Friday, June 1, 2012

DVD Review: Herman and Katnip: The Complete Series. Part One: Background and General Information.

Herman and Katnip: The Complete Series

(Released 2011 by Vivendi Classic Media) 
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Summary:  It’s like Tom and Jerry… but they TALK!!!

Traverse the 1950s with Herman and Katnip, Paramount / Famous Studios’ answer to MGM’s classic Cat vs. Mouse team Tom and Jerry.

Clever and streetwise New York mouse Herman drops in just in time to rout the ornery feline Katnip, and save a bunch of dull and pathetic look-alike mice (ranging anywhere from 3 to 4, to dozens at a clip) from starvation and general mortality. 

As with most Famous Studios’ output, Herman and Katnip was nicely designed and well animated, with lots of violence to keep us entertained.  Unlike most Famous Studios’ output of the 1950s, the settings and scripts were VARIED enough to avoid the numbing repetition exhibited in most Famous series.  These are FUN to watch – even now! 
Arnold Stang
Adding the dimension of vocalizations, normally lacking in MGM’s dueling duo, Herman and Katnip were suitably voiced by Arnold Stang (Top Cat) and Sid Raymond (Baby Huey), respectively.  Famous Studios stock players Jack Mercer (Popeye), Mae Questel (Olive Oyl, Little Audrey), and Jackson Beck (Bluto, King Leonardo) were on hand to round out the voice cast as needed. 

Like Warner Bros. Tweety (prior to his long association with Sylvester), Herman had a solo career, palling around with a “Henpecked Rooster” alternately named “Henry” or “Hector” or bedeviling various black cat “Katnip prototypes” (These cartoons, save the first one, can be found on Thunderbean’s “NOVELTOONS” DVD set of 2012), before pairing-up with Katnip in 1950’s “Mice Meeting You”.  This association would last through 1959 and the end of the series.

Katnip also had a career independent of Herman, starring in two solo cartoons (both included in this set) and also as fall-guy to another Famous Studios star “Buzzy the Funny Crow”. 

Counting only those cartoons where Herman faced-off against Katnip, we have a total of 31 – with the two “Katnip solos” bringing the set’s total up to 33.  NOT BAD for a set that generally sells for about 6 to 9 dollars! 

Alas, the Buzzy cartoons and Herman solos are not included but, for the price, how can you really complain! 

Oh, and I should mention that, while the talents of Stang, Raymond, and the animators were first rate, the REAL star of these cartoons – and of MOST Famous Studios output of the era – is composer Winston Sharples!  

Sharples’ unique scores add tremendous enjoyment to any cartoon they support!  During the ‘90s, I can recall a truly misguided period in these cartoons’ checkered history where the Sharples scores were removed and replaced by synthesizers – presumably, to make the cartoons sound more “modern” and “hip”.  Thankfully, in this collection, Winston Sharples is restored to all his glory. 

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.  And, in this case: OTHER!


Authenticity of the Experience:  These cartoons have been subject to slicing and dicing and other editing atrocities for as long as they’ve been televised, so it’s small wonder that the original theatrical experience cannot be duplicated.  Unless this were a Thunderbean product, I’d never expect it to be. 

The versions of Herman and Katnip cartoons used here appear to have originated with a syndicated package called “The Harveytoons Show”.  As such the H&K theme song is severely truncated and the credits sequence is edited out altogether.  That’s really a shame, given the Famous stalwarts performed over-and-above the norm for this series in particular.  They should be credited for their efforts. 

The classic “Skiddle-Diddle-Dee, Skiddle-Diddle-Day, It’s just like a hol-i-day…” theme is never used at any time in this collection.  But truncated versions of a jazzy instrumental version of “Skiddle-Diddle-Dee” and the 1940s Noveltoons theme are heard throughout. 

At least we get title cards – and the restoration of Winston Sharples… though cut for the theme sequences. 

Here's a YouTube Video of the original theme.  Warning: It continues to Auto-Play other Famous Studio themes (...but that's a good thing too!)  SOUND ALERT!

Content Notes:  There is NO CONTENT LISTING of titles anywhere inside the package, or on the back cover!  While, with certain exceptions, 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.  I shouldn’t have to consult an animation research book, or access the disc menus for this information, when a mere paper insert would suffice. 

Original Order:  As noted above, the original release order is ESSENTIALLY maintained, though “Frighty Cat” (1958) and “Felineous Assault” (1959) are dropped-in among the 1953 releases – for reasons completely unknown.  The unexpected transition in animation styles is jarring, to say the least, giving the set a CON in this area. 

Menu and Navigation:  Menu navigation is easy, with a “cat’s paw” icon serving as the cursor.  BUT… a very loud version of the theme for the aforementioned “The Harveytoons Show” plays whenever menus are displayed!  Did I mention that it is overly LOUD?  If ever there WAS a place to include the classic Winston Sharples theme “Skiddle-Diddle-Dee”, it would be here to play over the menus. Nope! And, to make things worse, it is overly LOUD!  Did I make my point?

The Extra Features:  There are NO extra features!  Can’t really complain too loudly, given the amount of material at the price – but something (even a few clips of the original theme / credits sequences that can be found on YouTube) would be welcome.

Cutting the Extra Features?

OTHER:  (Our place for items that are neither PRO nor CON! …Just Odd!)

“Play ALL” vs. Selecting Individual Cartoons:  In sets like this, I tend to select individual cartoons over the “Play ALL” option.  But, as seen in the recent TennesseeTuxedo DVD collection – where one particular episode is INCOMPLETE as an individual selection and COMPLETE when “Play ALL” is engaged – there are things that can be completely MISSED, if one chooses not to “Play ALL”. 
PLAY ALL.. or DIE, Mouse!

In this case, if you select “Play ALL”, you get the Herman and Katnip cartoons formatted into what would be the equivalent of “Half-Hour Shows”, that is grouped by THREES! 

The “shows” – that ONLY play as such under the auspices of “Play ALL” – begin with the theme and opening sequence for “The Harveytoons Show”… that we ALREADY hear enough of whenever a MENU is displayed! 

At the end of the grouping of three H&K shorts, there is a generic and all-inclusive END CREDITS SEQUENCE that credits EVERYONE who apparently worked on the Famous Studios / Harvey theatrical cartoons of the 1950s.  (…Including, I would assume, at least a few individuals who DID NOT necessarily work on Herman and Katnip!) 

And the REALLY WEIRD part of this is that a still of CASPER displays – and the classic “Casper the Friendly Ghost” THEME SONG plays! 
MY theme is FRIENDLIER than theirs!

Um… Not Herman and Katnip’s classic theme, which is nowhere to be found… but Casper’s?  Really?  I LIKE Casper’s theme… but…

And this occurs for EVERY group of three H&K cartoons, ONLY when you select “Play ALL” – which I did only by chance!  I’ve begun to wonder exactly WHAT ELSE have I missed out on during all those years I’ve only selected individual cartoons or episodes! 


The Number of Cartoons vs. the Price:  33 theatrical cartoons for an MSRP well under ten dollars. At “three cartoons per a theoretical half-hour TV show”, that yields ELEVEN SHOWS!  Magnificent, when compared with the LOONEY TUNES SUPERSTARS: BUGS BUNNY and DAFFY DUCK sets that give you fifteen individual cartoons (and no Extra Features) for an MSRP of 19.98 – yielding the equivalent of FIVE SHOWS vs. the ELEVEN SHOWS you get here! 

Robo-Promos and Excessive Copyright Warnings:  There are NO Robo-Promos or Excessive Copyright Warnings inflicted upon us for HERMAN AND KATNIP: THE COMPLETE SERIES.  Unlike other sets like THIS!  Thank you, Vivendi Classic Media. 

The “Complete” Series:  Using Jeff Lenburg’s invaluable reference work, “The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoon Series” (1981) as a guide, I find that this is INDEED “The Complete Series”, in that all cartoons that feature Herman and Katnip together are included.  …And, the two Katnip solos to boot. 

So “Complete”, in fact that it included (by my unofficial count) a small number of cartoons either omitted or only excerpted on the previous Harveytoons: The Complete Series, also from Vivendi Classic Media.  Had I realized THAT sooner, I would not have waited this long to get the set! 

 Okay, that's enough Blog reading for now!

Go outside!  Get some exercise!  Eat some healthy foods!  Tell that special someone just how much you love them -- and/or just how much they mean to you! 

...Don't TEXT them!  TELL them! 

Then come back... scroll down... or just click on THIS LINK to read Part Two of our Herman and Katnip DVD review...

 The Cartoons Themselves!   ...See ya there! 

Don't go away! There's more fun to come! ...Maybe not for Katnip!


wayne moises said...

They are famed cat and mouse duo during the 1950's Famous Studios cartoon inspired versions of Tom&Jerry cartoons for decades(1949-59) animated series from the producers of Casper cartoons/Harveytoon series all companies moved to Classic Media/Dreamworks Animation and remains a unforgettable cartoon series of all time.thanks for the information for your comments in your opinion .from:Wayne.

Joe Torcivia said...

Thank you for the kinds words, Wayne. I’m glad you enjoyed it.