Friday, July 31, 2009

Questions You Never Asked: Who was the First Disney Comics “Super Villain”?

In comics, we take the concept of the “super villain” so much for granted that it’s small wonder this is a “Question You Never Asked”. There are “villains” and there are “super villains”. The fine line of interpretation comes down to the scope of their villainy and, quite frankly, the impression they make on both their “good” or heroic counterparts – and the readers.

The Beagle Boys, for example, (…even during Carl Barks’Terrible Beagle Boys” phase) for all their enduring tenacity, would probably not be considered “super villains” because they do their thing with mere trickery and brute force. The same criteria also eliminates Peg Leg/Black Pete.

Magica De Spell, by contrast, qualifies, due to her supposedly supernatural abilities – even if a fair amount of that is also “trickery” of sorts. Evil Inventor Emil Eagle also gets a talon in the door, by virtue of his scientific prowess and his “crossover appeal” as a foe to both the “Duck and Mouse” groups of characters.

Even a relative newcomer like alien criminal Tachyon Farflung gains entry to the club, given his otherworldly technology. And Don Rosa’s Black Knight hits all the nasty notes as well. But, just who might be Disney comics’ FIRSTsuper villain”?

The immediate reaction would be to say The Phantom Blot, one of the most memorable malefactors to menace Mickey Mouse, waaay back in 1939. He certainly qualifies in the “fear factor” department, and has the
reputation with both fellow characters and readers alike.

But, while there may be no definitive answer to this question, one answer MAY lie in the TERMsuper villain” itself.

It’s opposite; the term “super hero” has been around seemingly since the Golden Age of Comic Books (Predominantly: The 1940s) , if not longer. However, I’m truly at a loss to pin down when – and by whom – the term “super villain” was coined. Even Wikipedia’s entry for the term “super villain” (
Click HERE) defines it and provides examples throughout the history of fiction… but offers no definitive origin of the term itself.

I’m not entirely certain that the term “super villain”, as such preceded Comic Books’ Silver Age (Predominantly: The 1960s) – when most of the conventions of super heroics born of the Golden Age were fleshed-out and SOLIDIFIED into the basic tenets that still apply today.

To my knowledge, the term “super villain” had never appeared in a DISNEY comic book… until (Drum roll!) MICKEY MOUSE # 111 – released in December of that unforgettable year – 1966!

Yes, indeed… According to the cover caption “A SUPER VILLAIN operates a dynamite-filled blimp in… THE MIDNIGHT MYSTERIES”!

Ah… BINGO!

In this lead detective adventure tale by writer Vic Lockman and artist Tony Strobl, said “Super Villain” turns out to be the rather presumptuously (…and unoriginally) named “Crime King”!

The Crime King’s reign is quite short – the story was 14 pages long and he, himself, appears in a pathetically puny TWO PANELS (!) of those 14 pages, and was never seen again…

…BUT, at least by this line of reasoning, and quirks of both timing and terminology, we hereby salute “The Crime King” – Disney comics’ first “Super Villain”!

So modest is he, that we don’t even have an Internet scan to represent him! (…And heck, we even found one for Tachyon Farflung!)


Now, aren’t you sorry you never asked that question?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

“Worst Packaging Ever!” The Simpsons Season 11.

THE SIMPSONS SEASON 12 will be released on DVD August 18, 2009.

I find myself curious about the TYPE OF PACKAGING it will employ. Hopefully, it will be improved over that for Season 11 (seen above), which was IMHO the “Worst Packaging Ever”!

Indeed, the S11 packaging was, without doubt, the WORST DVD packaging I’ve ever seen from a major studio! Packaging for TV DVD sets has been in decline lately (…see recent releases for PERRY MASON, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, FAMILY GUY, and the various Warner animation collections vs. what had once been typical for such series) – but this one was an experience all its own.

I opted for the “standard” illustrated packaging, as I’ve always done since the “sculpted head” packaging began. When I opened it… I COULDN’T FIND THE DISCS!!!

There was folded illustrated cardboard, with no discs on either side. For a moment, I was truly dumbfounded. Then I realized that the discs lie loose WITHIN pockets of the folded cardboard… and are NOT SECURED by anything.

Not only is this damaging to the Discs (Disc Three already had a noticeable imperfection causing me to return it for an exchange), but these are the MOST DIFFICULT DISCS TO ACCESS of any set I’ve purchased since the early days of 2004! Even the return clerk at Best Buy was flummoxed when opening the package to try to find the discs inside! Can you believe it?

Nothing designed for pleasure should require this much needless effort to remove from its packaging! How does a major studio like FOX approve such a thing! This is more akin to a one-dollar discount store PD package! Every bootleg, I’ve ever owned is more securely and sensibly packaged.

Oh, wait… I get the joke! They used “Krusty Brand” packaging! Never mind!

But, seriously... are they going to repeat the same mistake?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hokey Wolf in “Chock Full Chuck Wagon” (1961)

Hokey Wolf would probably not be pleased that he is largely unremembered today… though he’d probably find a way to turn that to his advantage in some sort of scam or con-game.
 

Hokey, a Phil Silvers-inspired, smooth-talking wolf, tricked, conned, and mooched his way through the final season and a half of Hanna-Barbera’s THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SHOW – replacing the very popular Yogi Bear, who had spun off into his own TV series.
                   
With his worshipful sidekick, Ding-a-Ling Fox in tow, Hokey did his best to meet the needs of the pair – primarily food and shelter – all the while avoiding anything resembling work.

Hokey Wolf cartoons (usually written by Warren Foster or Tony Benedict) were always enjoyable, but it occurs to me that he may have been overshadowed by the better known (…by virtue of a prime time TV slot and years of Sat AM repeats), “similarly Silvers-spawned” Top Cat – also produced by H-B for the 1961-1962 television season.

I
ndeed, Hokey Wolf was the only component character of the “Big-Three H-B Funny Animal Shows” of the time (HUCKLEBERRY HOUND, QUICK DRAW McGRAW, and YOGI BEAR) to not be granted at least a one-shot comic book from Dell or Gold Key Comics – back when Augie Doggie, Yakky Doodle, and even Mr. and Mrs. J. Evil Scientist (Guest starring creations of writer Michael Maltese, used in Snooper and Blabber and Snagglepuss cartoons!) received individual titles.

(Though comics-wise, Hokey and Ding DID appear as back-up guests in the regular Huckleberry Hound comic book and the three issue “catch-all” title Hanna-Barbera Bandwagon. Hokey also had one unusual and memorable team-up with Yogi Bear in Gold Key’s YOGI BEAR # 10 1962).

So it is that we celebrate Hokey Wolf at TIAH Blog with a favorite of mine: “Chock Full Chuck Wagon”, which pits Hokey against a “Yosemite Sam-like” western cook.

I love the bit where Hokey works a “trade” with the cook, as a “perfect-for-the-scene” piece of Hoyt Curtin stock music punctuates the unfolding of Wolf overmatching Man. Watch for this at about 3:28 in the cartoon.

Also great is Hokey’s sudden deadpan declaration of the exact point where he is “out of range” of the cook’s bullets at 1:14 (“This is far enough!”) – and his “callback” to it at 2:50.

A total side note: Excepts from this particular cartoon have been
regularly used as “between-show-bumpers” by cable TV's Boomerang, so Hokey can take at least THAT little bit of notoriety with him to the “Home for Weary Cartoon Wolves” – where he’ll probably end up “owning the place” inside of two hours!

Hey, he just made ME write more about him than anyone has for over four decades…
He’s just THAT GOOD!
  
Enjoy Doug Young as Ding-a-Ling and the befuddled chuck wagon master and the great Daws Butler (…about whom was said that he didn’t actually try to impersonate Phil Silvers – but, instead, did “what you expected Phil Silvers would SOUND LIKE”)
as Hokey Wolf.
           …And, c’mon WB, let’s get Hokey Wolf and Seasons 2-4 of THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SHOW to DVD!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

“A Place Right Out of HIS-TOR-REE!”

As if we needed proof that Hanna-Barbera’s THE FLINTSTONES was about a family that existed in a long-ago and far-away time, the likes of which we’ll never see again, consider this:

In the opening title/theme credit sequence, Fred and family go to a DRIVE-IN MOVIE!



And, in the closing sequence, they stop off at a fast food restaurant with CAR HOP SERVICE!


Dude, that’s like “ancient history”, man!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Questions You Never Asked: When Did TV Shows Shrink?

Here’s a topic I don’t believe I’ve ever seen discussed in any meaningful way.

Over the years, TV shows “shrank”!


Observing DVD running times of shows from my prime viewing period of the Sixties, an hour-long show ran about an average of 50:00 to 52:00.

This would cover the period of Perry Mason, Outer Limits, Lost in Space, Star Trek TOS, Wild Wild West, Man From U.N.C.L.E., Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, etc.

There are two “modern” hour-long shows that I collect on DVD – Lost and Heroes. Their running times average 40:00 to 42:00. I’ll assume that is the modern standard.

We’ve lost about Ten Minutes per hour show, and (I’d guess) a corresponding drop-off for half-hour shows. I’m curious as to when that happened.

I suspect it was slow and gradual… a minute here, two minutes there, until ten minutes were excised. I further suspect it happened over the seventies and eighties, but those periods are not well represented in my collection.

Further, did a series actually shrink over its run? I would assume so, if it straddled the periods in question. Ironside ran from 1967 thru 1975. I wonder if the later episodes are shorter than the earlier episodes. Hawaii Five-O might be an even better test case, given the length of its run (1968-1980).

This is why, on the RARE OCCSAION that you ACTUALLY SEE an older show these days, it is always edited – and never aired uncut. I’m curious as to how we went about losing those ten minutes.

I posed this to an online forum, and received a wide range of theories including: Deregulation of the FCC – or back when programs had “specific sponsors”, the ads for other products were limited to give the primary sponsor the most indelible impression with the audience – to just plain old, garden variety corporate greed. But, no clear and winning direction emerged.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome… and, if you see those missing ten minutes (times the number of shows per season!) of LOST or HEROES, please let me know – they might make great DVD extras!

Fantasy Baseball?

Quick, who played in the 1984 World Series?

How about the 1974 World Series?

Some of our favorite classic Sci-Fi / Fantasy TV shows thought they had the answer!

The 1967 LOST IN SPACE episode “The Haunted Lighthouse” revealed that the 1984 World Series was fought between the New York Mets and (what was then) the California Angels… with the Mets having scored at least 22 runs in one game!

1984, at it was seen from times past – thanks to George Orwell, was considered to be a scary year in which many strange and bizarre things would happen. A memorable World Series between 1967’s doormats of the National and American League would have seemed just another “walk-in-the-1984-(ball)-park” for the citizens of that “future year”.

…And, LIS was only TWO YEARS OFF, as the Mets actually DID compete in the 1986 WS – more about which below.


1974’s KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER episode “U.F.O.” had that year’s World Series going to the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs!

It seems very fitting that (what were at the time) the two “CURSED” teams would one-day meet for the championship of Major League Baseball – especially within the context of Kolchak!

Oddly, KOLCHAK, too, missed it by only ONE year, as the Red Sox went to the 1975 WS against the Cincinnati Reds. But, they lost that one – and lost the 1986 Series to the Mets on one of the All-Time Bad Breaks In Baseball History – continuing their “cursed” status until 2004.

Alas, the Cubs (at .500 at the mid-point of the 2009 MLB Season) remain “cursed” to this day – an unexplained phenomenon that even intrepid reporter and supernatural investigator Carl Kolchak couldn’t crack!
Look-out, Carl! That old "Cubs Curse" is once again stalking your city of Chicago!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

MLB 2009 – Part Two Predictions!

Today begins the second half of the 2009 Major League Baseball season. And, though I’ve watched all or part of most New York Yankees game this year – and have attended four games, with tickets for two more – there’s been surprisingly little Yankees commentary on this Blog.

Three games before the All Star Break (the unofficial mid-point of the season) the Yankees were tied with archrivals the Boston Red Sox (Boooo!) for first place in the American League Eastern Division.

Then, they lost three in a row to the seemingly superior Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (…Now REALLY! They’ve GOTTA do SOMETHING about that name!), and ended the first half three games out – followed by last year’s American League champions the Tampa Bay Rays at 6.5 games out.

However, the Yankees have a 2.5 game lead in the race for the American League Wild Card over the Texas Rangers and 3.5 over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Now considering that they’ve failed to best the Red Sox all year – and have managed precious few victories over the Angels – and somehow even managed to lose 2 out of 3 to the lowly Washington Nationals – the Yankees are in surprisingly good shape, as we start Part Two.

My prediction is that they will continue to flirt with first place (or “almost-first-place”) but fail to catch the Red Sox. I do believe they will take the Wild Card playoff spot, though.

As for the New York Mets, at 6.5 out, they will not catch the Philadelphia Phillies and – because there are too many superior contenders for the National League Wild Card – will sit out another post season.

In September, we’ll see just how right – or wrong – I turn out to be. See you then…

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

R.I.P. Dal McKennon.

Actor Dal McKennon left us on July 14, 2009 – just days before his 90th birthday.
McKennon specialized in “grizzled western” roles (appearing on the DANIEL BOONE TV series), but was also known for his voice acting. Gumby, Filmation’s Archie Andrews, Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse were among the animated characters who spoke courtesy of McKennon.

But his most extensive voicing credits were with Walter Lantz, where he and Daws Butler essentially split the roles of nearly every incidental male character appearing in Woody Woodpecker cartoons from the early-mid 1950s onward.
His best-known role at Lantz was that of Woody Woodpecker’s main villain and foil – Buzz Buzzard.

As there were perhaps two-or-three different voices for Buzz Buzzard early on, before McKennon settled permanently into the role, I’ve posted two “McKennon Classics” below – in the hope that they’ll create the proper amount of (pardon) “buzz”.

Buccaneer Woodpecker (1953) Directed by Don Patterson. A cartoon which oddly played in the background of “The Hard Part” (May 07, 2007), Episode 21 of the first season of the NBC/Universal prime time series HEROES.



Hot Noon (1953) a lively western spoof directed by Paul J. Smith.



Whether a pirate, gunslinger, or his more typical role as a con man / all-purpose rival, Dal McKennon’s Buzz Buzzard always delivered the goods – and, thanks to Woody Woodpecker, often “got the business” in return.

Dal McKennon’s work on Walter Lantz cartoons is heard throughout the entirety of the 2008 DVD set Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume Two, including both cartoons posted here, and other zany favorites such as “Chief Charlie Horse” (1956) and “Calling All Cuckoos” (1956) – with McKennon playing a mixed-up sheriff and wacky, obsessive clockmaker, respectively.

The set is a worthy purchase for many reasons – but now there is one more… it stands as a fitting tribute to the fine work of Dal McKennon!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Realizations: Hey, Hey, Kids!

One of the things I often do on this Blog is introduce old cartoons!

And, I just realized, does this make me (and others who do the same with their Blogs) the Blog equivalent of an anachronistic afternoon kiddie show host? After all, that’s exactly what THEY used to do! And, do so well, I might add.

True, I don’t have to don a clown costume, or assume the identity of a suitable adult role model (policeman, fireman, engineer, captain, etc.), or converse with hand puppets… but the result just might be the same – especially if you visit the Blog in the “after-school hours” and use your imagination.

If so, I hereby promise to make every effort to be at least better at it than The Simpsons’ Krusty the Clown! …Yeah, I know the bar isn’t very high!


And, hey… here comes our special guest talking hand puppet of DC Comics’ LOBO!

What’s the good word, ‘Bo?

Ahhh, just introduce th’ next cartoon, while I go slog a beer, snag a babe, and frag a bastich! Later, ya geeky Bloggin’ feeb!

Um… Lamb Chop, he’s not! What can I say to that, but… Here’s today’s cartoon! Just look down!

Yippee, Yappee, and Yahooey in “Throne for a Loss” (1966)

From the land of unjustly obscure Hanna-Barbera cartoon series come Yippee, Yappee, and Yahooey.

This “Trio of Musketeers” serves as bumbling guards to their king, and the series was one of the three component parts of THE PETER POTAMUS SHOW (1964-1967).

The Musketeer concept is one that must have interested producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, harkening back to their “Tom and Jerry Days” and the run of Musketeer cartoons they did with Tom, Jerry, and Tuffy/Nibbles. Along the way, it would resurface with Snagglepuss and, the imagery would also lend itself to cartoons with Huckleberry Hound and Touché Turtle.

Something that is not immediately apparent – but notable – is that, because it was produced for the third season of THE PETER POTAMUS SHOW (the 1966-1967 television season), “Throne for a Loss” was among the VERY LAST of the “Three-Per-Show” funny-animal short gag TV cartoons that the H-B studio had made their reputation on.

For, in that season, H-B shifted production to heroic adventure series such as SPACE GHOST AND DINO BOY and FRANKENSTEIN JR. AND THE IMPOSSIBLES – and would follow those with THE HERCULIODS, BIRDMAN AND THE GALAXY TRIO, MOBY DICK AND THE MIGHTY MIGHTOR, etc.

When H-B humor series would return, with WACKY RACES, its spin-offs starring Dick Dastardly and Penelope Pitstop, and comedy adventure series like SCOOBY-DOO WHERE ARE YOU, the “Three-Per-Show Funny-Animal” format, that gave us Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear, would largely remain a thing of the past.

So, let’s enjoy Doug Young as Yippee, Daws Butler as Yahooey, and Hal Smith as Yappee and the world-weary, put-upon King in “Throne for a Loss” …and close out an era of Hanna-Barbera history at the same time.

Oh, and I just LOVE a pun title like that one!


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Popeye the Sailor in “Private Eye Popeye” (1954).

The Popeye color cartoons from the Famous/Paramount studio were always well animated – but the stories were largely ill-conceived and nauseatingly repetitious. Pick a setting and drop Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto into it, and go on auto-pilot. Or, so it seemed.

But, on occasion, they resisted formula and produced something fun. Private Eye Popeye is such a short. And one not yet available on DVD.

Sure, he’s NOT A SAILOR (one of my main complaints) but the “Popeye/Olive/Bluto” triangle is absent and Jackson Beck’s “evil butler jewel thief” makes a good one-shot villain.

As a detective, Popeye apes the shtick of another popular animated character of the time – Tex Avery’s DROOPY – but we hardly mind, as this cartoon is a welcome break from formula.

One final, personal note… I’d never seen this cartoon in color before – as we got our first color TV set in 1968, and I’ve somehow managed to miss this cartoon on TV ever since. There’s a nice gag whenever the gem is exposed, that I’d never noticed until seeing this one online.

Enjoy Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, and Jackson Beck in “Private Eye Popeye”… Toot! Toot!


Friday, July 10, 2009

Weird Commuting Stories!

Here are a few short weird commuting stories for your Blog-reading pleasure.
Once, while driving upstate to Albany, NY for a consulting assignment, I was on a completely clear highway… clear except for one potential obstacle up ahead – a RAIN CLOUD! Yes, a lone rain cloud – pouring rain, I might add – was directly up the road in my path, hanging low in the sky (just above the ground) and soaking the road ahead. I could see it from a distance, all by its lonesome. I drove through it, my car was drenched, and I came out the other side to see it in my rear view mirror. I’ve never seen the likes of that before or since. Nor, have I ever passed through a cloud (…not low-lying FOG, but an honest-to-high-pressure CLOUD, doing “cloud-ish things” like rain) and not been in an airplane.

How many of you have ever hit a DUCK IN FLIGHT while driving? On to another consulting assignment in Northern CT, I was traveling the Merritt Parkway on a fine fall afternoon when, up ahead, I saw a duck perched on the side of the road. As I drove nearer, I saw the duck rear up its wings. “AWWW, NOOO!”, I thought, knowing what was about to happen. Sure enough, the duck took off, from my right side – and out over the road… directly in my path. It was gaining altitude, but not enough to clear my windshield. BAM! It hit right in front of me, and left a slight bloody streak across the windshield. The windshield washer and wipers took care of the streak and, at highway speed on the narrow hilly Merritt, I was not about to look back to see what became of the duck. Hopefully, it suffered no more than a Hollywood Flesh Wound and continued on its way. If not, I will eternally attempt to “make it up” to ducks everywhere by trying to write Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comic books to the very best of my ability.

The “E Train”, between Queens and Manhattan, is truly an experience to be savored. If you commute between Eastern Queens and Long Island City or Manhattan, as I did during 2003-2005, it can be very crowded and uncomfortable – and often made worse by things that just shouldn’t happen to civilized human beings. Often, I would unnecessarily lengthen my commute home by taking the “V Local Train” over the faster "E Express", just to avoid the discomfort… but this day I braved the E – and actually managed to squeeze into a seat (!)… when the panic started! From the far side of the car, passengers began screaming and jumping out of their seats. I could only guess that a RAT was loose in the car – as they are such a common sight on the track bed, and sometimes even on the platforms. BUT, NO… it was worse than even a rat (…that you could always shoo out of the car the next time the doors opened). It was a rushing yellow river of pee emanating from a sleeping, zombie-like guy, seemingly unconscious at the end of the car. As the train curved and pitched, the feared torrent of urine poured down the car from one end to another (…tilt a not-quite-empty bottle of liquid back and forth to simulate the effect!), causing great horror among us non-zombies as it went!

Once you get past the expense and parking issues, The Long Island Rail Road might actually be the best way to commute… as long as your destination is Manhattan, and maybe downtown Brooklyn. A far-western destination like Long Island City is not at all convenient, but the trip can be reasonably negotiated with the proper amount of diligence.

I USED to enjoy the LIRR far more than I do now for commuting. Time was that, unless you were in a “Three-Seater” next to two persons who know each other, you could travel in relative quiet – could read or sleep to your heart’s content. Now, no matter where you sit, and no matter who sits around you, you are bombarded with incessant cell phone conversations and assaulted by electronic noisemakers of every size, shape and volume level. Reading becomes difficult and sleep – unless completely exhausted – impossible.

In those good old days, I would sleep every morning into Penn Station, and read through the trip home. There was a particular seating configuration that would occur ONCE in every linked pair of the older (‘70s ‘80s vintage) rail cars… the LAST SEAT NEXT TO THE RIGHT SIDE WALL AT ONE END OF THE CAR where there was NO WINDOW, just a smooth wall. (LIRR commuters probably know what I mean!) There was a similar situation for the LEFT SIDE WALL but, as I preferred to lean my head to the right to sleep, I would – whenever possible – make a beeline for that singular seat. I would blissfully sleep my way into Penn Station, with my Monthly Commutation Ticket pinned to my tie by a tie clip for the conductor to see on his rounds.

One early-nineties morn, I woke up from my usual sleep to a pleasant surprise. I had been sleeping, with my head against the back right side wall as usual, and I woke to find an attractive young lady curled up snugly next to me sleeping quite comfortably. Never one to question a good “gift snuggle” – and STILL not entirely certain I wasn’t dreaming – I remained motionless and enjoyed the ride… until she woke up rather embarrassed.

Nothing like closing on a “Happy Ending”!

Friday, July 3, 2009

DVD Review: Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection - Part One – The Set and Packaging.

This review is LONG! So long, in fact, that I’ve divided it into TWO PARTS, for the comfort of my sore-eyed readers, not to mention those with short attention spans and/or small bladders!

In Part One, I discuss the series and the specifics of the packaging.

Then, take a break and return for Part Two (FOUND HERE) – a discussion of the cartoons themselves. Enjoy!

Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection(Released June 23, 2009 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

It must have been one heck of a surprise for the theatrical audiences of late 1963 to see the familiar MGM Roaring Lion signal the beginning of the upcoming cartoon – and have the head of TOM fade into its place and go “MEOW! MEOW! FST! FST!”. …I know it was for me when I first saw it on television!


But, with this revamped opening, famed animation director Chuck Jones began putting his stamp on Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera’s cat and mouse team of TOM AND JERRY.

Chuck’s unique vision and design sense would guide Bill and Joe’s creations for little more than three years and 34 cartoons, and it is those cartoons that make up Warner Home Video’s release Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection.


As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

The CONS:

Content Notes: Once again a WHV set has NO CONTENT LISTING anywhere inside the package! One disc is on a “hinged holder” and the other disc rests on the inside back wall of the packaging! But, beyond that, there is no list of titles for the cartoons and, while they follow the order of original theatrical release, this isn’t something that even most hardcore animation fans have committed to memory, much less mere civilians. Ditto on listings for the extra features.

This is at least the THIRD Warner Animation set I’ve purchased this year with no content notes! The others being Max Fleischer’s Superman and Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1. Doubtless, there are others indicating an unfortunate trend in Warner’s DVD packaging for animation sets.


Talent: It’s not Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, and Scott Bradley. Let everything that follows in this review lie within the context that these three talented individuals are who put Tom and Jerry on the pop culture map to stay!

The Set Itself: A minor “con”, but the fact that it IS “The Chuck Jones Collection”, coming on the heels of three volumes of the original Hanna-Barbera shorts, means that there will probably be no DVD release of the 13 Gene Deitch T&J shorts of 1960-1962.

I was actually hoping for a “Tom and Jerry in the Sixties” set that would encompass the runs of both Deitch AND Jones… but, clearly, Jones is the more marketable name and he gets the call – and we may never be treated to the “otherworldly wonders” of Mr. Deitch.


The PROS:

Talent: It’s Chuck Jones – and, by this time in the 1960s, there were few, if any, talents to truly rival Jones – and he’s brought a few old friends with him...

Writer Michael Maltese, co-director and designer Maurice Noble, voice actors Mel Blanc and June Foray (…with Blanc doing the “yelling in pain” as Tom. I guess they couldn’t use Bill Hanna’s classic “AAAAAAHHH!” anymore!), and composer Eugene Poddany.

Put them all together and they made 34 entertaining cartoons that looked better than the any of the competing product of the day.


Style: During this period, Tom and Jerry were “Jones-ified”. There’s probably no better way to put it. Jerry became “cuter” than ever before, and Tom took on the “villainous” physical characteristics of Jones’ Daffy Duck and especially Wyle E. Coyote. The animation was lush for the time, and Jones’ trademark character posing abounds.

The Extra Features: Tom and Jerry and Chuck” is a 20 minute feature on the coming together of this unlikely trio, and is narrated by June Foray. Many parallels are drawn to Jones’ prior Warner Bros. work – in both characters and plots of specific cartoons. It is also shown where Jones put his own spin on T&J plots previously produced by Hanna and Barbera. The feature is punctuated by frequent clips of Chuck Jones, in his later years, speaking on the subject.

In its 25 minutes, “Chuck Jones: Memories of a Childhood” covers what is found in the first three chapters of Mr. Jones’ 1989 book, “Chuck Amuck”, in his own words and pictures. This 2008 documentary featurette was produced for Turner Classic Movies and, while very informative, does not mention Tom and Jerry at any time. Give it points if you’re a Jones fan. Take away points if you’re a Tom and Jerry fan. You decide!

Print Quality: To my eyes, and on my equipment, the prints are nearly flawless for average age 45-year-old cartoons. Far better than the print quality on the aforementioned Max Fleischer’s Superman and Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1.

Menus: For reasons unknown, Warner’s DVD animation set main menus often have unusually LOUD background music or “series themes” that play while the menu is displayed. So loud that I’ll either MUTE while lingering on the menu – or navigate off the menu as quickly as possible.



Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection is an exception to this, as an “appropriately sixties” piece of cartoon theme-style music (the opening credits theme for "Jerry, Jerry, Quite Contrary" by Dean Elliot) plays at an equally appropriate sound level. THIS SHOULDN’T EVEN NEED TO BE LISTED AS A “PRO”, but the loudness issue is so prevalent on Warner animation set main menus that such a welcome change should be noted.

The Cartoons: A definite “PRO”!

If you haven’t had enough, please CLICK HERE for Part Two: The Cartoons!

DVD Review: Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection - Part Two: The Cartoons.

Here’s Part Two of my DVD review of Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection, dealing strictly with the cartoons – which I’d put decidedly under the “PRO” category. Let’s find out why…

The Cartoons: (And, that’s why we’re here, after all!) Notables include:
   
"Pent-House Mouse" The series opens with high-rise hi-jinks atop both a penthouse rooftop and adjoining skyscraper construction site. A nice “traditional”, yet modern, table-setter for what is to come!
     
"The Cat Above, The Mouse Below" No one does “Opera Cartoons” better than Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese – and here’s the Tom and Jerry version of their Bugs Bunny laugh-fest “Long-Haired Hare”. Celebrity tenor Tom gives a concert, while Jerry tries to sleep below the stage. Jerry would probably be more sympathetic if he didn’t expect peace and quiet while making his home directly beneath the stage of an opera house – but we still laugh at all the “frenetic Figaro-foolishness”, as Jerry sabotages Tom’s performance again and again!

To digress, Hanna and Barbera’s “Saturday Evening Puss” (seen on the Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume Two) presented a better “Jerry’s sleep is disturbed by Tom’s loud music” scenario (because it’s NOT set in an opera house!) but, for the pure “operatic over-the-top-ishness” of it all, you can’t beat Jones and Maltese!

The tenor’s voice, familiar from some of Jones’ previous WB cartoons, is credited as “Terence Monck”, and when Jerry sings opera (sped-up for effect) at the end, it’s a hoot and a half.

      
"Snowbody Loves Me" Jerry trudges through the European bitter cold and snow and takes refuge in a cheese shop guarded by Tom. Jerry literally moves into a wheel of cheese, making a home out of it by carving out rooms, hallways, and furniture by eating his way around. Naturally, Tom tries to expel him until they find some common cultural ground to share. At a time when they averaged “six-and-change”, this short clocks in at a whopping 7:52 running time!

It is a lavishly designed and animated cartoon! Certainly one of the best of its time! As Jerry rolls (in a snowball) down into the village below, it looks as if he’s making a sharp descent into “Who-ville”, of the Jones-produced “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”! Maybe this was a preliminary exercise in potential designs for “Grinch”.

       
Bad Day at Cat Rock Jones writing solo, without Maltese, gives us a highly stylized Road Runner cartoon performed by Tom and Jerry. Echoing the classic “catapult series gags” of Jones’ Road Runner days, Tom repeatedly attempts to launch himself skyward (and up to Jerry) by standing on one end of a girder and dropping a boulder on the other end. The physics of this endeavor fail in every bizarre way that Jones can come up with. During the series of gags, Jerry becomes bored and walks off to paint a sign. Finally, as Tom STILL struggles with steel and stone, Jerry reveals that the sign he has painted says “THE END”! …And so it is!

"Of Feline Bondage" Animator Don Towsley co-writes this weird cartoon with Jones. After the usual harassing by Tom, Jerry drinks an invisibility potion provided by his Fairy Godmother (!) Why didn’t he just “invent” it, as he would have in “the old days”? The invisible mouse chases Tom around the house with a pair of scissors, until he finally catches the cat and shears his fur off down to the “undershirt”. Then, Jerry becomes VISABLE again! In retaliation, Tom shears the fur off of Jerry, leaving just enough to make him look like he has a female hair-do, bra, and panties! Tom laughs with glee… and so does Jerry, who gets a look at himself in a mirror! The two spend the remainder of this 6:18 cartoon (from 5:44 to 6:12) LAUGHING AT THEMSELVES AND EACH OTHER, until we fade out! Yes, really!
      
"Duel Personality Written by Jones and Maltese, this is one of the best of the series! Jerry pauses their typically spirited chase to challenge Tom to a duel. And, so they meet on the field of honor, dueling by pistol, sword, bow and arrow, huge cannon, and finally the slingshot – and each time inflicting equal but inconclusive damage upon one another, punctuated by lots of stylized “pain-stars” and graphically depicted sound effects – until they finally conclude their duel to be a “no win” situation and resume the chase. The key to this cartoon’s success, in my view, is that BOTH Tom and Jerry get their share of pain and suffering and the cartoon tilts in no one’s favor. Dean Elliot’s “semi-serious” music score also helps to set the atmosphere for the duel.
    
"Jerry, Jerry, Quite Contrary" Clearly repressed while awake, a sleepwalking Jerry inflicts continued violence upon Tom! The abuse escalates until a wonderful scene where sleepwalking Jerry is advancing on sleeping and unaware Tom with a butcher knife (!) until he sneezes himself awake! Aghast, he awkwardly gathers the knife and slinks back to his mouse hole. Now, he tries to keep himself perpetually awake, to no avail. A solo script by Jones, who at this point, is certainly not above trying new things!
   
"Filet Meow Veteran animation and comic book writer Bob Ogle takes over the writing. In both this and his previous short “Puss in Boats”, Ogle opts for a more traditional take on Tom and Jerry – and a departure from the experimentation of the earlier Jones efforts. Here, a chivalrous Jerry protects a cute female goldfish from being eaten by Tom. This is what I’d imagine a classic Tom and Jerry cartoon would look like in 1966.
     
Tom suffers the most painfully violent bit since the Hanna and Barbera days, when Jerry, armed with a long, sharp hat pin, routs Tom with (pardon) a massive prick (not Tom!) – propelling the cat through a door, across an entire room, and out a picture window! Jerry finally rids himself and “Goldie” of Tom for good by introducing a huge, hungry shark (previously seen in Ogle’s “Puss in Boats”) into Tom’s plans. All seems to end well for the mouse, who appears rather fond of the goldfish in perhaps more than a protective sense, until the shark muscles in to become “Goldie’s” NEW guardian, sending Jerry running for the hills.


"Matinee Mouse" Did I say the “traditional” Tom and Jerry were making a comeback? Well, they do LITERALLY in this short, with so much stock footage from the Hanna-Barbera days that Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera are CREDITED as the DIRECTORS – and their cast of 1940s-1950s animators is credited as well! In fact, the name of Chuck Jones is NOWHERE TO BE FOUND on this cartoon. Tom Ray is listed as “supervisor”.

We open with a series of random chase clips from the H-B days (but with new, non-Scott Bradley music and new sound effects), culminating in a snippet of new footage of T&J offering each other a truce. They stroll downtown to a movie theatre, where a bunch of Tom and Jerry cartoons are playing, opening the door for still more H-B stock footage!


While watching the old H-B film clips, each laughs hysterically when he gets the upper hand over the other – with each becoming increasingly annoyed at the other’s glee. Finally, the “real” Tom and Jerry end their truce and begin fighting in the theatre, as the “animated” Tom, Jerry, and Spike the Bulldog on the big screen pause their own antics to laugh at the angry and spirited brawling of the “real ones”.

Stock footage “clip” cartoons have long been a standard of the theatrical milieu – but there is entirely too much of it here. A more effective use would have been to have the “movie footage” STRICTLY consist of old Hanna-Barbera footage – and keep the “real” T&J animated in the current style. As it was, the transition from H-B stock to “new” was needlessly jarring, and undermined the cleverness of the cartoon as a whole. Oh, and DROOPY makes his final big screen appearance on a movie poster in the theater!

      
"Cat And Dupli-Cat" Written by Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese. Co-directed by Jones and Maurice Noble. Music by Eugene Poddany. After a two average and unspectacular cartoons (one written by Bob Ogle, the other by John Dunn) both directed by Abe Levitow , this short returns to the highly stylized fun seen in the earlier entries of the series. Plot: Tom vs. a scruffy orange cat for Jerry. We’ve seen it before in many WB and MGM cartoons, but how many times does it begin with T&J paddling along the (Italian?) waterfront, each singing Santa Lucia? Jones, Maltese, Noble, and Poddany deliver a gem, just as the series needed it most!








"O-Solar-Meow" Written by Dunn and directed by Levitow. Produced by Jones and designs by Noble. Another of those “average and unspectacular cartoons” the series had begun churning out. Noteworthy only because it would be the second science fiction oriented outing for Tom and Jerry. (Gene Deitch did one first in his own... um, "unique" style.) On a space station resembling a giant roulette wheel, Tom vs. Jerry with gadgets galore: Robots, lasers, jet packs and the like. But, it’s all high-tech ho-hum! Given Jones and Noble’s historic successes with sci-fi cartoons at Warners (“Duck Dodgers”, “Hare Way to the Stars”), I expected much more and didn’t get it. What can you say when the TITLE is the most clever aspect of a cartoon?
     
"Guided Mouse-ille" So, how do you follow something like "O-Solar-Meow"? By doing the exact same thing, of course! Yes, the same crew gives us MORE of T&J fighting each other with futuristic gadgets, including the SAME CAT AND MOUSE ROBOTS from the previous cartoon. At least here, the gags are a notch funnier overall with a much better ending. No doubt about it, Tom and Jerry have entered The Space Age… again!
    
"The Mouse From H.U.N.G.E.R." leads off a pair of very good cartoons by Ogle and Levitow. This is a clever, though now dated, tribute to mid-sixties TV phenomenon THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. with Jerry as a “secret agent”, trying to liberate a massive storehouse of cheese from “Tom Thrush” (THRUSH – no periods – was the evil counterpart to U.N.C.L.E.). Oddly, in his standard issue agent’s hat and trench coat, Jerry looks almost exactly like Hanna and Barbera’s BLABBER of the TV detective duo of Snooper and Blabber!

The parody is so dead on, with Jerry’s convoluted entrance trail to his headquarters echoing Napoleon Solo’s entrance to U.N.C.L.E. HQ through a certain “changing booth” in Del Floria’s Tailor Shop – and the short’s title card rendered as a perfect send-up of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. logo, that this cartoon became an “Extra Feature” of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Complete Series DVD Box Set of 2008.

    
"Surf-Bored Cat" Ogle and Levitow deliver another goodie! Tom becomes obsessed with surfing, only to have his plans complicated by Ogle’s SHARK from “Puss in Boats” and "Filet Meow” and a little red octopus – who has attached itself to Tom’s head! The physical comedy here is superior to most entries of the series – especially at this late date – such as when Tom tries to launch himself and his surfboard from the deck of a ship, and fails in FOUR RAPID FIRE SUCCESSIVE TRIES to hit the water! Tom eventually gets to surf… just not in the way he intended. His contented resignation turning to enthusiasm in the final shot sells the ending effectively! This is the best cartoon of the later grouping, by far!
               
…AND, FROM HERE, THERE’S NOT MUCH LEFT TO SEE, FOLKS!

"Shutter Bugged Cat" trots out the same blatant use of old Hanna-Barbera footage as "Matinee Mouse", but far less cleverly and coherently – as Tom studies old movie footage of the pair in action to help him construct a trap… that doesn’t work. Just like this cartoon! As before, no credit for Jones… just as well!
   
"Advance And Be Mechanized" Would you believe they resort to the old “Battle-with-Robot-Cat-and-Robot-Mouse” thing AGAIN?! Only, this time, on a planet of CHEESE! Chuck Jones will always be remembered for the “Duck Season / Rabbit Season Trilogy”…but did he have to follow it up with a “Robot Cat / Robot Mouse Trilogy”?!
   
"Purr-Chance To Dream" ends the series by reviving the teeny-tiny powerhouse of a bulldog seen in an earlier cartoon. Cute and entertaining but nothing special.
       
In the final analysis TOM AND JERRY, under the stewardship of Charles M. (“Chuck”) Jones, is a mixed bag that was great and unusually innovative at its beginning – but, unfortunately, began to peter-out as Jones stepped further and further away from it.The best entries were where Jones, Michael Maltese, Maurice Noble and Eugene Poddany came together as a fine creative force, experimenting all the way – and the lesser entries occurred when they did not. Though Bob Ogle contributed some worthy exceptions to this rule throughout the run.

As a DVD collection, the cartoons in this set are well worth multiple viewings and will provide many hours of enjoyment. (I watched "Surf-Bored Cat" four times in one day!) Even the lesser efforts were among the best (…if not ACTUALLY the best) theatrical animated shorts of their time.

Keeping it in THAT perspective, I recommend this set to anyone with an interest in Chuck Jones, Tom and Jerry, and the animated shorts of the sixties. If you enjoy some good old (stylized) fun in your cartoons, this is for you!

…Even the Cat and Mouse Robots can grow on you, eventually!