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    Renegades of Animation: Pat Sullivan

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To Watch a Woodpecker, Part 2

Discussion in 'The Animated Word' started by Dave Koch, Jan 24, 2014.

  1. Dave Koch

    Dave Koch Cartoon Admin

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    With all of the frenzy surrounding the impending approach of this past April 15th (that ominous day of reckoning for all who had to file income taxes); it's understandable that some may have overlooked the recent release, on the very same day, of The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection. This is the second of what fans hope will be many more volumes in Universal Home Entertainment’s franchise. Word on the street, however, has it that the future of any additional installments will hinge greatly on the favorable sales of this DVD set.

    Universal has reprised the formatting of their first volume; which consisted of three discs conveniently housed in an attractive, folding cardboard and plastic DVD case with matching slipcover. Once again the DVD program comprises 45 Woody Woodpecker theatrical shorts (plus three more included as bonuses on Disc 3); which are evenly distributed over the three discs and presented in chronological order by their release dates. Thirty additional cartoons featuring Walter Lantz’s other starring characters (e.g. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Andy Panda and Chilly Willy), as well as some one-shot entries, are distributed in like-fashion.

    While the first volume provided, as bonuses, a TV documentary on the history of the Lantz Studio and a vintage behind-the-scenes short-subject featuring Oswald; there are no such documentaries or interviews to be found here. Again, there are also no audio commentaries provided for any of the cartoons. This is indeed a shame, as it would have been nice to obtain additional background information on some of the individual titles. As compensation, however, Universal has seen fit to once again include a generous selection of linking segments from various episodes of The Woody Woodpecker Show; along with a complete episode (sans commercials). Six of these live-action/animated segments featuring Lantz and Woody Woodpecker were included on Volume 1. For Volume 2 that number has been increased to twelve, with the segments being evenly divided between Discs 1 and 2. As with the previous volume, all of these are in color (albeit suffering from varying degrees of deterioration) and are presented chronologically by episode number.

    In each segment Lantz lectures viewers on different aspects of the art of animation and does so in a non-condescending manner. He presents the material in easy-to-understand language, while illustrating different technical points with animated footage of Woody and his friends. Historically, these segments are just as valuable as any of the episode wraparounds with Walt Disney that were an integral part of the Disneyland TV series (and its respective spin-offs, The Wonderful World of Color and The Wonderful World of Disney). They also contain rare footage of Lantz staffers like story man Homer Brightman, directors Paul J. Smith and Alex Lovy and animator La Verne Harding. While Lantz may not have Disney’s natural, on-screen charisma; he is nevertheless likable-enough and ultimately comes across as very friendly and sincere.

    The segments, taken as a whole, present to the layperson a very basic primer on film animation; while also providing a unique snapshot of the Lantz Studio in full swing during the late 1950’s. Viewers of Volume 2, however, may not wish to view some of these segments more than once; particularly the one which deals with storyboarding from Episode #24. Here Lantz hands the reins over to Brightman; who with great gusto and enthusiasm outlines the plot, panel-by-panel, of the Woody Woodpecker cartoon, To Catch a Woodpecker (1957). Fortunately, Lantz steps in to close out the segment before Brightman becomes too tedious. In a rather curious comment towards the end of the segment from Episode #20; Lantz claims to not know just why it is that animated characters have only four fingers on each hand.1

    As for the cartoons that are contained in this installment, a number of the prints are rather on the dark side (as some of them were in Volume 1); although, again, adjusting the brightness and contrast controls on one’s TV or PC monitor may help. In some instances the visual quality is also hampered by artifacts that are present on some of the prints used in the digital remastering. Moreover, the bonus cartoons (all from the early 1960’s) contained in The Woody Woodpecker Show, Episode #47 have interlacing problems. The good news is that all of the cartoons in Volume 2 look to be virtually free of any excessive DVNR that was noticeable on parts of Volume 1.

    The Woody Woodpecker cartoons on Volume 2 pick up chronologically where Volume 1 left off. Termites from Mars, directed by Don Patterson, is a unique entry in the series and is considered by many to be one of Woody’s finest 1950’s efforts. The cartoon includes one particularly imaginative sequence of Woody getting zapped by a Martian’s ray gun and changing various colors. This title is only the third of many Lantz cartoons to utilize an outer-space travel theme.2 The termites from outer-space featured here had previously appeared in a scene from Stage Hoax (included in Volume 1). The print of Termites from Mars used here is clean-looking, overall; but it also contains a brief moment halfway into the cartoon where the image is slightly-less focused.

    The remainder of the Woody cartoons that Patterson directed during the early 1950's make up the majority of Disc 1. What’s Sweepin’? features Woody as a street sweeper who runs afoul of Officer Wally Walrus. Operation Sawdust is occasionally let down by poor draftsmanship; for some reason, none of the animators on this cartoon seem capable of drawing proper-looking eating utensils. Socko in Morocco has some great animation of a both a black panther and an exotic dancer; while A Fine Feathered Frenzy contains some hilarious chase sequences and reaction shots. InHot Rod Huckster Woody reprises the “Knock-on-Wood” theme-song he sang in Woody Woodpecker and The Screwdriver. Convict Concerto offers yet another cartoon adaptation of that classical warhorse, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2; although it does so with a unique twist: Here Woody is a hapless piano tuner who must play continuously in order to divert police attention away from a bank robber hiding inside the concert grand he is trying to repair.

    Under the Counter Spy wryly parodies both the popular Dragnet TV series and the foreign-espionage thrillers that were a Hollywood staple during the Cold War. In one way this cartoon reverts back to the previous Lantz-directed efforts from 1951, in which Woody has little or no dialogue. Here, Woody’s thoughts are conveyed by a voice-over that is uncharacteristically lower-pitched and more masculine-sounding. This cartoon had previously been featured as part of the bonus episode of The Woody Woodpecker Show that was also included on Disc 3 of Volume 1. The print Universal used, however, had been edited for television and featured additional (and annoying), dubbed-in voice-overs by Grace Stafford—presumably for the benefit of younger viewers who couldn’t read the various insert shots of road signs, billboards and product labels. For this volume the original theatrical version has been used.

    Hypnotic Hick was the only Lantz cartoon to be released originally in 3-D (for this volume a standard 2-D print is used). At that time 3-D movies were all the rage in Hollywood, and a number of Hollywood cartoon studios (Lantz, Warner Bros. and UPA) had each released at least one cartoon utilizing the 3-D process. For this particular cartoon a different opening-title sequence was filmed: Immediately following the standard Universal-International logo Woody can be seen poking his head out of a tree trunk in an extreme long-shot. He next proceeds to peck away at the trunk, with the resulting wood chips flying into the foreground to produce the letters of his name. Woody then flies into the foreground (and presumably into the audience, if one was wearing 3-D glasses) and dances around the frame. During the rest of the cartoon there are some brief overhead shots that are equally-impressive.3

    One other particularly-fine cartoon from this period, Dig That Dog, was directed not by Don Patterson but rather co-directed and written by the team of Ray Patterson (Don's brother) and Grant Simmons. Both men were Disney-trained animators who had recently left the MGM Cartoon Studio and set up their own independent production company. Lantz had contracted with their company, called "Grantray" (later "Grantray-Lawrence"), to write and direct some cartoons for him. Lantz supplied them with his own layout and background artists as well as his music director, Clarence Wheeler. Lantz also retained ownership of any cartoons made by this outside contractor. As it turned out, Grantray only produced one other theatrical cartoon for Lantz, Broadway Bow Wows. Both cartoons were released by Universal-International. The two Grantray productions are fresh, funny and have a distinctive style to them that is reminiscent of the cartoons of Fred "Tex" Avery; who got his start at the Lantz Studio in the 1930's and subsequently directed a number of cartoons at Warner Bros. and MGM before returning to Lantz in the mid-1950's. This is not surprising, as both Patterson and Simmons had been animators in Avery's unit at MGM (Patterson actually migrated off and on between Avery's unit and Hanna-Barbera's). It would appear that Avery was working at the Lantz studio at about the same time that these two cartoons went into production; so it is possible that he himself may have contributed a number of their gags.

    The year 1953 was a pivotal one for Walter Lantz as he made plans to increase his yearly output of theatrical cartoons and, consequently, to augment his staff. One such augmentation involved promoting one of his long-time animators, Paul J. Smith, to Director. The generally-held opinion of Smith is that he was a talented animator but a mediocre director. It has also been said that whenever Smith’s name appears on-screen as Director it is usually an indication that viewers are about to see a crappy Walter Lantz cartoon. It’s a pity, really… because his cartoons always start out so well; with Clarence Wheeler’s great main-title theme and that majestically-spinning Universal-International globe. Then, sadly, they tend to go downhill after the production credits have faded from the screen. Smith’s main weakness in the majority of the cartoons he directed for Lantz lies in his rather mundane, routine treatment of both story and characters. His timing and execution of gags are often sluggish and flaccid; causing those gags to lose whatever impact they might have had in the hands of a different director.4

    In fairness, however, not all of Smith’s cartoons are abysmal. Some of his early Woody Woodpecker cartoons are actually pretty good. Hot Noon was the first Woody cartoon Smith directed and was Woody’s third western spoof for Lantz. The cartoon is a parody, in both title and plot, of Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-winning film, High Noon. Helter Shelter was written by Michael Maltese, who came over to Lantz in mid-June 1953 from Warner Bros. after they had temporarily closed down their own cartoon studio. Maltese remained with Lantz until August 1954; by which time Warner Bros. had re-opened and he had successfully renegotiated his contract with them.5 For Helter Shelter Maltese reused a number of story and gag elements from an earlier Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny cartoon, Hare Force, directed by Friz Freleng. Although Tedd Pierce had received sole story credit on that cartoon, it is possible that Maltese may have contributed a few story elements and gags; since the two of them had collaborated on a number of Warner Bros. cartoons directed by Freleng and Chuck Jones during the mid-1940’s.6 Bunco Busters; which features the oft-quoted line, “If Woody had gone to the police”, was written by Milt Schaffer, who had collaborated with Ben Hardaway on a number of Woody’s best cartoons of the 1940’s. Schaffer also contributed the story for Niagara Fools, which over the years has acquired something of a cult following.

    It would appear, then, that Smith was capable of rising to the occasion and turning out good cartoons when he had a good story and even greater gags. This, unfortunately, was only the exception and not the rule. Other Smith-directed Woody cartoons like Real Gone Woody and Square Shootin’ Square—both of which were also written by Maltese—suffer from weak timing which severely dulls the impact of their gags. This is especially true of the latter cartoon; which at best is merely a pale imitation of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam. During the first few years of his tenure as Director, Smith launched two series featuring new starring characters. The first was based on the “Ma and Pa Kettle” comedies that were produced by Universal.7 The inaugural cartoon, Maw and Paw, draws heavily upon the characters and story elements of its live-action counterpart; albeit with mixed results: Maw and Paw win a new automobile in a radio contest (although it is “Milford”, a highly-intelligent pig and family pet, who actually provides the winning answer). This cartoon and its follow-up, Plywood Panic (in which Maw and Paw win a new, pre-fabricated house) are only mildly-amusing at best. Homer Brightman contributed the stories for both cartoons, but they are so pedestrian one wonders why they were even animated in the first place. The two remaining titles in the series, Pig in a Pickle and Paw’s Night Out (co-written by Maltese), fare somewhat better; but the series ultimately had run out of steam by this point and the characters were retired.

    Smith’s other short-lived series, this time starring a plow-horse by the name of “Sugarfoot”, consisted of only two cartoons. In the first, A Horse’s Tale Sugarfoot misinterprets his owners’ plans for his “retirement” as a veiled plot to ship him off to the glue factory. Having been kicked out for destroying the new tractor his owners had purchased to replace him; Sugarfoot seeks employment as a “stunt-horse” with a movie studio that is filming nearby. A Horse’s Tale has a decent story and some funny gags (again by Maltese) but it is inconsistent in its layouts. For example, Sugarfoot’s owners and most of the other incidental characters in the cartoon are seen in full-view and in caricature. The film director, however, is seen only from the waist down and is more realistically-drawn. Sugarfoot was featured as a starring character in one other cartoon, Hay Rube before his series was abandoned. Later on he popped up occasionally as a supporting character in the Woody cartoons in the 1960’s.

    Possibly the best Woody cartoon Smith directed at Lantz is His Better Elf. Woody, who by now appears to be gainfully-employed, finds himself completely overrun by bills. By chance he finds a four-leaf clover sprouting from the floorboards in his house. The clover morphs into a leprechaun; named, “O’Toole” (voiced by Dal McKennon), who offers to grant Woody three wishes. Woody’s first wish to be “…rich, filthy rich…” propels him and O’Toole over the rainbow and into the vaults of the First National Bank. The police arrive in the form of a ‘Keystone Cop’ type (also voiced by McKennon) who repeatedly attempts to run Woody in; only to be foiled each time by O’Toole. For some strange reason, the cop—who is Irish, himself—doesn’t believe Woody’s story that a leprechaun (depicted as a pint-sized, Irish version of Woody) is responsible for the bank robbery. Two other cops ultimately slap cuffs on Woody and proceed to haul him away. Woody’s second wish gets him out of that predicament when a somewhat-bewildered skunk trades places with him (in this sequence there are some truly-inventive layout shots which emphasize perspective). Back home again, O’Toole chastises Woody for trying to take the easy way out in life. Woody reminds him, however, that he still has one wish remaining…and then wishes for O’Toole to “go to blazes!” Everything in this cartoon comes off well; particularly the story and gags (contributed by Homer Brightman). Even Clarence Wheeler’s music—which by this time had become routine as well—is inspired. Don Patterson was one of the animators for this cartoon and its possible that his way of handling Woody in some scenes inspired Smith to go beyond the routine. The one weak spot in this otherwise excellent Woody vehicle is, unfortunately, the ending; which Smith handles in his usual, matter-of-fact way.

    Of the five cartoons in this volume which feature Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, three are noteworthy: Springtime Serenade was produced in two-strip Technicolor; but for some reason Lantz decided to continue producing all subsequent Oswald cartoons in Black-and-White. Oswald would not appear again in color until his very last cartoon, The Egg-Cracker Suite. Wax Works finds Oswald in the role of caregiver to a runaway waif who has taken refuge in the wax museum where Oswald works. Oswald’s voice here is also more masculine-sounding. Normally in the Lantz cartoons he was voiced in a cuter manner (alternately by Sara Berner and Bernice Hansen). The inclusion of Puppet Show, a strange combination of (mostly) live-action and animation, allows viewers to compare Lantz’s earlier character-design of Oswald with the newer version featured here.

    Two of the five “Cartune Classics” that are included in Volume 2 are also worth mentioning here: A Haunting We Will Go is one of only three cartoons (and the only one made in color) that featured an odd little fellow by the name of “Lil’ Eightball”. While he appears to be an African-American child, his voice characterization by Mel Blanc suggests (to me, anyway) that he is actually much older. Whatever his age may be, his distinctive vernacular and mannerisms (coupled with his round, somewhat-oversized head) make him quite possibly one of the strangest cartoon characters ever to grace the silver screen. The print seen here is very clean with excellent sound.

    Fair Today could almost be mistaken for any one of the “spot-gag” cartoons that Tex Avery had directed at Warner Bros. a few years earlier. Those cartoons often featured the running-gag of a recurring character that would interrupt the action from time to time and then at the end provide the final sight-gag or punch-line. A good example of this can be found in Avery’s The Isle of Pingo-Pongo; the first of his Warner Bros. spoofs of the old MGM “Fitzpatrick Traveltalk” series of theatrical short-subjects. In Fair Today, an elderly woman appears in the middle of nearly every scene and asks the narrator if he has seen her little boy. At the end of the cartoon, the exasperated narrator berates her, “For the last time, lady, I haven’t seen your little boy!” At this, the woman reaches into her handbag and pulls out her errant son, yelling back, “Well, here he is… take a good look at him!!!”8

    Differing versions of Andy Panda can be seen in his five cartoons that are included on Disc 2. The earliest of these, 100 Pygmies and Andy Panda, has an unusual plot in which Andy sends away for a magic kit and ultimately becomes involved in a “showdown” with the local witch-doctor. There are a few scenes in which the animated characters interact with live-action backgrounds. The effect is not convincing in the least, however; as the stock footage used is black-and-white and the characters are all in color. The Painter and the Pointer is notable primarily as the cartoon which features an “evil” version of Andy. In order to keep his dog, “Butch”, completely still while painting a picture of him; Andy enlists the aid of a 12-guage shotgun. There are some nice POV sequences of Butch as he tries to avoid pulling the trigger. This cartoon and Mousie Come Home were directed by James Culhane, who would direct just three more cartoons before leaving the Lantz Studio. Dog Tax Dodgers is one of the later Andy Panda cartoons in which he bears more than just a passing resemblance to Mickey Mouse.9 This was another of the Andy Panda cartoons directed by Dick Lundy; two of which were previously included in Volume 1. Lundy had previously been an animator and director for Disney and had directed a number of Donald Duck cartoons during the early 1940’s. In this fine entry (the next-to-last cartoon in the Andy Panda series), Andy must keep his dog, Dizzy, under wraps in order to avoid paying a newly-imposed dog tax to dog-catcher Wally Walrus (voiced by Hans Conried). The print used here is the original United Artists version, not the Universal reissue. Lundy also directed Andy in what is listed in most sources as the first of six “Musical Miniatures”, The Poet and Peasant. Andy is portrayed as the conductor of the "Hollywood Washbowl Symphony Orchestra" in this excellent cartoon, set to Suppe's Poet and Peasant Overture, whichwas nominated for an Academy Award. Universal's Studio Orchestra (as conducted by Music Director Darrell Calker) outdoes itself here in its performance of the Overture.

    Disc 2 includes two additional “Musical Miniatures” directed by Lundy, Overture to William Tell and Pixie Picnic. The former cartoon features Wally Walrus in his first of two appearances as an orchestra conductor (who bears a slight resemblance to the famed English maestro, Sir Thomas Beecham); while the latter (set to Rossini’s Overture to La Gazza Ladra) features a cameo by Woody Woodpecker and some stylish backgrounds by Fred Brunish. Rounding out the “Musical Favorites” section of Disc 2 are three entries from Lantz’s “Swing Symphonies” series. The opening scene of The Hams That Couldn’t Be Cured takes place at a public lynching and then segues into the story of a wolf that has been framed. The plot of this cartoon recalls that of an earlier Warner Bros. cartoon directed by Friz Freleng, The Trial of Mr. Wolf. A ghost town is the setting for Boogie Woogie Man, with its ectoplasmic inhabitants (many of whom are caricatures of well-known, contemporary jazz musicians) taking part in an all-out jam session. Spirits of a different sort provide the catalyst for Juke Box Jamboree; in which a mouse consumes several leftover cocktail beverages, then dances the Samba with anthropomorphized cacti and forms a Conga line with multiple images of himself. This cartoon has some wonderfully-imaginative touches and is easily one of the best of Lantz’s one-shot efforts of the 1940’s.

    Discs 2 and 3 offer a number of cartoons directed by Alex Lovy, a former animator-turned-director who had left the Lantz Studio in 1942 to join the U.S. Navy and then after the war had spent a brief period at the ill-fated Screen Gems cartoon studio at Columbia Pictures. On a brief return to Lantz in 1953, Lovy had initiated the character of Chilly Willy; but the first film [directed by Paul J. Smith] was unsuccessful. Lantz was determined to use the character, however, and [Tex] Avery redesigned Chilly to make him cuter.10 Avery directed just two cartoons featuring Chilly, I’m Cold and The Legend of Rock-a-Bye Point, both included in Volume 1. In 1955 Lovy returned to replace Tex Avery and eventually directed some Chilly Willy cartoons that Avery had storyboarded shortly before departing. Hold That Rock and Room and Wrath retain much of the Avery energy and spirit. In addition to the Chilly Willy cartoons, Lovy launched a short-lived series featuring “Maggie and Sam”, two characters that Avery had introduced in Crazy Mixed-Up Pup. The title of The Ostrich Egg and I is a parody of the novel and subsequent film version of The Egg and I (see #7 below).

    Lovy also directed a number of Woody Woodpecker cartoons during his final, 5-year period at Lantz. The Tree Medic is the first Woody cartoon to feature what would be the final redesign of the character; in which the green irises of his eyes (that unfortunately had become disproportionately larger over the previous ten years) were completely eliminated. Gone, too, was the elaborate, ruffled look of Woody’s feathers (particularly at the base of his neck) and comb; which was replaced by a smoother and more-simplified ink-line.11 It has been suggested elsewhere that Avery’s unique influence was strongly-felt at the Lantz Studio for many years after his final departure and that his particular drawing style is reflected in the overall design of Lantz’s starring and incidental characters from 1955 onward. Film Critic Leonard Maltin has noted that “…practically every animal and human character in a Lantz cartoon [looks] alike, by virtue of one-piece construction and single-line caricature of facial features…”12 In some cartoons like Woody Meets Davy Crewcut the character designs leave much to be desired. Here Davy’s bulbous, red nose suggests that he may also have been king of the “Wild Turkey”.

    In 1959 Jack Hannah, who had just left the Disney Studio after over a decade of directing Donald Duck cartoons, came to work at Lantz for three years and raised the quality of the cartoons there by a notch or two. While at Lantz he directed a number of Woody cartoons and occasionally did a few featuring Chilly Willy, as well. Clash and Carry is one of only two such cartoons to feature Wally Walrus; after an unexplained absence of nearly ten years. One wonders why these two chracters were never teamed up earlier; a penguin and walrus would seem like an ideal match and Wally proves a formidable adversary for Willy. Paul Frees provides the voice of Wally here, and the cartoon also utilizes some live-action stock-footage towards the end. By the early 1960’s no fewer than three different music directors were working for Lantz; Clarence Wheeler, Eugene Poddany—who provided the scoring for Clash and Carry—and Darrell Calker, who had returned to Lantz for a brief period. Wheeler would eventually be replaced by Walter Greene, who would score all of the remaining cartoons produced by the Lantz Studio until its closing in 1972.

    Director Sid Marcus and animator Art Davis arrived at Lantz in 1962, not long after Jack Hannah’s departure, and together represented the last vestige of quality in the studio’s already deteriorating production values. Both men had worked together at the Charles Mintz Studio at Columbia during the 1930’s. At Warner Bros. during the mid-to-late 1950’s Marcus contributed stories for cartoons directed by Robert McKimson, while Davis was an animator for Friz Freleng’s unit. Davis had also been a director at Warner Bros. for a short period during the late 1940’s. Working in tandem with story man Cal Howard, another new arrival, Marcus and Davis produced a handful of the funniest cartoons ever to emanate from the Lantz Studio during the 1960’s. Half Baked Alaska is one of the best entries in the Chilly Willy series, with superbly-timed gags and impressive layout shots.

    In the final analysis, then, this installment in the Woody Woodpecker and Friends franchise has much to recommend it to potential buyers. In spite of the number of mediocre cartoons contained in the set (as compared to Volume 1); there are also a good many enjoyable ones that wear their age well and look better here than they have in previous incarnations. Personally I’m hoping for at least two more volumes in this DVD series; each containing more Woody cartoons (particularly from the Jack Hannah and Sid Marcus periods) as well as some of the earlier "Cartune Classics".

    There are still a lot of great Lantz one-shot cartoons that haven’t seen the light of day for decades and deserve to be reissued. I’m thinking specifically of titles such as The Sleeping Princess and Adventures of Tom Thumb Jr. (both directed by Burt Gillett); as well as Jack Hannah's Tin Can Concert, which harks back to the earlier Musical Miniatures series. I would also like to see some of the better Andy Panda cartoons, like James Culhane’s Meatless Tuesday, released to DVD.

    Of particular interest would be some of Lantz’s rare commercial and industrial cartoons; such as the ones he did for the Coca-Cola Company in the late 1940’s. Even if decent prints of those could be obtained for remastering to DVD, however, copyright and ownership issues would most likely prohibit their inclusion in any future volumes. On a positive note: one of the Lantz Coca-Cola commercials, plus the 30-minute instructional film that Lantz produced for the U.S. Navy, The Enemy Bacteria, can be found in Volumes 1 and 3 of the Cultoons DVD series; available from Thunderbean Animation. One of the extremely-rare, black-and-white Lantz cartoons; House of Magic (which features a trio of monkeys named "Meany, Miny, Moe"), can be found on Thunderbean's Return of the 30's Characters. The Thunderbean transfers are all of excellent quality and can be highly recommended, regardless of cost.

    My rating for this DVD set is as follows:

    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] = Excellent

    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] = Good

    [​IMG] [​IMG]= Fair

    [​IMG] = Poor

    Package Design [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Bonus Features [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] (some audio commentaries would be welcome in the future)
    Visual Quality [​IMG][​IMG] (some prints are dark and have artifacts, others have some interlacing)
    Sound Quality [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] (some cartoons sound just a little more crisp and clean than others)
    Value for the Money [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] (Just $34.00 USD, plus shipping & handling, on Amazon.com for a total of 79 cartoons and approximately 60 minutes of bonus features)


    1It seems odd that Lantz would claim not to know anything about this particular convention of character-animation, considering that he was once an animator himself during the early days of the medium. It is possible; however, that Lantz was merely being facetious in his comments. The rationale behind the practice is apparently two-fold: 1) Drawing a character with only four fingers saves animators and in-betweeners what is known in the animation industry as “pencil-mileage”; that is, the amount of pencil lines needed to effectively produce rough sketches and finished animation drawings. During World War II, for example, Mickey Mouse was often animated without a tail as both a time and cost-saving device. In the Tom and Jerry cartoons produced at MGM from the mid-to-late 1950’s the grey patch located between Tom’s eyes was eliminated for the same reasons. 2) Four fingers are reportedly easier to animate than five. There have been, of course, some notable exceptions to all of this: In the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, Rabbit of Seville, Bugs at one point sprouts an added finger on each hand; in order to mimic a pianist’s fingerings as he massages Elmer Fudd’s bald head in time to the music.
    2 Prior to this cartoon Woody had been featured in a brief animated segment produced by Lantz for George Pal’s 1950 feature film, Destination Moon. At the time, Lantz had only just re-opened his studio after being shut down for nearly two years due to financial troubles. Lantz needed to provide work for his staff members, as he currently had no new theatrical cartoons in production. Pal, who was a good friend of Lantz’s, was only too happy to help out. After completing work on Destination Moon, Lantz worked out a new distribution contract with Universal, with whom he had temporarily parted company, and set about producing seven new Woody cartoons to be released in 1951. In the animated segment to Destination Moon an off-screen narrator explains to Woody the then-current theories behind manned space-travel (which, admittedly, are not entirely accurate by today’s standards). The animation and backgrounds in this segment are top-notch and Lantz’s wife, Grace Stafford, provides Woody’s voice for the very first time. The title of Pal’s film, incidentally, was later parodied in the 1951 Woody cartoon, Destination Meatball (included on Disc 3 of Volume 1). Destination Moon is available on DVD in its entirety from Image Entertainment. Buyer Beware: The print used for this "50th Anniversary Edition" of the film has a lot of scratches and some momentary breaks in the film-continuity due to splices. The Woody Woodpecker segment is, fortunately, in somewhat better condition. I recently purchased a brand-new copy of this DVD from an independent seller on Amazon for just $2.98 USD, plus shipping and handling.

    3 The remarkable 3-D scenes in this cartoon were handled by William “Bill” Garrity; who was a technical jack-of-all-trades at the Lantz Studio at this time and who had previously worked for Disney. Garrity’s crowning achievements at Disney were the development of both the Multiplane Camera (used to good effect in Pinocchio and Bambi) and the “Fantasound” multi-track, stereophonic sound-system used in Fantasia. Garrity came to the Lantz Studio in the late 1940’s and eventually became Walter Lantz’s production manager. Hypnotic Hick was the only cartoon that Lantz released in 3-D. Another Lantz cartoon, Plywood Panic, appears from its production credits and main-title card design to have also been planned as a 3-D cartoon; but ultimately was not released in that format. Incidentally, in Under the Counter Spy Garrity’s name is listed as one of the many aliases for the villain known as “The Bat”.

    4 Comparisons have been made between Smith and another animator-turned-director, Robert McKimson. Both Smith and McKimson were animators at Warner Bros. during the late 1930’s (the two of them had shared animator credit on Freleng’s 1937 cartoon, Pigs is Pigs). Smith eventually left to work at the Lantz Studio and McKimson (who was one of Robert Clampett’s top animators at Warner Bros. during the 1940’s) eventually became a director; taking over the unit that had been left behind by yet another animator-turned-director, Frank Tashlin. McKimson has also been called a weak director by some critics; but he nevertheless made a number of good (sometimes great) cartoons. Overall, his batting average at Warner Bros. appears to have been much higher than that of his former colleague. Whereas a number of McKimson’s cartoons like What’s up Doc, Hillbilly Hare, The Foghorn Leghorn and The Honeymousers are now considered classics by animation buffs; the majority of the cartoons Smith directed at the Lantz Studio, by comparison, remain undistinguished and ultimately forgettable.

    5 Barrier, Michael; Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in its Golden Age (Oxford University Press, 1997); pp. 537-538 and 623.
    6 Ibid, pp. 476-77. Then again, even if Maltese and Pierce hadn’t collaborated on Hare Force; Maltese would no doubt have been present at the story conferences (which at Warner Bros. were usually attended by each unit director and his writers) for this cartoon and would have been more than familiar with its plot.
    7 In 1947 Walter Lantz had provided the animated main-title sequence for Universal’s adaptation of the popular novel by Betty MacDonald, The Egg and I. Two of the incidental characters in the film, Ma and Pa Kettle (as portrayed by Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride), proved so popular with audiences that Universal gave them their own series comprising eight films. The entire “Ma and Pa Kettle” series is currently available on a 2-volume DVD set, as part of Universal’s “Franchise Collection”.

    8 The Warner Bros. associations in Fair Today are even more readily-apparent when one considers that nearly all the voices (both male and female) were done by Mel Blanc; who at this time was still a freelance voice-actor but who eventually would sign an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. Moreover, the narrator in Fair Today sounds suspiciously like Robert C. Bruce; who provided the narration for many Warner Bros. cartoons (including Avery’s) from the 1930’s through the 1950’s.

    9 Although uncredited, it is likely that Fred Moore had done some of the animation on this cartoon. Moore was also a former Disney animator who had previously worked with Mickey Mouse. It was Moore who had redesigned Mickey—his eyes, especially—for his feature-film appearance in the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment of Disney’s Fantasia. Moore had received joint animation credit with Ken O’Brien (yet another ex-Disneyite) on a previous Dick Lundy cartoon, Banquet Busters, which featured Andy Panda and Woody Woodpecker. Moore is also known to have worked on an earlier Andy Panda vehicle directed by Lundy, The Bandmaster; although he received no screen credit for that cartoon, either.
    10 Maltin, Leonard; Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, Revised and Updated Edition (Plume, 1987); p. 180.

    11 Around this time Woody also experienced different variations in size from one cartoon to the next; sometimes within the same cartoon, as in After the Ball.

    12 Maltin, Leonard; Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, Revised and Updated Edition (Plume, 1987); p. 181.

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