Tuesday, August 31, 2010

DVD Review: Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends: The Complete Season Four

Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends: The Complete Season Four

(Released August 17, 2010 by Vivendi Classic Media)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Let’s get this matter out of the way up front. The TWO ORIGINAL television programs from which this material is culled were titled: ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS followed by THE BULLWINKLE SHOW.

If ever there were a show called “Rocky and Bullwinkle” – or “Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends” – it would have been something cobbled together for syndication.

And “cobbled together” may be the best way to describe the attempts to recreate a fifty-year old show with many different component parts. Same applies to the early Hanna-Barbera series.

It may actually be IMPOSSIBLE, by this point in time, to reconstruct a show like this in an exact duplication of its original form. Pieces are lost to history. Shows had differing content of “new vs. repeat” material, etc. And, frankly speaking, not everyone associated with such a project HAS ACTUALLY SEEN a show like this in its original state. They might be forced to go by hearsay and the inescapable “Things They Read Somewhere on the Internet”.

Given this, I’d have to say that the producers of this series of DVD collections have done a fine job of creating something called “ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE AND FRIENDS” out of the remains of ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS and THE BULLWINKLE SHOW.

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

Authenticity of the Experience: Please refer to the opening paragraphs above.

Music Substitution: The original theme music, and that which heralds the start of the many of the component parts, has been substituted. The new music is inferior to anyone who can still hear the old themes echoing in the recesses of his or her mind. There’s even a faux-William Conrad voice calling the series “Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends”, as this music plays. Thankfully, the episodes themselves were rarely scored; so watching them still feels “right”.

Bugs: Not a guest cameo by “The Bunny”, alas, but a transparent (but annoying nonetheless) “R&B” Logo at the lower right corner of the screen. Just as you’d see on modern TV broadcasts. GET A CLUE, PRODUCERS… We KNOW this is “Rocky and Bullwinkle” (…or are you plugging “Rhythm and Blues” music?) without the BUG. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that we buy DVDs… TO GET AWAY FROM THAT INTRUSIVE CLUTTER! Since this is the 4th edition, I don’t think this is going to change.

Some Double-Dipping: The Rocky and Bullwinkle serials “Treasure of Monte Zoom”, “Guns of Abalone”, and “Goof Gas Attack”, included here, were all previously released on the various “Best of…” mini collections. But, I guess we can forgive that, as they are packaged here as Season Four. The six-part “Painting Theft” and the twelve-part “Banana Formula” serials appear to be new to DVD.

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 old promos and the like) would be welcome.

All in all, there’s really not a lot to complain about, once your ears adjust to the non-authentic music (I’m not certain mine will ever COMPLETELY do so, due to so many years of watching the original broadcasts) – and if you can manage to look past or ignore the BUGS (I can’t completely do that either).

The Number of Episodes vs. the Price: 19 episodes for an MSRP of 19.98. Not bad at all, when compared with the concurrent BUGS BUNNY and DAFFY DUCK sets (Click on each for reviews.) that give you Fifteen individual cartoons (and no Extra Features) for that same MSRP of 19.98 – yielding the equivalent of FIVE SHOWS vs. the NINETEEN you get here!

The Packaging: Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends: The Complete Season Four comes in a very sturdy package that “opens like a book” with two discs – one on each inside page. It is nicely illustrated, though the portrait of Rocky must be one of the WORST drawings of the Flying Squirrel ever done. (Compare the good “Rocky rendition” here with the one leading off this post!) And, when you’re talking about a bad drawing of a Jay Ward character, you’re really saying something! Despite this, it remains one of the BEST efforts in DVD packaging I’ve seen of late.

Content Notes: A double-sided, color page of Content Notes is provided inside the package. This is a far better approach than that usually taken for contemporary Warner animation collections. (See many of my Warner reviews.)

Menu and Navigation: Menu navigation is very easy. BIG NUMBERS represent the “number of the episode”, and there is a full screen description of the contents of each episode for you to read before selecting it. This is especially helpful in that you won’t mistakenly play the show with “Chapters 3 and 4” of a “Rocky and Bullwinkle” serial, when you intend to play the show with “Chapters 5 and 6”. You can also play individual cartoons, or the episode as a whole.

The Talent: Producers Jay Ward and Bill Scott. Voice actors June Foray, Bill Scott, Paul Frees (who steals every show as “Boris Badenov”), William Conrad as “Our Narrator”, Edward Everett Horton, Daws Butler, Walter Tetley, Hans Conreid, and Charlie Ruggles put on a tour-de-force in every episode.

Show Content and Interstitials: Oddly, for this FOURTH SEASON, they appear to use the original First Season opening and closing sequences (with the music substitutions and faux-Conrad voice). And, for the First Season set, they used a LATER opening and closing made for ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS. Go figure. By this time, it should be THE BULLWINKLE SHOW credits anyway. As I said: “cobbled together”.

Each show contains two chapters of the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” serial, two component features (“Peabody’s Improbable History”, “Fractured Fairy Tales”, “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties”, or “Aesop and Son” – adding to the mixed up nature of reconstructing the series), a short Bullwinkle segment (“Bullwinkle’s Corner” or “Mr. Know-It-All”) and program interstitials that were used to introduce commercials and component features. You all remember “Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit of out of my Hat!”? Yeah, that stuff – and more of it than I remember there being, back in the day. Great to have those!

Shorter Serials: Though I always loved this show, I often felt less than satisfied because – no matter when I seemed to watch it – I only felt as if I were getting PART OF SOMETHING, instead of a “full-story”. The first serial “Jet Fuel Formula” (on the Season One DVD) was a whopping 40 (!) parts long! Imagine today’s kids hanging in that long for ANYTHING.

Of course, as I grew older and wiser, I realized that a “complete story” was not the point of the R&B serials – and that “getting there was ALL of the fun”!

Though, perhaps in response to this, the serials by this time were anywhere from FOUR to EIGHT chapters (with one 12-part exception) – and would cover anywhere from two to four shows. Honestly, I think it works better this way.

The Humor: If Jay Ward has one lasting legacy, it is the HUMOR of his animated series. He stuffed them full of great jokes and satire and, when they were chock full, he stuffed them some more.

Here are FOUR examples from “SHOW # 3” alone:

Boris Badenov (…such a great joke in itself) realizes he’s just made a terrible mistake.




Turns out, though, that they DID plug the competition – in these next two examples.

Boris ends a chapter by making a BET with the Narrator – who announces the title of the next chapter as “Dollars to Donuts – or The Wonderful World of Cruller” (The Disney Sunday program that followed “The Bullwinkle Show” on NBC.)

Or, in a “Fractured Fairy Tale”, one character suspiciously accuses another thusly: “What are you, a spy from Hanna-Barbera?”

And, in what may have been the “Groaner of the Year”, an “R&B” chapter satirized “Modern Art”.



…Oh, how do you not love that! And all of this is in just ONE SHOW!

Overall: Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends: The Complete Season Four is a great package, as long as you’re understanding of its shortcomings in the area of authenticity. Again, I’m not certain the true authentic experience CAN be recreated, so I’m willing to accept it as is.

Indeed, give it extra points if you’ve never seen either ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS or THE BULLWINKLE SHOW in olden days. The content not only “holds up” but has vastly improved with age – the limitations of ‘50s-‘60s animation notwithstanding, of course.

It doesn’t matter if you have the earlier season sets, as this is a fine sampling of Jay Ward’s greatest creations.

Hokey Smoke, just buy it and enjoy it!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

DVD Review: Star Trek Enterprise: The Complete Second Season

Star Trek Enterprise: The Complete Second Season

(Released: 2005 by Paramount Home Entertainment)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Season One was an unexpected pleasure. Read that review HERE. Let’s move on to Season Two…

In the beginning, Zefram Cochrine invented Warp Drive technology. The rest was (TV, movie, and merchandising) history!

When something is great to begin with, and its follow-up is just as good, it’s a wonderful thing! And so it is with Star Trek Enterprise: The Complete Second Season.

As with all previous “Modern TREK Series”, we resolve last season’s cliffhanger, move though another solid season of surprises and delights – and, in this case, go somewhere completely unexpected in setting up the season to come.

As a total aside, one thing I love about this series is that there are no Holodeck episodes. They are the biggest cheats!

All the background information on the ship and crew of Captain Jonathan Archer can be found in the previous review, so let’s go to warp!

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


Packaging: The packaging remains unchanged from Season One – and is such for the duration of the series. If you like it, you like it. I do not. Nor do I truly dislike it, but more intelligence – and dare I say “LOGIC” – could have been applied to the design.

Attached to the package with TWO DABS OF GLUE is a cardboard piece that wraps AROUND THE TOP FRONT, BACK, AND BOTTOM FRONT of the package! You cannot open the package without removing the cardboard. BUT, on this cardboard, is the ONLY PLACE that it is identified as being the SECOND SEASON! So, if you remove it, nothing else on the package can distinguish it from other seasons. WHY?

No Skipping the End Credits: As with Season One, I found that the EPISODE END CREDITS – the SAME end credits that Paramount routinely shrunk, squashed, and did not allow to be read in its original UPN TV broadcasts – COULD NOT BE CHAPTER-SKIPPED on it’s DVDs. Of course, I can choose to fast forward through them, if need be. BUT… Just thought I’d share the irony, folks!


Widescreen: STAR TREK ENTERPRISE is the first TREK series to be filmed in widescreen. Even though it’s not Blu-ray, no TREK series has ever looked as good!

Content Booklet: Each season of Star Trek Enterprise comes with an enclosed BOOKLET of about 12 pages. Every episode of the set is described in sufficient detail to remind you of the particulars if you’ve seen it, or whet your appetite if you have not. But, where this item becomes especially valuable (…particularly for a season beyond Season One), is the recap of “The Story So Far”. Very nice to have for a quick review, before beginning the new voyages.

Also helpful are “Shaping the Future”, emphasis on a key episode of Season Two, and “Long Range Scan”, a preview of things to come in Season Three.

The Episodes – as if you didn’t know this was coming!:

“Shockwave Part II”: Ever since STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION floored us with “The Best of Both Worlds Parts I and II”, STAR TREK series have offered season-ending cliffhanger episodes! Last season’s Part One revealed more tantalizing details about the “Temporal Cold War” and the dire consequences for the Earth when Archer is removed from the time stream.

Part Two finds Archer marooned in the devastated 31st Century, with time-traveling “crewman” Daniels. Archer’s removal, in some way, leads to the United Federation of Planets never forming and the destruction of Earth’s civilization. Needless to say, the technology to return Archer to 2152 is also destroyed, leaving him and Daniels helpless and stranded. Meanwhile, an armada of Suliban (a conspirator race in the “Temporal Cold War”) led by Archer’s foe Silik, have captured the Enterprise, demanding that First Officer T’Pol and the crew produce Archer or face death.

Other highlights include:

“Carbon Creek”: Vulcans crash-land in 1950s rural Pennsylvania! This may be one of the single greatest TREK stories ever! (…And THAT is no small claim!) A “break” story that features the regular crew only in framing sequences.

“Minefield”: Introduces us to the Romulans – though they were mentioned in an historical context in “Shockwave Part II”.

“A Night in Sickbay”: Great character story for Archer and Doctor Phlox – and Porthos the Beagle’s illness makes us all sad.

“Marauders”: Klingon raiders terrorize and plunder a small mining colony. Archer doesn’t stand for this. Relive the days when Klingons were great villains! Ah, such memories!

“The Communicator”: A lesson in why you should never be careless with your equipment, when observing more primitive alien cultures.

“The Catwalk”: An amazing story of the Enterprise crew “in-exile” aboard their own ship! While navigating a deadly region of radiation, the crew must take refuge in a shielded maintenance shaft – for eight days. During this period, a race immune to the danger takes control of Enterprise.

“Dawn”: A superb “Trip and a Hostile Alien in Danger” story. Dawn, as in “sunrise”, brings killer (literally) heat to the planet where the pair is stranded.

“Cease Fire”: Expands on the bitter history of the Vulcans and the Andorians, originally explored in Season One’s “The Andorian Incident”. Both episodes are a great and unexpected spin on our impressions of the Vulcans.

“Canamar”: Archer and Trip are arrested as smugglers, and sentenced to a planetary penal colony. I suppose every series, from LOST IN SPACE on, ends up doing one of these.

“Judgment”: Archer’s life is in the hands of a worn-out Klingon defense advocate.

“Cogenetor”: Trip’s interference with an alien culture has surprisingly bad consequences. The ending will kick you in the gut, like an episode of LOST or ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS!

“Regeneration”: No Spoilers, but I actually said “Oh, F***!” out loud, when I saw WHO was discovered in the Antarctic! (Yes, sometimes it’s GREAT to approach a series completely “in the dark”! The surprises are all the more effective!) Hooks superbly into one of the TREK feature films. The episode commentary track reveals a great deal of TREK continuity-related controversy associated with this episode. Me? I had no problem, and really enjoyed it.

“First Flight”: The “Right Stuff” story of Star Trek’s Warp Program told in flashback. Jonathan Archer and his rival A.G. Robinson compete to be the first pilot to break the Warp 2 barrier! I’d like to think that naming the other pioneering pilot “Robinson” was a long overdue nod by STAR TREK to its own “pioneering” predecessor LOST IN SPACE!

“Bounty”: A Tellarite Bounty Hunter captures Archer, who is regarded as a fugitive – per the events of “Judgment”, for the Klingon Empire.

“The Expanse”: In its final episode of the season, ENTERPRISE takes a decidedly unexpected turn. An orbiting weapon appears from nowhere, and fires a destructive beam at Earth! The beam cuts a devastating swath of annihilation from Florida to Venezuela.

Enterprise is recalled from its mission, and is to return to Earth immediately. Along the way, it is encountered by the Suliban. Silik reveals his connection with the “Man From The Future”, who has been behind many of the machinations of the “Temporal Cold War”.

“Future Guy” (as he is called in commentary tracks) reveals that the attack came from 400 years in the future – by an as of yet unknown race called “The Xindi”. The Xindi have preemptively unleashed their attack because Earth will destroy THEIR planet in the future. (…Got that, so far?)

The Xindi home world exists in a “Bermuda Triangle-like” area of space called “The Delphic Expanse” where, according to our Vulcan “friends”, strange phenomena occur and ships never return.

Enterprise is fitted with a new command center and upgraded weaponry. It also takes on military personnel, to operate alongside its normal complement of Starfleet crewmembers. Its new mission is to locate and contact the Xindi in the PRESENT DAY, before the attack takes place. Recall that, in the context of this series, Enterprise is the only Earth ship in existence capable of reaching the Expanse.

Archer and company head toward the Delphic Expanse… with a number of Klingon warships in pursuit, as Archer is still wanted by the Klingon Empire. And so, we move into Season Three, and what seems to be an unprecedented season-long arc of adventure vs. the Xindi!

At this writing, I’ve seen the first fifteen episodes of that season – and, so far, it’s been spectacular! NO SPOILERS, PLEASE!!!

Extra Features:

Numerous features on the genesis and background of the series are included. “Enterprise Moments: Season Two” focuses on season highlights. Jolene Blalock (T’Pol) is profiled. There is a featurette on the episode “A Night in Sickbay”. Also included are outtakes, stills, audio and text commentaries.


In its Second Season, STAR TREK ENTERPRISE is a great show – that is getting greater still as it progresses into Season Three. In a way, I’m glad I missed the original run; in order to enjoy the great experiences I’m having now!

As I said previously, give it a look. You won’t be sorry!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Comic Book Letter of Comment: UNCLE SCROOGE # 379 “The Phantom of Notre Duck” (Reprint).

Okay, readers… How many of you would mind if I posted a SPOLIER to a 44 year old Uncle Scrooge story?
Those who do can come back for my next “Looong DVD Review”. The rest of you can read my Letter of Comment that was written in response to 2008’s UNCLE SCROOGE # 379 (and also references other issues of the time) and never saw print because Gemstone evaporated.

As many of you know, I was quite the regular in Gemstone’s letter pages, with often tongue-in-cheek observations, but this one probably never got past their e-mail inbox. …And, never throwing anything away, it’s now fodder for my Blog!

So, here’s a hint of “The Gemstone That Never Was”…
The Cathedral of Notre Duck! Pride of Duckburg! Steeped in legends older than history!” -- a real estate ret-conning caption from Carl Barks’ gothic golly-wower, “The Phantom of Notre Duck”, reprinted in UNCLE SCROOGE # 379.

You’ve gotta love those fantasy cities and towns that instantly evolve to meet the plot requirements of their ongoing sagas. After four seasons, Bedrock suddenly grows a huge haunted stone mansion, on the “non-Rubble side” of the Flintstone residence to house “The Gruesomes” for the two episodes in which they are featured. And after six seasons, Springfield does likewise with a large, opulent, and heretofore unseen gated home for former president George H.W. Bush, directly across the street from The Simpsons.

And, after over twenty years of back issues, Duckburg sprouts a brand spanking new, yet suitably ancient, creepy cathedral to house (…of all things!) a Scrooge look-alike character who delights in playing phantom. Though props are due our “guest star”, a talented pen-and-ink-processed actor, who clearly and without credit played the “Scrooge Clone” in issue # 368 as well as the “Scrooge [Brother] from Another Earth” in issue # 370 and is most likely as much a living tribute to Scrooge McDuck as Vicki Lawrence is to Carol Burnett.

No doubt he’s also served as Scrooge’s stunt double in selected “dangerous situations”. After all, if YOU were a multi-bajillion fantasticatillionaire, would YOU jump out of a plane into the valley of Tra La La? Howlin’ crashwagons, no!

Seriously, though, Carl Barks should be given his due here for developing a full-blown, near book-length adventure out of his cover idea for UNCLE SCROOGE # 13, where HD&L build a coin castle from Scrooge’s stash… and especially for wringing so many gags from the melody of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” in the silent medium of comic books.

Joe Torcivia

Thursday, August 19, 2010

DVD Review: Looney Tunes Superstars: Bugs Bunny Hare Extraordinaire

Looney Tunes Superstars: Bugs Bunny Hare Extraordinaire

(Released August 10, 2010 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Once upon a wondrous time, the land was fertile, unemployment was low… and there was a shining example of how to package animation on DVD called “The Looney Tunes Golden Collections”.

For six glorious years (2003-2008), each fall, the faithful would flock to their favorite retail store or online provider and gleefully partake of the BEST animation experience DVD had to offer. There were FOUR FULL DISCS of classic animated shorts and extras galore.

Commentary tracks by animation figures and historians, isolated music scores, featurettes highlighting specific characters or other aspects of Looney Tunes lore, “lost” bits from the fabled Warner Vault (…or would that be the iconic WB Water Tower?) remnants of the legendary “Bugs Bunny Show” (ABC 1960) – a “Holy Grail” for the “first generation” of TV animation fans. …At one point, there were even LIMITED EDITION MINI-LITHOS included with the package!

And Warner Home Video did not stop there. It offered similarly outfitted Hanna-Barbera series packages, extensive (though not quite complete) Tom and Jerry packages – and even ventured OUTSIDE their own realm to offer all of the Black and White Max Fleischer / Paramount Popeye theatrical cartoons. WHV was clearly the class of its field.

THEN, IT ALL STOPPED… or was severely curtailed.
After 2008, the Looney Tunes Golden Collections ended. Popeye has seemingly ended. And Hanna-Barbera series were limited to being lumped into “Saturday Morning Cartoons” collections or packages decidedly inferior to previous releases. To be fair, “Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection” (2009) was a true highlight – and a harkening back to the Glory Days – but that was more of an anomaly.

Repackaging of Scooby-Doo and Tom and Jerry (Still incomplete!) became the order of the day. WHV went on the cheap – and fell from “first” to “worst”.

This leads us to “Looney Tunes Superstars: Bugs Bunny Hare Extraordinaire”.

It is an odd “middle ground” into which this release falls, as we shall see in this review.

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

The Number of Shorts vs. the Price: Fifteen cartoons may seem like a lot, until you consider that (at the rate of three shorts per a theoretical half-hour show), you are only getting the equivalent of FIVE SHOWS! That’s not very much for an MSRP of 19.98.

The Extra Features: There are NO extra features! This is mitigated by the extraordinary amount of such features on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections. But, still for the price, something could have been attempted. At the very least, a few short commentary tracks, as were done in the past.

Robo-Promos: “Robo-Promos” is my term for advertisements that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu. They are unavoidably inflicted upon the viewer before “getting on with the show”, prompting me to add this new category to my CONS list. This was particularly annoying, given the small amount of actual program content that comprised the set, even though you can “zip” through them if you wish. At least there are only two of them here. Other Warner sets have had up to FOUR!

Too Many Warnings: Like Disney, Warner has lawyered itself to excess. A more recent result of this is that, when the program content ends, there are ELEVEN (I’ll repeat it for effect: ELEVEN!) warnings against copyright violations and the like – and in more languages than anyone purchasing this DVD would be likely to comprehend!!! I can certainly understand ENGLISH, SPANISH, and even FRENCH, but this expansive journey into multi-lingual legalese includes various Asian and Arabic languages! WHY? This excessive exhibition kicks in the moment the final cartoon ends and runs for 2:10 (…or about ONE THIRD the running time of some of the later cartoons!). Thankfully, you are able to skip through these, if you wish. …And you WILL wish!

No Double-Dipping: Considering that there have been SIX Looney Tunes Golden Collections – all but one of which containing as many (if not more) Bugs Bunny cartoons as are found on this set – WHV is to be commended for releasing 15 (count ‘em fifteen!) Bugs Bunny cartoons that have NOT YET been released to DVD! It could have been so easy to have simply done otherwise.

The Talent: Some of the very best talents in the history of theatrical animation are featured in this collection, even if some of their later efforts included here are not fully representative of them at their best.

Directors: I. (Friz) Freleng, Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, and the severely underrated Robert McKimson.

Writers: Warren Foster, Michael Maltese, Tedd Pierce – and the also-underrated John Dunn, who stepped into the breach when Foster and Maltese moved-on to Hanna-Barbera.

Music is by “Classic Carl Stalling”, Milt Franklyn, and the also-also-underrated William Lava – who had the sheer misfortune to follow Stalling and Franklyn.

And, of course, “Voice Characterizations” are by the great Mel Blanc – with additional roles by June Foray and Bea Benederet.

Menu and Navigation: Menu navigation is very easy. The Main Menu image of Bugs is attractive, with a nice WB Water Tower background image, similar to the outer packaging pictured above. Main Menu background music is not too loud (a frequent complaint of mine with Warner sets), and appropriately consists of the Main Looney Tunes Theme with the title sub-theme for the short “Hare We Go”.

Image Quality: I don’t really know how to rate this category. I begrudgingly regard it as a “PRO”, but this is how I see it…

It would seem that, starting with the sixth cartoon of the set, 1953’s “Lumber Jack Rabbit”, they appear to have been remastered in some sort of WIDESCREEN effect!

Unlike MGM and Disney (and even later Columbia Three Stooges shorts), I was not aware that any of the Warner Bros. animated shorts were released to theatres in widescreen but, apparently, this would seem to be the case.

If true, however, I wonder why WHV waited until THIS series of releases to start getting “historically accurate”. (The same situation prevails with the concurrent DAFFY DUCK collection!)

After all, there were six previous Golden Collections – and Warner DID release the MGM TOM AND JERRY and DROOPY shorts in widescreen, when they were originally produced that way. So, if this was the case, why didn’t the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies get the same treatment in other DVD releases?

Adding to my initial belief that WHV has indulged in some video trickery, is the fact that the TOP AND BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN IMAGE look to be cut off – or, are far too close to the frame than I recall from nearly a lifetime of viewing these cartoons. Such is not the case with the widescreen DVD releases of DONALD DUCK, TOM AND JERRY, and DROOPY cartoons of the later 1950s that WERE produced for widescreen Cinemascope viewing.

In these cartoons, credits might appear at the VERY TOP (or bottom) of the screen and, if (say) a tall character was wearing a HAT, said hat is cut off at the top of the screen. You can’t help but notice this.

Now, having recently gotten a widescreen HD TV, I must confess that I LIKE the widescreen effect, especially when compared to the standard (full-screen?) image of the first five shorts of the collection.

But, something is still awry when viewing them this way.

Thad Komorowski discusses and illustrates this better than I ever could HERE.

And, the ultimate “PRO” for “Looney Tunes Superstars: Bugs Bunny Hare Extraordinaire”…

The Shorts:

Mutiny on the Bunny” (Freleng, 1950): “Shanghai Sam” (um…) shanghais Bugs to man (rabbit?) his pirate ship, in one of several “Sam as a Pirate” shorts. This is the one where Bugs continually finds new and inventive ways to SINK Sam’s ship, and Sam is seen continually repairing and re-launching it. Classic Bugs and Sam to be sure!

Bushy Hare” (McKimson, 1950): This one was on TV at least once a month (if not more often) in local syndication during the early ‘70s. Then, it disappeared – most likely due to the Australian Aborigine antagonist. The Stork (sober in this outing, unlike in some other cartoons) loses baby kangaroo “Hippity Hopper” and delivers Bugs to a Mama Kangaroo. (“Hippity” is, presumably, off scaring Sylvester into thinking he’s a “giant mouse” for the majority of the short.) Bugs (and the audience) enjoys a highly spirited chase and contest with the fiery little hunter in one of Mc Kimson’s better cartoons. Highlight: Bugs arguing with the Aborigine and not even knowing what he’s saying! …Just curious, do kids today even KNOW about the Stork? Or is this just another aspect of Looney Tunes that has become lost to time?

Hare We Go” (McKimson, 1951): Another great, with Bugs as the mascot on the voyage of Christopher Columbus. Great line: The ship pitches back and forth, allowing Bugs and Italian stereotype Columbus to share the same bowl of soup – until it falls off the table and splatters all over the deck. Observing the sign “Captain’s Mess”, Bugs remarks: “If it’s the Captain’s Mess, let HIM clean it up!”

Foxy by Proxy” (Freleng, 1952): Still another great with Bugs vs. what appears to be about a half-million bouncing and bounding foxhounds (cloned from the Barnyard Dog of the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons)… and one really big, dumb one! To see this pack of pooches move forward and in reverse across your screen is to remember it always! Oddly, Bugs spends most of this cartoon dressed as a fox, just to heckle the hounds.

Hare Trimmed” (Freleng, 1953): Granny inherits a large sum of money, and Sam comes a’callin’ with marriage on his greedy little mind. Bugs is not about to let this happen – with an ending at the church you won’t soon forget! Bea Benederet plays Granny.

Lumber Jack Rabbit” (Jones, 1954): Bugs wanders into the territory of the fabled Paul Bunyan – where everything is giant sized, including the carrot crop and Paul’s watchdog! Bugs sings “Jimmy Crack Corn” throughout this cartoon. A pleasant-sounding melody (that we actually sang in early 1960s grade school music class), until you stop and listen to what the song is actually about. A very odd choice, to say the least. The rest of the cartoon is good, despite that unfortunate aspect.

Napoleon Bunny Part” (Freleng, 1956): Bugs tunnels into the chamber of Napoleon Bonaparte and his big, dumb guard. Lots of loud and violent gags ensue – with more than a few laugh-out-loud moments.

Bedeviled Rabbit” (McKimson, 1957): A much better Tasmanian Devil outing than “Doctor Devil and Mister Hare”, later in this set. Stowing away inside a crate of carrots, Bugs is airdropped to the package’s destination in Tasmania. The animation of terrified stampeding animals seems to be reused in “Doctor Devil”, only with a DOG added! Thanks to DVD clarity and freeze-frame, we can see an unrelated article (that appears to be about REAL PEOPLE) being used as “generic text” in the Guidebook to Tasmania, from which Bugs reads about the Devil and his voracious appetite. One SURPRISING GAG that I didn’t notice until the ‘80s is Bugs commenting that Taz “…tosses a MEAN SALAD!”, and you see the Devil at a huge salad bowl tossing about leafy greens and lots of little dead animals! WHOA!

Apes of Wrath” (Freleng, 1959): A less energetic, more talky, but still quite good remake of “Gorilla my Dreams” (1948). The now-drunken stork temporarily misplaces a baby gorilla… and bops Bugs on the head, dresses him in baby togs, and presents him to Mrs. Gorilla as her new baby. Mr. Gorilla (named “Elvis”) is appalled at the new arrival, and sets out to do away with him – only to be continually clobbered by his wife when he does. June Foray is good as Mrs. Gorilla, as is Mel Blanc who grunts and stammers his way through the short as Elvis.

From Hare to Heir” (Freleng, 1960): Medieval “Sam Duke of Yosemite” is broke when along comes Bugs, offering the convenient contrivance of a million pounds if Sam can hold his fiery temper. With each outburst, Bugs can deduct any amount he sees fit – and does he ever put Sam to the test! Despite the very-out-of-left-field-plot-motivation, this is a good and funny cartoon – written by Freleng himself, after his longtime collaborator Warren Foster departed for Hanna-Barbera to write Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and The Flintstones.

Lighter than Hare” (Freleng, 1960): “Yosemite Sam of Outer Space” (…If nothing else, Sam had RANGE!) lands at a junkyard inhabited by Bugs Bunny. Modern mechanized mayhem ensues. Particularly good is the “Robot Sam vs. Robot Bugs” sequence, where “Robot Sam” mirrors his mentor’s personality to the extent that, when “Robot Bugs” goads him into pressing a booby-trapped button, he says “Ahm a pressin’!” This is the only Bugs Bunny short I ever saw theatrically – though later than 1960! Also written by Freleng.

The Million Hare” (McKimson, 1963): In a prophetic foreshadowing of modern reality television’s unfortunate “The Amazing Race”, Bugs and Daffy must race each other to a television studio to win a million “box” prize. By this time, Warner Bros. cartoons had been trimmed by 30 seconds to a minute from their Golden Age of “Seven Minutes-Plus” running times. Indeed, the running time for “The Million Hare” was 6:19, leading me to believe that, when I saw these on ABC and CBS Sat AM network runs, that they were CUT EVEN MORESO than they actually were.

Mad as a Mars Hare” (Jones, 1963): The last original appearance of Marvin Martian and, by far, the least successful. It is WAY too talky for a Warner Bros. short, and illustrates the effect of the loss of Michael Maltese on Chuck Jones better than anything could. It is also not helped by a short running time of 6:49. …Or WAS it?

Doctor Devil and Mister Hare” (McKimson, 1964): The last original appearance of The Tasmanian Devil (…he was not yet universally referred to as “TAZ”), in a string of medical, hospital, psychology, and mad-science related gags, flimsily held together by the sheer cussedness of our devilish antagonist. Even Bugs seems to be going through the motions here, as he will in our next and final short. Still, there are some enjoyable moments – just not nearly as many as there once were. Give it points, however, for at least TWO gags backfiring on Bugs! You didn’t see that very often.

False Hare” (McKimson, 1964): The last original appearance of (“True, Non-Sarcastic Moment of Silence”)BUGS BUNNY! Even I’ve yet to figure out exactly what the title seems to be a gag on… a wig or toupee, perhaps? Robert McKimson’s version of “The Big Bad Wolf – and his nephew the Little (…not “L’il”, for the Disney lawyers that might be reading this) Bad Wolf” set out to trap Bugs with a phony club for rabbits. Bugs pretty much walks his way through this outing, and into animation history. I’ve never seen a completely uncut version of this cartoon until the DVD release.

“Looney Tunes Superstars: Bugs Bunny Hare Extraordinaire” is a mixed bag, with more to like than to “run away from”. The later cartoons simply do not approach the older ones in overall quality – but this should not be news to anyone familiar with Looney Tunes. By this time, the gags are tired, the pacing is slow, and the scripts are too talky – which is an odd thing to say, when Mel Blanc is doing the talking, but the difference is all too apparent.

Still, there is something to like about all of them. And, as noted earlier, it is a definite PLUS that Warner chose to include these, rather than re-package the already-released and better-known classics. Indeed, I hope to see MORE of these on future volumes.

The “widescreen matter” is open to debate. Overall, I like it… despite any shortcomings.

The issue of “number of cartoons vs. list price” will also vary by viewer, as discounted prices can be found by anyone with a search engine.

Strictly speaking for myself, I find the complete and total absence of “Extras” to be the greatest negative – especially as WHV has already and routinely shown us just how WELL they can be done.

So, if you want your “hare without the trimmings” – and get the cartoon “Hare Trimmed” to boot – this collection is for you. Aw, heck… It’s BUGS BUNNY with no double- dipping… just enjoy it!

Monday, August 16, 2010

DVD Review: Futurama: Volume One

Futurama: Volume One

(Released: 2003 by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Ten years after his success with THE SIMPSONS, creator Matt Groening produced his second (and, as of yet, unfortunately last) animated series for the FOX Network – FUTURAMA.

Groening has often acknowledged the influence of THE FLINTSTONES on THE SIMPSONS, to the extent of copious references within SIMPSONS episodes, so it adds that his next primetime series would smack of THE JETSONS.

While THE SIMPSONS reflects THE FLINTSTONES in structure, FUTURAMA reflects THE JETSONS in setting. The Future… and all that comes with it!

Unlike THE JETSONS, however, we “see” this future, its ways, and its denizens, through the eyes of a semi-relatable, 20th Century dolt named Philip J. Fry. Further, to connect FUTURAMA with THE SIMPSONS, in more than just the uniquely familiar art style of Matt Groening, Fry (by his actions) would seem to be SOME RELATION to Homer Simpson. Picture Homer at 25, with no family to ground him, and you have Fry.

Where Homer has, by some incomprehensible means, managed to attain the position of “Nuclear Technician”, Fry (in New York City, circa 1999) had not managed to progress beyond the station of pizza delivery boy. On New Year’s Eve of that year, his route includes a “Cryogenics Facility”. He blunders into a freezing tube, and wakes just in time to see 2999 turn to 3000!

While Fry is frozen, we see (through sped-up animation) civilization fall – not once but twice – leaving “New New York” (built atop the ruins of “olde” New York) to become his home. There he meets Leela (an attractive – but tough – purple-haired cyclopean alien), the robot Bender, his great, great, something, something, grand-nephew the ancient Professor Farnsworth (owner of the package delivery firm “Planet Express”), the professor’s office manager Hermes Conrad, his intern Amy Wong, and the company doctor – hapless crustacean alien Dr. Zoidberg. And, in another of those great instances of “cosmic balance”, Fry once again becomes a “delivery boy” – this time for Planet Express.

CGI animation is widely used in FUTURAMA (to an extent uncommon for the time), for various ship movements, space scenes, and complicated backgrounds and character movements. I’ve never been much of a fan of CGI, but it is used well in this series.

The voicing triumvirate of Billy West (Stimpy of “Ren and…”, as well as contemporary voice of Woody Woodpecker, Popeye, and Bugs Bunny as Fry and Farnsworth), Katey Sagal (“Married with Children”, “Lost” as Leela) and John DiMaggio (Aquaman on “The Brave and the Bold” as Bender) are superb, and are backed by the talents of Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Phil LaMarr, Lauren Tom, and Dave Herman.

As Bart Simpson was to his series, Bender is the “breakout character” of FUTURAMA. And, to note how times have changed between debuts of the two series, recall that Bart’s catchphrase was “Eat my shorts!”… and Bender’s is “Bite my shiny metal ass!”

Here’s a quote from Matt Groening on Bender (taken from one of the set’s Extra Features): “Bender is a robot who is Fry’s best friend in the whole universe. And Bender is a pretty cool robot. He’s a ‘bender’. His full name is ‘Bender Unit 22’. He’s programmed to bend girders. That’s all he’s programmed to do, but he hates his job. And, as a result, he drowns his despair in beer and shoplifting, and reads ‘robot pornography’ (like circuit diagrams) – and so he’s not really like the other sci-fic robots you might remember from the past. Not like the one in LOST IN SPACE, or the FORBIDDEN PLANET Robby the Robot. He drinks beer and then he eats the bottles!”

A character description like THAT, from the character’s creator – no less, is worth the price of admission, I’d say.

Revisiting FUTURAMA in 2010, I must say that I find it far more enjoyable than I did at the time of its original airing. There are certainly more “laugh-out-loud” moments than I recall in 1999. It also taps nicely into the “Y2K Panic” of the time, that I was so personally involved in combating in my “day job”. The satire in FUTURAMA is both clever and absurd, and lots of “what you like about THE SIMPSONS” is here as well.

This set covers the first 13 episodes of FUTURAMA. Though, as I recall, only the first NINE of those aired as part of the first season, which began in March 1999. The final four were shifted to the beginning of Season Two. Perhaps that’s why the set is titled “Volume One”, rather than “Season One”. FOX is to be commended for packaging the “First Season” as it was INTENDED TO BE, rather than as it was broadcast.

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


I must be on a “hot streak”! Other than “Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season One”, my DVD reviews of late have been notably “CON-free. I’d have to think really hard to
find a true CON with this set… And, like Fry, I don’t feel like thinking quite that hard!


General: The episodes, the cast, and the print quality are all first rate. The packaging is both attractively illustrated and perfectly functional.

These 1999 shows are in WIDSCREEN, something THE SIMPSONS would not get around to until 2009. Oddly, in the second season, the shows go back to standard ratio. I’ve given up trying to figure this out. See THIS POST on whether or not BUGS BUNNY was ever done in widescreen.

Finally, unlike any of the FOX TV broadcasts, the end credits can be seen – and freeze-framed for detailed reading. Imagine having to include THAT as a “PRO”!

Extra Features: A wealth of goodies including:

Commentary tracks on every episode with creator Matt Groening, producer David X. Cohen, voice actors John DiMaggio and Billy West, directors, writers, and animators.

Deleted scenes where available.

A “Making Of” featurette.

Lots of concept art, showing the visual development of the characters and setting at many different stages.

Anamatics, Script, and Storyboards for the Pilot Episode.

The Episodes:

Space Pilot 3000”: Fry emerges in the year 3000, and meets Leela, Bender, and Professor Farnsworth.

The Series has Landed”: On a delivery to the schlocky amusement park of the Moon, “Luna Park” (a nice joke that older New Yorkers might get), Fry, Leela, and Bender get lost out on the “real” Moon.

I, Roommate”: Fry and Bender become roommates. At one point, there’s actually an “Odd Couple” visual and musical parody tailored for the pair.

Love’s Labours Lost In Space”: We meet FUTURAMA’s most obnoxious character, “Zapp Brannigan”, and his long-suffering aide Kif Kroker. Also introduces Leela’s pet, the cute and surprisingly savage “Nibbler” (with alien noises supplied by Frank Welker).

Fear of a Bot Planet”: Fry, Leela, and Bender find themselves on a planet of human-hating robots. Guess who defects, and becomes a huge celebrity.

A Fishful of Dollars”: Fry comes into lots of money, via the year 3000’s interest on his very meager 1999 savings account, and indulges himself in every 20th Century remnant he can find – including the very last unopened can of anchovies on Earth. This episode introduces “Mom”, a wonderfully evil old lady industrialist played by Tress MacNielle, and her three stooge sons. Mom wants the fish as badly as Fry and battles him for it.
My Three Suns”: On a planet with three blazing suns, Fry accidentally DRINKS the planet’s emperor. The emperor is a bottleful of cool water. By the planet’s quirky laws, Fry becomes the new emperor – until the next “water being” in line for the throne can assassinate him. Great gag: A succession of Emperors’ portraits ends with “Fry”, a blank frame titled “Fry’s Assassin”, followed by “Fry’s Assassin’s Assassin”! Upon seeing this last one, Fry remarks: “At least my assassin will get what’s coming to him!”

Oh, and they DON’T retrieve the Old Emperor in the way you’re expecting! So there!

A Big Piece of Garbage”: A particular favorite of mine, during the original run. An asteroid-size ball of trash is on a collision course with New New York. It is all the garbage the city had once rocketed off into space, come home to roost. Believe it or not, Fry and Professor Farnsworth save the day. An absurdly cynical ending that I just love!

Hell is Other Robots”: Bender goes to Robot-Hell! The “Robot-Devil” is wonderfully overplayed by Dan (Homer Simpson) Castellaneta.

A Flight to Remember”: The Planet Express crew takes a vacation cruise… on the Space Titanic – and Zapp Brannigan is the captain! Bender romances a robot passenger. What else do you need to know? Great spoof of a mega-successful film of the time! Maybe you remember it? This was bumped back to become the Season Two premiere.

Mars University”: Fry, Bender, and a super intelligent monkey enhanced by Professor Farnsworth go collegiate – at Mars University. This is mostly an excuse to spoof “Animal House”, “Revenge of the Nerds”, and films of that ilk. On that level, it succeeds.

When Aliens Attack”: Perhaps the only one to supersede “A Big Piece of Garbage”! Back in 1999, Fry’s bumbling, while delivering a pizza and drinks to the actual New York FOX affiliate WNYW TV, knocks FOX off the air during the season finale of “Single Female Lawyer” (read “Ally McBeal”).

Ten centuries later, the warlord ruler of Omicron Peresi 8 and his wife (who have been faithfully receiving “Single Female Lawyer” from Earth’s broadcast signals on a thousand-year delay) are horrified to have lost the ending to the season finale.

Enraged, their armies of saucers attack Earth, demanding satisfaction. All seems doomed until Fry (who actually remembers the show) and company ineptly reenact the final scene in clumsy sets and makeshift costumes, finally delivering the closure the alien audience craves. Wonderful in that same absurdly cynical way!

Fry and the Slurm Factory”: A well-crafted send-up of “Willy Wonka / Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” – only with the disgusting and addictive soft drink SLURM. Dated now, but very funny then, is “Slurms MacKensie”, the drink’s “party-slug” mascot. Trust me, you DON’T want to know where Slurm comes from! Yuck!


FUTURAMA delivers far more laughs and a greater sense of the absurd than I recall from 1999. And the Second Season only gets BETTER!

I must not be alone in my admiration for FUTURAMA for, just as with FAMILY GUY, successful DVD sales and syndicated reruns have prompted its return! The revived series premiered June 24, 2010 on Comedy Central. I can’t wait for the DVD!

If you enjoy any of the FOX Sunday evening animated series – or shows like Warner Bros.’ severely underrated FREAKAZOID! and the ‘80s version of MIGHTY MOUSE – you will enjoy FUTURAMA! Bender says “Buy it!”… and he’s a very smart robot! Just ask Matt Groening!