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Subject: Woody Woodpecker & friends

Written By: woops on 07/26/07 at 2:53 am

Here's a review of the Woody Woodpecker DVD set  :D

I've only seen a few on each disc, but they were funny.

I didn't even realized Tex Avery also directed cartoons for Lantz  (after leaving MGM  in the mid 50s) 8)

DVD Review by Thad Komorowski

I was absolutely thrilled to hear that the Walter Lantz cartoons would be released in the 3-DVD set, The Woody Woodpecker & Friends Classic Cartoon Collection, and I can say with certainty that this was a miracle come true I never thought would happen.

Many tomes have been devoted to the Warner, MGM, Disney, and Fleischer caroons, but the Lantz studio has always stayed in the shadows, lumped in with the cartoons by Columbia, Terrytoons, and Famous Studios, as being unworthy of study. I feel that is an erroneous statement to make, particularly when it comes to the Lantz studio.

The Lantz cartoons never had the budgets of the big studios, but they usually overcame that with a lot of creativity, particularly in the 1940s, which is fairly represented in this seminal volume. Animators such as Pat Matthews, Emery Hawkins, Ed Love, Fred Moore, and Verne Harding passed through the doors of the Lantz studio, and their animation there is great to learn timing and drawing techniques from. Shamus Culhane and Dick Lundy directed the vast majority of the cartoons that you see on this volume, and (particularly in Culhane's case) turned a studio that was making mediocre (on average) cartoons into a powerhouse.

When Lantz ran out of money in 1948 (he was very poor with handling money), he reopened his doors in 1950, with a skeleton budget and staff. The output over the early 50s is decent, particularly under Don Patterson's direction (who unfortunately is unrepresented here), but Tex Avery came over in 1954, and by directing only four cartoons, he gave the studio the kick in the pants it needed.

Disc one starts off with Woody Woodpecker's first fifteen cartoons. While the earliest ones ("Knock Knock", "Woody Woodpecker"), directed by Lantz himself, are entertaining for the gruesome design of Woody itself, much of the rest of these films are fairly mediocre to just plain unfunny. It's only when Shamus Culhane comes in, and makes these cartoons memorable with faster timing and slicker animation. "Barber of Seville", "Ski for Two", and "Woody Dines Out" are among the best cartoons on this set.

Rounding off the first disc are five Oswald the Lucky Rabbit sorts and five 'Cartune Classics' (one-shots were usually lumped under this banner). I was glad to see "Hell's Heels" and "Spooks" included, as they are among the best Oswald cartoons, full of hilarious sight gags and cartoony animation. The rest of the shorts on this disc are quite unmemorable.

Disc two continues with fifteen more Woody Woodpecker cartoons. Shamus Culhane wraps up around here, with outrageously (and hilariously) violent cartoons like "Who's Cookin' Who", "The Reckless Driver", and "Fair Weather Fiends". Dick Lundy appears for the first time on the set here. While Lundy's shorts were usually visually better than Culhane's, they usually have weak stories and poor characterization. Nevertheless, the animation is beautiful, featuring some of the best animation done in the 1940s. Recommended Lundy viewings here include "Bathing Buddies", "Smoked Hams", "Well Oiled", "Solid Ivory", "Woody the Giant Killer", and "Banquet Busters".

Andy Panda, Lantz's secondary star of the 1940s, is featured in five shorts on disc two. "Life Begins for Andy Panda" is the debut (and birth) of the character, in which he and his parents are hunted by pygmy-hunters (Note: This set contains the following warning on the box: "This collection is intended for adult collectors and may not be suitable for children"). Culhane's "Fish Fry" is a very weird picture, with a vicious alleycat aiming to make Andy's new goldfish his next meal, while Lundy's "Apple Andy" has him listening to his evil side and getting sick (and having a jazzy trip) on some bad apples. With that in mind, Darrell Calker's scores should be praised, as I find them as aesthetically pleasing as the scores of Carl Stalling.

The controversial Swing Symphonies series rounds off disc two. Highlights from Culhane include "Pass the Biscuits Mirandy", a masterfully timed short with feuding hillbillies, "The Greatest Man in Siam" and "Abou Ben Boogie", two fantastically animated shorts featuring some of the best sexy gal animation ever done, and "The Pied Piper of Basin Street", with the talented Jack Teagarden in a trombone solo.

Disc three has fifteen more Woody Woodpecker shorts. The last of Dick Lundy's shorts, which introduce Buzz Buzzard, are quite good, are featured here, but it is almost a tragedy to see the decline in quality on this disc when the budgets get cheaper. Not many of the other Woody shorts are very good on this disc, although Verne Harding does some very beautiful and slick animation.

Chilly Willy's first five cartoons are showcased, and the two directed by Tex Avery, "I'm Cold" and "The Legend of Rock-a-Bye Point", are two of the best cartoons featured on this set. Alex Lovy's "Hot and Cold Penguin" is also quite hilarious, with animation by Don Patterson.

Five more 'Cartune Classics' are featured, and all are worth watching. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" stars an all black cast, set to the smash hit song, while the punchline of every other joke in "Mother Goose on the Loose" is sexual. Homer Pigeon (based on Red Skelton) battles a Japenese vulture in "Pigeon Patrol", and two more Tex Avery masterpieces, "Crazy Mixed-Up Pup" and "Shhhh" are also featured.

There are some problems are on this set though. "Toyland Premiere" is the usual censored version, with the Santa blowing out the candles on his cake and it hitting Laurel and Hardy (this cartoon is fairly unwatchable, so it didn't bother me). "Banquet Busters" features the Universal reissue titles, rather than its original United Artists titles (all of the other UA released shorts, happily, have their original titles).

I have mixed feelings on the transfers of this set. The dreaded DVNR process is definitely present on this set, and it seems to appear on most of the cartoons. This is quite odd, as a lot of the shorts still have prominent film grain. However, this DVNR is not as noticeable on other DVD sets, such as Warner Home Video's Droopy release. You can see an example of the DVNR here and here. Many of the transfers are also rather dark compared to the bastardized Columbia House set. It's still a mystery whether these were new transfers or not, and they are not going to blow the fans away like the wonderful restorations on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection or Disney Treasure series. It's a shame that DVNR is predominant on this set, as these films deserve the best treatment possible, and it's just plain laziness to use the process. I've listed the films that miraculously survived any DVNR here. I, more than anybody, wish these films were not given the DVNR treatment, and plead to Universal not to use the process on any future volumes.

The extras on this set are scarce, but they are worth looking at. My favorites are the "Behind-the-scenes with Walter Lantz" and camp-classic "Spook-a-Nanny". I would love to see some documentaries or commentaries of some kind with Lantz experts like Mark Kausler, Larry Tremblay, or Mike Kazaleh.

Overall, this set is highly recommended to all those who love classic animation. 75 cartoons for 35 bucks is one of the best deals on the market. Here's hoping for a volume two!

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