Looney Tunes Super Stars: Sylvester and Hippity Hopper: Marsupial Mayhem
(Released April 23, 2013 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia
How many times can a single marsupial commit the same type of mayhem, without driving viewers… I dunno… um, “hoppy”? Let’s find out…
By now, we’ve discussed both the good and the bad of the LTSS series of DVD releases many times. Feel free to read any of my prior reviews of the LOONEY TUNES SUPER STARS series:
Instead of rehashing what is found in those reviews, we’ll concentrate on what has changed for this release – and, of course, on the shorts themselves. If a previously discussed “PRO” or “CON” is not listed below, assume it remains unchanged.
You can also compare this set with the previous recent release for PORKY PIG.
ROBO-PROMOS: There is only ONE Robo-Promo. It is for the new LOONEY TUNES SHOW. I guess I’ll get around to trying that someday. An improvement over when there were many more such non-optional promos.
WIDESCREEN VS. FULL-SCREEN: As with the prior PORKY PIG set, this controversial issue seems to have been eliminated for this release. Please read about it in ANY of the prior reviews (linked above). While I felt there was something to like about the simulated widescreen effect, the loss of outer-image area made it not worth the trouble it took to “toggle” from one to the other. It’s just as well to see these cartoons as we have always seen them on TV. I’d say it was wise of WHV to discontinue the experiment.
17 OF 18 SHORTS ARE NEW TO DVD! (Or, so says the packaging!) That’s reason enough to buy any package, even one as chock-full of plot repetition as this!
But, not so fast…
“Hippity Hopper” appeared on LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION Volume 6.
“Mouse-taken Identity” appeared on LOONEY TUNES MOUSE CHRONICLES: THE CHUCK JONES COLLECTION.
And “Goldimouse and the Three Cats” appeared on LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION Volume 5.
|I THOUGHT you looked FAMILIAR!|
So, I have no idea which “one” WHV regards as the lone “double-dip”, do you?
…And the reason we’re all here:
THE SHORTS: (All feature Sylvester and Hippity Hopper, unless otherwise noted):
“Hop, Look and Listen” (Robert McKimson, 1947) Runs 07:04: Baby kangaroo Hippity Hopper escapes from his mother in the city zoo and hops over to the home of Sylverster J. Pussycat, where he is mistaken for a “giant mouse” – and so begins one of the most oft-repeated plots in the annals of theatrical short cartoons, surpassed by few others, save the “Popeye / Olive / Bluto triangle” and female cats getting white stripes painted onto their backs!
Sylvester finds himself caught between said “giant mouse” and a bulldog who keeps throwing the cat back into the fray: “Dat’s th’ most sickening ting I ever hoid! A CAT scared over a MOUSE! Ain’t you got no PROFESSSIONAL PRIDE? Now, get back in dere, an’ get dat mouse, or I’ll beat ya to a pulp!”
“I never thought just being a pussycat could get so complicated!”
“Hippity Hopper” (Robert McKimson, 1948) Runs 07:08: “The waterfront, with its evil spell, drew me relentlessly toward the river. I knew then that this was to be my last night on Earth. I had the feeling that no one would care whether there was one less mouse in the world, or not!”
McKimson and Foster revisit their kangaroo plot a year later, but with a nice opening spin: A despondent mouse is about to commit suicide by drowning, due to Sylvester making his life a misery. On the docks, he encounters the crated and zoo-bound Hippity Hopper, mistaking him for a “giant mouse” – a mouse that can teach Sylvester a lesson.
“I’m gonna take VITAMINS, and grow as BIG as you are!”, the mouse tells his tormentor. From here, you know where it’s going. The skeptical and overbearing bulldog is back too!
“Pop ‘Im Pop” (Robert McKimson, 1949) Runs 07:18: The final piece of the formula clicks into place with the introduction of Sylvester Jr. Here, originally presented as more “kitten-like”, as comfortable on all-fours as standing upright.
“Your father knew that a cat can always lick a mouse, and this one was AS BIG AS ME! Suddenly, he snaps at me, so I grabs him by his leathery ears, and throws him to the ground! Then, I clamps my famous headlock on him, and that DID IT. No more giant mouse!” -- brags Sylvester. …He’ll regret this boastfulness – now and for years of formulaic cartoons to come!
“Who’s Kitten Who?” (Robert McKimson, 1950) Runs 07:17:
SYLVESTER: “…You’re getting to be a big boy now, Son, and there comes a time when we must discuss some of the mysteries of life.”
SYLVESTER JR.: “Yes, Father… What do you wish to know?”
A few “firsts” here. Tedd Pierce takes over from Warren Foster as the primary writer of this series – and has already done so for Robert McKimson’s cartoons in general. Foster would work with Friz Freleng, until departing for Hanna-Barbera. Unless otherwise noted, all remaining cartoons are written by Pierce. Sylvester Jr. first dons his iconic “bag-over-the-head” to show shame for his father. We end in uncharacteristically gruesome fashion, with Sylvester thinking his son was eaten by the “giant mouse”!
“Hoppy-Go-Lucky” (Robert McKimson, 1951) Runs 06:54: Billed on the package back as “…a brilliant send-up of John Steinbeck’s classic ‘Of Mice and Men’”, we find big dumb cat “Benny” and his annoyed pal “George” looking for mice. Though George is not exactly “George”…
SYLVESTER: “…And stop callin’ me GEORGE! My name’s Sylvester!”
BENNY: “But, I CAN’T SAY ‘Sylvester’, George!”
|B-B-B-Big... M-M-Mouse! B-B-B-Big!|
Three guesses (minus two) as to who they run into! A good music score, with such Warner Bros. standards as (This is my) “Lucky Day” and “Freddy the Freshman”.
“Cats Aweigh!” (Robert McKimson, 1952) Runs 06:43: Sylvester, with son in tow, applies for a job as a ship’s cat. But, guess who’s doing most of the work?
SYLVESTER: “Well, Son, it’s like this… Now, you’re a LITTLE CAT, so you take care of the LITTLE MICE. I’m a BIG CAT, so I take care of the BIG ONES.”
You’re free to further guess which hyperactive hopper just happens to be crated in the cargo hold. Nice twist ending on the formula, which I will not spoil.
“Bell Hoppy” (Robert McKimson, 1953) Runs 06:49: Hippity Hopper escapes from a van transporting him to a zoo, only to run afoul of an association of mangy felines called “The Loyal Order of Alley Cats Mousing and Chowder Club”.
“One of us…”, the Grand Poobah says, “…will have to PUT A BELL around the monster’s neck, so we can hear him coming and gang up on ‘im!” Poor Sylvester draws this unenviable task as his initiation into the club. This cartoon is highlighted by having a wild bunch of gang-cats violently beat on Sylvester, every time the bell (intended for Hippity) rings.
“Lighthouse Mouse” (Robert McKimson, 1954) Runs 06:33: Unusual writing credit: Sid Marcus. Sylvester is the mouser in a lighthouse also occupied by an annoying parrot and an ornery Scotsman as the lighthouse keeper, who gets lines like this:
“While you sleep, that crazy ‘moose’ [mouse] is loose in the ‘hoose’ [house]!” With the annoying parrot (who goads Sylvester throughout the picture) repeating it TWICE, to be sure we get it!
The “moose”, er, MOUSE kills the lights, causing an Australian cargo ship to disgorge a crate – containing Hippity – onto the island. Now, we’re really getting into “How-many-ways-can-we-paint-a-white-stripe-on-the-back-of-a-black-cat” territory!
“To Hop to Handle” (Robert McKimson, 1955) Runs 06:46: Unusual credits: Warren Foster returns as writer, and Robert McKimson is one of two ANIMATORS credited. Junior fashions a “Pied-Piper Pipe” to summon mice. Guess who he summons!
SYLVESTER JR: “I wonder if anyone would be interested in adopting a fatherless kitten!”
“Slap-Hoppy Mouse” (Robert McKimson, 1956) Runs 06:42: SIGN: “For Sale. This desirable old run-down, mouse-infested house. Tralfaz Investment Co.” (I wonder what THAT OUTFIT is doing today?)
It is there that rich, pampered pet cats Sylvester and Son go slumming to catch mice. …And a crate containing Hippity Hopper FALLS OFF A CIRCUS TRAIN – and TUMBLES INTO THE BASEMENT OF THAT VERY HOUSE! Really? What are the odds of THAT happening?
Bizarre non-sequitur: SYLVESTER: “You are now going to see your old, broken-down father un-infest one broken-down, mouse-infested house!”
SYLVESTER JR. (adopts a sort of beatnik’s cadence): “Hey, man, you’re not broken-down! You’re a real cool cat!”
SYLVESTER (momentarily taken aback – not unlike the audience – but recovers): “Um… Yeah! Come on, Son!”
“Mouse-taken Identity” (Robert McKimson, 1957) Runs 06:39: Hippity escapes from a zoo (yet, again), and takes refuge in a museum’s Australian exhibit. I’m taking bets on the ID of the museum’s watch-cat and son!
|Here's the made-for-TV Title Card, as it appeared on the sixties ROAD RUNNER SHOW!|
“Hoppy Daze” (Robert McKimson, 1960) Runs 06:21: A pint-size, “Jimmy Durante-like” cat cons Sylvester into catching him some mice. They begin with a waterfront warehouse, containing a certain crate from Australia.
“Freudy Cat” (Robert McKimson, 1963) Runs 06:27: The theatrical filmography of Hippity Hopper ends (perhaps appropriately) with a “CHEATER”. Considering all the similarly-plotted cartoons featuring Sylvester, Sylvester Jr., and Hippity, not only does it make sense – but I wonder how many moviegoers even noticed! The HERMAN AND KATNIP theatrical series also ended on a “cheater”, so Hippity’s not exactly in the worst of company.
Sylvester begins the cartoon running from the dreaded (and perhaps imagined) “giant mouse”.
SYLVESTER JR. (sympathetically): “Oh, Father, Dear Father, that’s all in the past. The bad old giant mouse is no more. …Oh, my poor father, still in a state of shock. Well, there’s only one way to get him unshook!”
That “way” is to take the poor pussycat to “Dr. Freud E. Katt Psikaitrist”, where they relive clips from “Slap-Hoppy Mouse” (1956) and “Cats Aweigh!” (1952) – with some slight changes in dialogue and William Lava’s music replacing the original scores – until Hippity Hopper shows up for his newly-animated farewell, driving all three cats… er, “hoppy”. …And, not that you’d know it from the order of the cartoons in this set, but it was Sylvester Junior’s farewell, too.Can’t you just hear the little tyke now? “Oh, the SHAME OF IT, ending on a CHEATER! How will I ever face the kittens in Troop 11 and a half? …At least Father will go on to star in some low-budget cartoons like ‘The Wild Chase’! Good luck, Father! Try to stay as ANIMATED as those cheaply produced things will allow!”
|What am I doing HERE?|
“Cat’s Paw” (Robert McKimson, 1958) No Hippity Hopper. Runs 06:26: “Sufferin’ succotash! With all the merit badges he could go out for, MY bright little son has to pick on Bird-Stalking!”, laments Sylvester, while climbing a lofty peak with Junior. Need I say, Sylvester “gets the bird”, in the figurative sense only?
With Hippity Hopper on the path to eventual retirement, Sylvester and Son became free to indulge in escapades that do not involve “giant mice”. And, to this end, Robert McKimson fashions a quartet of enjoyable “inept father and loyal but skeptical son” cartoons to advance the characters. In a way, it’s a shame this approach wasn’t tried sooner. Oddly, all of these predated “Freudy Cat” in actual release order.
“Fish and Slips” (Robert McKimson, 1961) No Hippity Hopper. Runs 06:19: Writer: Dave Detiege. Sylvester takes Junior fishing – not at the pier, but in a closed aquarium, where it’s safer. …It’s NOT safer. Is that a fishing photo of “Film Editor” Treg Brown at the start of this cartoon? Or is Brown’s name just thrown out as an in-joke that only WB staffers and future animation geeks would get?
|If only you were around to meet the "Giant Mouse"! Those were GOOD TIMES!|
“Claws in the Lease” (Robert McKimson, 1963) No Hippity Hopper. Runs 06:26: Writer: John Dunn. Strays Sylvester and Junior try to find a home with a large grouchy lady. As often occurs in real life, she thinks the kitten is cute, but has no use for the adult cat – and the cartoon revolves around the cats’ efforts to stick together. An interesting change of pace for the pair, that almost makes you feel sorry for Sylvester, until he carries things a wee bit too far.
Finally, and notably out of chronological order, to conclude the set, is…
“Goldimouse and the Three Cats” (Friz Freleng, 1959) No Hippity Hopper. Runs 06:26: Written by Michael Maltese (probably just prior to his departure from Warners to write the entirety of THE QUICK DRAW McGRAW SHOW), and the only non-McKimson cartoon in the set.
|Mike Maltese is REALLY GONE? ...EEEEK!|
“Whoever heard of CATS eating porridge? Why can’t we have a MOUSE, like other pussycats?” asks Sylvester Jr., characterized by Maltese as more of a spoiled brat than in prior McKimson/Pierce/Foster efforts. If anything, this different spin on Junior might have served as Mike Maltese’s “warm-up” for three seasons of Augie Doggie scripts for TV.
|"Oh, Father... If only WE could bond as well as those DOGS!" |
"Aw, just stay on YOUR SIDE of the couch an' be quiet, Son! Bugs Bunny's on!"
It’s another one of those “fairy-tale” parody cartoons that both Maltese and Warren Foster often did, with a cute little “Goldimouse” as the quarry – and the only appearance of Junior’s mother! Both Mama and Junior are quite dismissive toward Sylvester, adding to his frustrations.
For those of you that might find Sylvester Jr. as annoying as (oh, say…) Scrappy-Doo, feel free to take delight in the ending, where Sylvester Sr. plops a bowl of cold porridge on the kid’s head!
OVERALL: Despite the sameness of many of the cartoons in this collection, it’s hard to dislike Hippity Hopper. I know, because I’ve tried. I’ve tried to dread the coming of ANY cartoon that contains the phrase “giant mouse”.
But, I can’t really do it! Just look at Hippity’s wide, ever-present, and infectious smile. His kinetic enthusiasm. And, he’s really just doing what you’d imagine a baby kangaroo would do. It’s not HIS fault that some dumb cat keeps mistaking him for a “giant mouse”… over and over again… year after repetitious year!
And, you can’t really fault Robert McKimson for resorting to this, because the cartoons were made in a time when it was inconceivable that they would ever be seen beyond their original theatrical run, sans an occasional re-issue. He released them at an average pace of ONE per year, and that isn’t nearly as excessive as it tends to look in weekly or daily television broadcasts.
Depending on your point of view, Sylvester Jr. is either as annoying as Scrappy-Doo, or as “endearing” as Augie Doggie (a character he clearly inspired). Over the years, I’ve held both views – today, leaning more toward Augie.
Robert McKimson remains unfairly underrated as an animation director, and perhaps resorting to the “giant mouse” bit as often as he did, was one reason why.
Consider, however, if he’d stopped after the third cartoon. The first three were all excellent, and provided just enough variation on the theme to form a trilogy. Three would seem to be the optimum number of times to repeat a formula, without it wearing thin, or becoming annoying.
Along with “The Duck Season / Rabbit Season Trilogy”, and what I like to call “The Cowardly Sylvester and Stupefyingly Oblivious Porky in Danger Trilogy”, we could have had “The Giant Mouse Trilogy” – and, no doubt, we would have enjoyed it more for its triplicated brevity.
|Imagine... a pussycat like ME, in TWO TRILOGIES!|
But, then again (…Can’t he MAKE UP HIS MIND, on reviewing this set?!), you do get the entire classic-era theatrical runs of both Hippity Hopper AND Sylvester Jr., all on one disc for somewhere between ten and twenty bucks, and that’s worthwhile by any standard! And, I must admit, I enjoyed this set far more than I initially expected to!
LOONEY TUNES SUPER STARS: SYLVESTER AND HIPPITY HOPPER: MARSUPIAL MAYHEM is surely recommended for Sylvester fans (or those who like “giant mice”), Robert McKimson fans, and general Looney Tunes completists like me. I’ll also cop to an affection for Hippity Hopper and Sylvester Jr. that I didn’t really know I had! The rest of you can decide for yourselves how many times you wish to see a cat (and son) mistake a kangaroo for a “giant mouse”.
...Though you may also be surprised at how much you enjoy yourself with this collection!