flintstone (Tress MacNeille) are on the brink of divorce. Hoping to help their friends, Barney (Kevin Michael Richardson) and Betty (Grey Delisle) take them along on a vacation to Rockapulco. But it seems there is no quick fix for Fred and Wilma’s failing marriage this time; a reality that is exacerbated when a jewel thief (Jeff Bennett) tries to steal Wilma away in order to get the priceless necklace she’s wearing.
So, the context of On the Rocks takes a bit of explaining. The early 2000s were a strange time for the classic Hanna-Barbera IPs; their appeal to children had eroded away during the ’90s thanks to some seriously patronizing blunders (Yo! Yogi comes to mind) and the only people who remembered these characters with any fondness were adults. So Time Warner (inheritors of the Hanna-Barbera library) through Cartoon Network decided to adapt said characters for the adult market.
That’s when we got things like the original Adult Swim line-up made from old HB shows, like Sealab and Birdman, or when Race Bannon from Jonny Quest showed up torturing terrorists and shitting his pants in Venture Brothers. Hell, even The Jetsons and Yogi Bear got bizarre “adult” makeovers from Spumco with those weird shorts from John K.
The Flintstones: On the Rocks was a product of that environment; Cartoon Network’s somewhat successful endeavor to rebrand all the old HB properties as vulgar nostalgia trips for adults. It fit in perfectly with the era, but I can see why Cartoon Network has been hesitant to make it available since then. Without that context, it’s just this surreal non sequitur in the Flintstones canon; an alarmingly crude adult comedy film amidst a library that’s otherwise stocked with nothing but family fare.
But just how “alarmingly crude” IS On the Rocks? The unavailability of the thing has lent it a sort of reputation and the “adult” nature of the film is sometimes blown out of proportion. Let’s just say that it’s “adult” and “crude” and “vulgar” by the standards of the Flintstones and that might help you get some perspective.
The film opens with Fred ad Wilma in marriage counseling, immediately illustrating that this isn’t gonna be one of those “Fred and Wilma have a brief misunderstanding but everything works out okay in 22 minutes’ sort of stories. No, the situation is far more serious from the getgo and the prologue ends with them physically trying to hurt each other.
Their marital bickering is on the brink of divorce and the Rockapulco trip is supposed to be their last chance to rekindle the magic they lost, but through most of the film it’s clear that such a light winked out long ago. Wilma realizes she’s no longer physically attracted to her husband and begins finding temptation in younger men (the jewel thief). When Fred sees her hooking up with the thief, rather than get mad, he takes a seat at the bar and gives a lengthy monologue about every mistake he’s ever made during his marriage and how he only has himself to blame.
This IS supposed to be a comedy, isn’t it?
Well, the humor only has two settings in this film: cliche and Crass.
The cliches are what you’d expect from the Flintstones: bad rock puns, sloppy physical humor; there’s a long montage of Fred ruining their tropical vacation that’s nothing but slapstick and sight gags, but it’s all so predictable and listless that it really feels like the thing’s just going through the motions (like Fred and Wilma’s marriage!).
The crass humor is stuff like Fred and Barney showing off their European swimsuits to the disgust of their wives and everyone else at the pool:
A scene where the jewel thief reaches into the shower and accidentally clutches Fred’s junk:
And there’s a running gag throughout the film in which one couple has to listen to the other couple having sex in the next room. It’s presented in such a way as to make it a little less obvious to children, but there’s no other way to describe it. The “sex on the other side of the wall” bits are even used to display when a couple’s marriage is having its ups and downs.
When they first arrive, Wilma puts on some slinky lingerie and tries to arouse Fred while he’s in bed, but he just tells her to get out of the way of the television. The next image is the two of them sitting joylessly in bed together, serenaded by the sounds of Barney and Betty giggling and heaving in the next room.
When Fred accidentally gives Wilma the jewel the thief wants as a “gift” and Wilma briefly falls back in love with Fred (she thinks he’s actually making an effort to repair their marriage), we see the other side of the wall. Barney and Betty are now sitting joylessly in bed together (Betty upset that Barney didn’t get her a gift) as they have to listen to Fred and Wilma chortling and pounding in the next room.
The movie even ends with Fred and Wilma, finally realizing they love each other and having truly repaired their broken marriage, climbing into bed together. Fred drops a quarter in the “magic fingers” slot, says “Yabba Dabba Doo!” and the camera ends on the image of the poor monkey slave who has to vibrate the bed while they yabba dabba do it, cursing his existence in one of the rare times the “it’s a living” gag has actually been funny.
If all that wasn’t surreal enough, the film takes some strange detours for the sake of visual diversity. The car ride to Rockapulco starts out with a lengthy montage of Fred driving through exotic locales while in silhouete and it can get a little dull. After he’s turned on by an attractive woman driving a car in the other lane, he begins to day dream.
That leads to a stop-motion bowling sequence that seems like a callback to The Big Lebowski. Its the most visually stimulating part of the movie and has its place in the narrative, too. After Fred wins his imaginary bowling tournament, the woman he dreams of running into his arms and kissing him is the lady from the other car, not Wilma (again illustrating how far their marriage has fallen).
The only aspect of the story that really suffers is the whole jewel thief thing. It’s in the background for the majority of the film and by the time the thief makes his move on Wilma, it’s pretty much a race to resolve the conflict before the time runs out. The jewel thief thing feels like an “old school” sort of Flintstones plot, but it really plays second fiddle to all the depressing stuff about the troubled marriage.
There are things I didn’t care for about the film aside from the pacing and uneven focus on the two conflicts. The animation is unforgivably ugly. It’s the Flintstones as rendered through the prysm of “CalArts style”. You know, the whole “the characters look off model and poorly drawn and the visual aesthetic is choppy and error-riddled and unappealing… but on PURPOSE!”
The voice casting is mostly ideal. Jeff Bergman’s Fred Flintstone is quite good, though he plays him a bit more innocently stupid than the snarling good-intentioned brute he’s historically rendered as. Bergman’s Fred skews closer to Homer Simpson than Jackie Gleason, I guess. Tress MacNeille’s Wilma is excellent and Grey Delisle’s Betty is serviceable (but really plays up a Brooklyn accent which I don’t think Betty ever had).
Kevin Michael Richardson’s Barney is a strange choice. I recently reviewed The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown and talked at length about Richardson’s Barney, so I’d rather not repeat myself. But to sum it up, he plays Barney closer to how Mel Blanc characterized him in the first season of The Flintstones as opposed to how Barney has sounded for the other 50-something years. I’ve read that On the Rocks was intended to feel more like the first season of The Flintstones, so the performance was a deliberate choice. I still find it off-putting regardless of justification.
The Flintstones: On the Rocks is a strange thing. The humor can be very modern in the best and worst ways while also contrasting with a lot of hackneyed gags we’re all sick of by now. The plot loses focus when, uh, the plot starts to kick in and I think I enjoyed the film more when it was a disjointed collection of Fred and Wilma’s misery as opposed to any of that shit with the jewel thief that only enters the story to provide a convenient resolution.
It’s something I think deserves a DVD release, perhaps on the Warner Archive Collection if they feel the need to keep it on the downlow. It’s weird, maybe not a fraction as “adult” as reputation has built up, but definitely worth checking out if just for the novelty. The more realistic look at Fred and Wilma’s marriage troubles is sobering and a little bewildering, and the aforementioned monologue Fred gives when he thinks he’s lost Wilma is a great bit of acting from Bergman. Check it out if you can find it.