Tuesday, March 29, 2011

DVD Review: Cartoon Commercials: Volume One

Cartoon Commercials: Volume One

(Released: 2004 by Thunderbean Animation LLC)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

All right maybe not “looong”, but certainly “extensive”!

What we have here is 1:25:13 worth of TELEVISION COMMERCIALS, which are completely, or partially, animated! The years covered: 1951-1977. The subject matter: Everything under the sun – from cigarettes and beer, to automobile polish, to the United States Marine Corps… and of course sweetened breakfast cereals! Oddly, of all products, Wildroot Cream-Oil Hair Tonic is particularly well represented, with 7 different ads over the presentation.


These commercial messages come at you relentlessly… but joyously! Every 30-60 seconds you’ll make a new discovery, or become reacquainted with an old familiar friend.


Contemporary viewers will be amazed at just what a staple animation was to advertising during the period covered. Especially the ‘50s and ‘60s. Now that CGI can create anything in simulated reality, traditional animation has become rare in TV ads – with the notable exception of breakfast cereals. But, our cartoon friends hawked darned near everything in these delightful days gone by.


An optional feature allows you to view the presentation with subtitles that provide additional information, such as year released, production studio, animators and directors, featured characters, announcers and other character voices. I found this VERY useful, and will likely utilize it for any and all future viewings.


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


The CONS:


It’s Not Long Enough: If you’re anything like me (…and Heaven help you, if you are!) you’ll not get bored during the procession of animated commercials. They could double this, and it would still be great fun.


It’s Just a Tad Too Long: No, that’s not a contradiction of the previous item. It is, in fact, about 10-15 minutes too long… but only because that last portion represents commercials from (Shudder!) the seventies! It never fails to amaze me how nearly everything that was good about the previous decade or two, just declines in the seventies. Comic books, prime time TV, animation in general, music, fashion, general quality of life… you name it.


TV commercials are no exception. Notice a nearly complete lack of the humor that punctuated the commercials of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Fortunately, the set’s primary focus IS the ‘50s and ‘60s, with a handful circa 1970-1973 (still kinda okay) – and only two ads dating from 1975, and one each from 1976 and 1977. These last few are just so different in their approach; they really don’t even belong in the same package. So, the set might have been better served if limited to artifacts that are strictly pre-1970. …But, that’s just me!


Only One Hanna-Barbera Character Commercial: Hanna-Barbera characters were well known for selling Kellogg’s cereals. Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, and Pixie, Dixie, and Mister Jinks were all employed in this capacity – and all of them save the “cat and meeces” had their images plastered across various cereal boxes. Yet, save the lone (and notorious) exception leading off our “PROS” section, not one H-B character ad is included. Oddly, the H-B produced “Hillbilly Goat” (voiced by Howard Morris in his “Mushmouse” voice), who succeeded Huck Hound on the box of “Kellogg’s Sugar Stars” about 1966, is present. Nice to see that, at least. …But, WHERE are the rest?!


The PROS:


Smoking Flintstones: Not only is the infamous Winston Cigarettes Flintstones ad included, but also the ad bumper that begins the end credits sequence – where Fred gives Wilma a light and we move-out to the “Winston Advertising Billboard” overlooking Bedrock! Only Fred and Barney actually speak in the ad. I guess they didn’t wanna pay Jean Vander Pyl and Bea Benederet.


On the various FLINTSTONES DVD sets, we get many of the “safe” commercials like One-A-Day Vitamins and Welch’s Grape Juice, but now I finally own a copy of the Winston (Win-stone?) ad – and can imagine it playing the next time I watch an early Flintstones episode, like “The Swimming Pool” or “The Flintstone Flyer”.


Pete and Harry the Carnation Rabbits: A pair of Rabbits, “Pete” (sardonic, voiced by Pat Harrington Jr.) and “Harry” (enthusiastic, voiced by Lennie Weinrib) push various Carnation products, and unfortunate or embarrassing things end up happening to Pete. He ends each commercial with “Thanks a lot, Harry!” The odd thing is I don’t ever recall seeing any of these air on TV back in the day! These mini-masterpieces were directed by Bill Melendez, with additional voices by Gene Moss. There were 22 consecutive such ads, and I never once tired of them!


The Contributors: An astounding array of talents is represented here! Animators and Animation Studios, Voice Actors, established Cartoon Stars and other Icons of Merchandising, and even noted personalities appearing in live action. Let’s break ‘em down… alphabetically, so as not to inadvertently editorialize my preferences.


Animation Studios: Depatie/Freleng, Gamma Productions, GrantRay Productions, Hanna-Barbera, Jay Ward, MGM, Murkami-Wolf, Pantomine Pictures, Playhouse Pictures, Quartet Films, Terrytoons, Total Television, Tower Twelve Productions (Chuck Jones), UPA, Walter Lantz, Warner Bros.


Animators and Directors: Hal Ambro, Tex Avery, Gerard Baldwin, Art Bartsch, Ted Bonnickson, Gerry Chiniquy, Herman Cohen, Fred Crippen, Shamus Culhane, Phil Duncan, Len Glasser, Manny Gould, Vic Haboush, Ken Harris, Gene Hazleton, John Hubley, Mark Kausler, John Kimball, Michael Lah, Abe Levittow, Bill Littlejohn, Ed Love, Bob Matz, Peter Max (Yes, THAT Peter Max!), Robert McKimson, Bill Melendez, Ken Muse, Grim Natwick, Don Patterson, Ray Patterson, Manny Perez, Connie Rasinski, Virgil Ross, Milt Schaeffer, Rod Scribner, Grant Simmons, Ed Soloman, Irv Spence, Iawo Takamoto, Dick Thompson, Bill Tytla, Ben Washam, Richard Williams… WHEW!


Voice Actors: Don Adams, Dayton Allen, Jim Backus, Dick Beals, Jackson Beck, Herschel Bernardi, Mel Blanc, Bradley Bolke, Tom Bosley, Daws Butler, William Conrad, Hans Conreid, Kenny Delmar, June Foray, Paul Frees, Joan Gerber, Art Gilmore, Pat Harrington Jr., George S. Irving, Chuck McCann, Bob McFadden, Dal McKennon, Sheppard Menkin, Don Messick, Howard Morris, Tom Morrison, Wayne Morton, Gene Moss, Thurl Ravenscroft, Alan Reed, Bill Scott, Hal Smith, Grace Stafford, Arnold Stang, Allen Swift, Dick Tufeld, Lenny Weinrib, Nancy Wible, Paul Winchell… WHEW, again!


Cartoon Stars: Barney Rubble, Betty Rubble, Bugs Bunny, Bullwinkle J. Moose, Chumley the Walrus, Daffy Duck (…in one ad, actually WINS decisively over Bugs Bunny!), Elmer Fudd (…voiced by Hal Smith and directed by Tex Avery!), Farmer Al Falfa, Filmore Bear, Fred Flintstone, Mighty Mouse, Mister Magoo, Pink Panther and “Long-Nose Guy”, Road Runner, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Tennessee Tuxedo, Uncle Waldo Wigglesworth, Wilma Flintstone, Wizard of Oz characters (…Dorothy, Tin-Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion – by Chuck Jones’s Tower Twelve Productions), Woody Woodpecker, Wyle E. Coyote, Yosemite Sam… Triple WHEW!


Icons of Merchandising: Cap’n Crunch, Carnation Rabbits: Pete and Harry (“Thanks a lot, Harry!”), Charlie the Tuna, Cherrios Kid (…called “Harry” in 1955!), Count Chocula, Elsie the Cow, Franken-Berry, Frito Bandito (…voiced by Mel Blanc and directed by Tex Avery!), Hillbilly Goat (…Iawo Takamoto designed ad!), Lucky the Leprechaun, the M&Ms, Quake, Quisp, the Quick Bunny, Snap, Crackle, and Pop, Sonny and Gramps (Cocoa Puffs), Sugar Bear (…can we even SPEAK HIS NAME these days?), Tony the Tiger and Tony Jr., Trix Rabbit, Twinkie the Kid… I repeat… WHEW!


Appearing in Live Action: Ben Alexander, Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Hillary Brooke, Johnny Brown, Rose Marie, The Monkees (…minus Peter Tork – but PLUS Bugs Bunny!!!) Grady Sutton, Lawrence Welk… and, ironically, in the only included commercial WITHOUT animation, Mel Blanc – doing his American Express Card pitch! …One final time: WHEW!


Extra Features:


“Industry on Parade”: (Runs 02:20) A publicity piece, produced in the 1950s, by the National Association of Manufacturers. The focus is on “The Alexander Film Co.” of Colorado Springs – a producer of television advertising.


Still Gallery: A 1950s “How-To” collection of stills on cartooning for advertising, by cartoonist and Golden Age comic book artist Chad Grothkopf. Nice look at “what to do” and “what not to do” when working up ideas for a sponsor.


Overall:


What an UTTER DELIGHT this DVD set is! It’s the kind of thing you’ll want to haul out and show to a group of friends. Guaranteed, everyone will find something they like! And you, yourself, won’t believe just how much you’ve forgotten until you see it!


If there is a “Volume Two”, and it does not continue from the 1970s-on, but offers more wonders from “Golden Age of Animated Advertising”, I’ll be there for it.


Thunderbean is also the producer of “PRIVATE SNAFU GOLDEN CLASSICS” – a 2010 collection of the various WW II Era “Private Snafu” cartoon shorts, produced for the military by Warner Bros (…utilizing the same directors and animators from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies). This collection harkens back to the LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTIONS of years past – with the best available presentation of the Snafu shorts, commentaries by animation luminaries, and other welcome special features. …In other words, everything the current LOONEY TUNES SUPERSTARS collections are not! They produce lots of other neat stuff I’ve yet to view, as well.

…So, let’s hear it for Thunderbean!

This collection is highly recommended for enthusiasts of animation, television history… and all the rest of you!

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