Sunday, July 18, 2010

DVD Review: Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2

Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2

(Released October 27, 2009 by Warner Home Video)

Another Looong (and profusely illustrated) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Once upon a time, theatrical cartoons came to the infant medium of television. They were so successful that made-for-TV cartoons soon followed, with producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera leading the way. Most often, they populated afternoon (and sometimes early evening) timeslots.

Then, someone discovered that kids would flock to cartoons run on SATURDAY MORNING, perhaps to celebrate completing a hard week of school! (Hell, I know *I* did!) This movement reached its height in the 1960s (…when Saturday morning cartoons would run until as late as 2 PM!) – and so is the premise for Warner Home Video’s release Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2.

A set this diverse in content and approach, by definition, can never be “perfect”. Personal preferences and differences of opinion will always see to that… but it IS a great set and is, in many ways, improved over its predecessor – Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1. (Reviewed HERE)

Disc One in order of Appearance: Quick Draw McGraw, Space Kiddettes, Young Samson and Goliath, The Bugs Bunny Show, The Porky Pig Show, Adventures of Young Gulliver, The Wally Gator Show (Huh?), and The Jetsons.

Disc Two in order of Appearance: A SECOND Quick Draw McGraw Show (Yes!), Peter Potamus, The Road Runner Show, Atom Ant, The Tom and Jerry Show, and Magilla Gorilla. Pure sixties ecstasy!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS. And, we’ll add a catch-all category we’ll call OTHER.

Content Notes: Just as with Volume One, there is 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, no order, and no indication of what disc they are on. Ditto for the extra features.

I may be second to none in my admiration of the groundbreaking animated product of the 1960s… BUT, are these shows such classics that we’re already SUPPOSED TO KNOW what they are before viewing?! Especially with a set THIS diverse in content, you MUST list the titles somewhere on or inside the packaging!

Print Quality: In some instances, the set has its faults with lesser print quality. Specific examples include The Bugs Bunny Show, The Road Runner Show, the Wally Gator and Touché Turtle cartoons. But, a disclaimer is offered to mitigate that, so at least they’re playing fair with us. Offsetting that are surprisingly good prints of Quick Draw McGraw and Lippy the Lion – and the print of Magilla Gorilla is much improved over that in Volume One.

The Extra Features: Or should I say “Extra FEATURE”! WHV products continue to get SKIMPIER AND SKIMPIER! Be it lack of content notes, fewer episodes per set, and (most notably) fewer Extra Features per set – if any at all!

Here we have just ONE short background piece devoted to Magilla Gorilla. Featured are animation figures including Mark Evanier, Earl Kress, Scott Jeralds, Jerry Beck, Jerry Eisenberg, and a posthumous contribution by Magilla’s voice actor the great and vastly underappreciated Allan Melvin. Much is what is presented here, however, is redundant with the Extra Features content of the Magilla Gorilla Show DVD set of 2006.
Each disc has a short preview feature titled “Saturday Morning Wakeup Call”, a guided tour of the contents of the disc, narrated by Gary Owens. It’s nice, but not much of an Extra Feature – and, unlike Volume One, it is not even designated as such here.

Too Much Funny?: Some online forum contributors have lamented an overall lack of super hero / adventure series for this set. Everyone’s mileage will vary in this matter, but I tend to agree. The sixties were where (Fleischer’s Superman excepted) the adventure cartoon was born – and came to dominate the field. At the same time, I love all the “funny” series included, so I won’t squawk too loudly. This can always be adjusted in future volumes.

The Very Idea: First and foremost, for someone like me who watched nearly every cartoon the three networks could offer from the early sixties onward, it would be the very existence of such a package!

The Shows Contained Herein: With the possible exception of a show from Jay Ward (Bullwinkle, Hoppity Hooper, or George of the Jungle) or Total Television (King Leonardo, Tennessee Tuxedo, or Underdog) – which are not owned by Warner Bros. – Saturday morning in the sixties pretty much WAS Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros.

Filmation also became a player from 1966-on but, with the exception of the (as of yet unseen on DVD) 1968 Filmation BATMAN series, most other Filmation product that Warners has the rights to include would be double-dipping.

Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2 offers a superb mix of the FAMILIAR (Bugs Bunny, Quick Draw Mc Graw, Road Runner, Magilla Gorilla, Tom and Jerry) and the OBSCURE (Space Kiddettes, Young Samson and Goliath, Young Gulliver, and not-so-young Touché Turtle)!
No Anime: The presence of Anime show Marine Boy in Volume One was both jarring when set against comfortable WB and H-B favorites, and not particularly representative of the Sat AM ‘60s experience. WHV wisely leaves Anime to other venues, where it is likely better appreciated.

Double-Dipping: Volume One had at least FOUR double-dips and, depending on your precise definition, had many as six. Here, only THE JETSONS is a “true” double-dip – as I don’t count properties presented as FULL SHOWS with credits and interstitials as “D-D’s” compared with previous instances where they were presented as individual, stand-alone cartoons. I’d prefer a new obscure cartoon, as long at it fit the “Sat AM ‘60s Profile” over a more familiar duplication any day!

Menu Navigation: Volume Two allows you to view the shows as a WHOLE and also as individual cartoons. Volume One, in most cases, returned you to the menu each time a cartoon ended – rather than allow you to watch the complete show without having to work your remote. Thanks to WHV for recognizing that problem!

Credits and Interstitials: Most of the shows have original sixties opening and closing credits AND INTERSTITALS! Over time, the cartoons represented here have been “sliced-and-diced” through various syndicated and broadcast and cable network incarnations. Even when shows were left relatively intact, interstitials were the first to go, in favor of additional commercial time. Some cartoons were originally theatrical releases – and eventually returned to their Big-Screen stand-alone versions.

But, here – as it SHOULD BE, per the intentions of such a set – shows are reconstituted into their sixties Sat AM network versions.

All those great theme songs we thought were gone forever: “On with the show, this is it!”, “Rooooad Runner, the Coyote’s after youuuu!”, “The high-fallutin-est, fastest-shootin-est, cowboy you ever saaaaaw… That’s Quick Draw McGraaaawww!” and “We’ve GOT a GORILLA for sale…”! Wonderful stuff!

This set is simply “INTERSTITIAL HEAVEN!” So many lost or forgotten little bits of different shows turn up here!

The interstitials for BOTH Quick Draw McGraw Shows – where Quick Draw introduces Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy and Snooper and Blabber – were missing… BUT the full credits to each of the three cartoons (with the writing credits for Michael Maltese and other animation credits – excised from Boomerang showings) were there. So, it’s a trade off.

They also have the FULL original Kellogg’s opening and closing, which were trimmed from the shows on Volume One. This makes for much additional animation!

“The Bugs Bunny Show” restoration is a noble effort, even if some of the Goofy Gopher interstitials were missing! They used to exist after every cartoon. I’m guessing they presented whatever was preserved. Incomplete, perhaps… but still very worthwhile!

The end credits for “The Bugs Bunny Show” are the proper ones, as you can glimpse the titles of the cartoons (nearly microscopically) at the lower left at one point in the end credits. The original “Bugs Bunny Show” also had teaser previews and “next week scenes”, but I don’t believe those ever survived prime time to make it into the Sat AM version of the show – so we can appreciate the “authenticity of the Sat AM experience”, if not the completeness.

“The Porky Pig Show” has many of the same interstitials as did Volume One – but there is a different one of Porky and Daffy (existing footage from a Bob McKimson cartoon) and what appears to be one that might have been originally produced for “The Bugs Bunny Show” (of Bugs playing a piano – on the “stage background” for “The Bugs Bunny Show”) that sets up the cartoon “Baton Bunny”!

“The Road Runner Show” has many (about five) Road Runner and Wyle E. Coyote interstitials that bookend all of the commercial breaks. They appear to have been done by Rudy Larriva, who WAS doing the Road Runner theatrical cartoons at the time, and have Bill Lava music as did the contemporary cartoons. Most folks don’t exactly care for Larriva and Lava vs. Chuck Jones and Carl Stalling, but these are interesting “lost” bits – and have value in that alone!

Atom Ant, surprisingly, has two interstitials – one for Atom Ant and one for Precious Pupp!

And, best for last, Tom and Jerry has the original sixties opening and closings! The opening is mostly stock clips from the Hanna and Barbera days – with an ending gag produced by the Chuck Jones Unit, which was making the current theatricals. There are also a few Jones Unit interstitials throughout the show! So, here’s your chance to see some lost Jones (or Levittow/Noble) animation!

I recall more than one opening credit sequence… distinctly one that ended with Jerry flying a “rocket-powered cream pie” (!) into Tom’s face with the “Tom and Jerry” logo appearing over that! So, there are more such goodies that can appear in future volumes.

If there is one area in which this set ABSOLUTELY EXCELS, it is in the preservation and restoration of title and credit sequences and interstitials. Many of which have not been seen since their original sixties broadcasts! Well done!

The Writers: The best cartoon writers of the age are represented here: Michael Maltese and Warren Foster (perhaps the two best of ALL TIME given their body of work on both theatrical and television shorts), Joe Barbera (we’ll assume for Tom and Jerry) Tedd Pierce, Tony Benedict, Homer Brightman, Ken Spears, Joe Ruby, Dalton Sandifer, and more.

The Voice Talent: A true “Who’s Who of Cartoon Voicing” is headlined by Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Don Messick, Paul Frees, Jean Vander Pyl, June Foray, Hal Smith, Doug Young , Bill Thompson, Howard Morris, Allan Melvin, John Stephenson, Alan Reed (NOT as Fred Flintstone – but as Touché Turtle’s sidekick “Dum-Dum”!), Bea Benederet, Henry Corden, George O’Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Janet Waldo, Lucille Bliss, and so many more!

“The Wally Gator Show”? To the best of my recollection, there never was a REAL “Wally Gator Show”. The three cartoon series that comprised it were syndicated “stand-alones” (here in New York, at least) that were run as part of weekday shows starring local kiddie-hosts.

“Droopy Dragon” WAS the first Wally Gator run back in 1962 (again, here in New York, at least). My recollection is clear on that. I don’t think it was the case for the other two.

The Touché Turtle was particularly dark for a Hanna-Barbera cartoon – especially one not made for prime time. No spoilers, but imagine getting away with the line “I didn’t lose that leg in a card game!” – or the unsettling ending gag – today! …Or, even just a few years later.

Lippy the Lion seemed remastered, while Wally and Touché certainly were not! Odd!

“The Bugs Bunny Show”: The Post-Theme-Song opening line “Presenting that Oscar-winning Rabbit… Bugs Bunny!” was (awkwardly) excised from the opening! Could that be because “Oscar” is now copyrighted – like “Super Bowl” – and perhaps you can no longer use the term freely?

And “Big House Bunny” seemed to be uncut (unlike like many a Saturday morning broadcast that I can recall), with all of the “prisoner beating”, hanging, and electric chair gags left intact! Let’s hear it for WB on that one!

“The Quick Draw McGraw Show”: Both episodes were from the third season (1961-1962) where the familiar Hoyt Curtin music scores create no music clearance issues for WB.

All entries are perfectly representative of the series. Quick Draw features El Kabong and Snuffles, his dog biscuit-addicted blood hound. Augie Doggie again contacts his Martian friend and Snooper and Blabber get rematches with both “Quick Change Quinton” and the J. Evil Scientist Family!

“The Porky Pig Show”: Features “Scardy Cat”, the first entry in what I call “The Cowardly Sylvester and Stupefyingly Oblivious Porky in Danger Trilogy”, with the pair vs. a houseful of killer mice!

“The Road Runner Show”: About the last two seconds of “The Wild Chase” (the infamous late entry that combines Road Runner, Wyle E. Coyote, Speedy Gonzalez, and Sylvester) is cut off. Missing is where “THE END” is spelled out by the final explosion – compare it with your LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION Volume 4. Though I DO believe that’s the way it was shown on “The Road Runner Show” back in the day – and, frankly, I doubt anyone really cares if THAT ONE is slightly nicked, if it reflects the Sat AM TV experience.

OVERALL: Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2 is a great success, often surpassing Volume One. The “CONS” are fewer and the “PROS” are greater! It is highly recommended for those who were there – and for those who WISH THEY WERE!


joecab said...

The Space Kidettes??? WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME? Oh now I gotta buy this thing. I've been looking for those for a while; apparently they still rerun in other countries but here, nada.

Joe Torcivia said...

I have not seen The Space Kidettes since its original sixties NBC Sat AM airing. So, I was VERY glad to see it included.

Any series that reunites Daws Butler and Don Mesick (as Captain Skyhook and Static) is a winner in my book. Especially as the “Daws and Don paring” type of show was falling out of favor at H-B by 1966. Messick was able to convert both his authoritative-style voice and his weird sounds into subsequent series like The Herculoids and (of course) Scooby-Doo, but Daws was seen (and heard) less and less from that point on. Wacky Races and Hair Bair Bunch being notable exceptions.

I think one reason The Space Kidettes had no life in syndication was its ODD composition. It was not a 100% Hanna-Barbera content show! Recall that a “middle-feature” was Total Television’s “Go-Go Gophers”! I will NEVER understand why that happened, but I’m certain that (with rights and all) it was a factor in The Space Kidettes’ eventually disappearance into obscurity.

Tell us what you think of the set as a whole, when you get it!

Pokey said...

I saw Space Kiddettes in the later 70s as a repeat, the first time since the mid-1960s when it was first run...the mixture with other shows, Total Television's "GO Go Gophers", and ALSO Jay Ward's "Dudley Do Right"(even with Bill Scott finally crtedited)..would lkeep it back....btw July 18 was my brother's birthday..:) Came here from Joe's post of August 29 on Yowp's blog.

Joe Torcivia said...

I remember SPACE KIDDETTES that way too, Pokey! It REALLY came across as weird to a kid like me, who "knew something about animation", even then!

I'd sure like to know WHY that show wasn't 100% Hanna-Barbera.