Cartoon Network // 1999 // 286 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // August 2nd, 2010
Courage The Cowardly Dog began life as animated short, "The Chicken from Outer Space." Based on the critical reception it received, not to mention the Academy Award nomination, Cartoon Network gave the go ahead to create a series based on the character. In all, Courage the Cowardly Dog spawned four seasons, the first of which is now available on DVD. Animation fans rejoice.
The ironically named Courage lives with his owners, Muriel and Eustace, in the middle of Nowhere. Unfortunately for Courage, bad things happen in Nowhere, and the place is teeming with monsters and psycho's.
But Courage, for all his fears, is dedicated to Muriel after she adopted him as a pup, and each episode finds him having to save her from another terrible fate.
Each episode contains two stories, and looks a lot like this:
* "A Night at the Katz Motel"/"Cajun Granny Stew"
* "The Shadow of Courage"/"Dr. Le Quack, Amnesia Specialist"
* "Courage Meets Bigfoot"/"Hothead"
* "The Demon Mattress"/"Freaky Fred"
* "Night of the Weremole"/"Mother's Day"
* "The Duck Brothers"/"Shirley The Medium"
* "King Ramses' Curse"/"The Clutching Foot"
* "The Hunchback of Nowhere"/"The Gods Must Be Goosey"
* "Queen of the Black Puddle"/"Everyone Wants to Direct"
* "The Snowman Cometh/The Precious, Wonderful, Adorable, Loveable Duckling
* Heads of Beef"/"Klub Katz"
* "The Revenge of the Chicken from Outer Space"/"Journey to the Center of Nowhere"
* "Little Muriel"/"The Great Fusilli"
Taking its cues from The Twilight Zone and classic horror movies, Courage The Cowardly Dog dips its toe into murkier waters than most by-the-numbers cartoons, and as a result offers a much more rewarding experience. From the barren wilderness in which most of the episodes take place, to the endless supply of bizarre characters that populate it, Courage The Cowardly Dog elicits a darkness that is sadly missing from most children's TV.
Right from the start, the show's tone drew me in. Each episode feels like a mini horror movie, with tightly written scripts that err just to the right of weird, a suitably creepy atmosphere-enhancing soundtrack, and belly laughs aplenty.
Courage The Cowardly Dog: Season One features a roster of villains capable of rivaling any number of slasher movies, who ratchet up the horror angle while still being child friendly. Indeed, young children should relish these eerie tales of evil shadow monsters, Weremoles, and Freaky Fred, a strangely sinister fellow who talks in rhyme and is very, "Naughty."
Left to battle this weekly onslaught of madmen and monsters are the shows central triumvirate. The sweet natured Muriel is the object of Courage's affection, and is the one character most often placed in peril, despite being totally oblivious to what is going on. Muriel's husband, Eustace, is almost the total opposite of his wife. Quick tempered, intolerant, and just as likely to give Courage a scare as the monster of the week, Eustace serves as the shows anti-hero and is worthy of cult status. Finally there's Courage himself. Full of shrieks, uncontrollable spasms and an irrepressible cowardliness, this canine is sure to win the viewers heart as he repeatedly overcomes his fears to save his beloved Muriel.
The voice cast is first rate. Leading the way is Marty Grabstein as the titular hero, Courage. It's the little touches by Grabstein, a whimper here or a full-blooded scream there, that really brings life to Courage. Despite Grabstein's great work, he is usurped for top honors by two of the shows guest voices. Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) provides the voice of a Goose God, who descends from the heavens to take Muriel as his own. Currie's excellent elocution sees him wrap his tongue around every individual syllable with relish. Winning out in the vocal duel, however, is Paul Schoeffler as Freaky Fred. Providing the perfect blend of funny and scary, Schoeffler's readings perfectly match Fred's appearance, and help create a classic character.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Courage The Cowardly Dog: Season One features a sharp, colorful, and clean looking image. The colors in particular are vibrant, although some scenes did contain a little flicker that is both annoying and distracting. The stereo soundtrack is clear, with both dialogue and music clearly discernible.
I find it quite difficult to criticize Courage The Cowardly Dog. Right from the off we just clicked, and I found myself having to watch just one more episode until the boxset was complete. However, one criticism I would level at the show is that it perhaps veers more towards the horror genre than it does towards comedy. For me personally this wasn't a problem, but I can see how this may alienate younger viewers, possibly giving them a bit more of a scare than they'd be comfortable with.
While the show itself is hard to fault, Cartoon Network must take a little flack for the total lack of extras. I understand that it may be asking too much for behind the scenes featurettes, but why could they not have included the animated short that first brought Courage to the world's attention?
There's something instantly loveable about Courage The Cowardly Dog. Sure, the slick animation is an attractive trait, as is the shows surreal sense of humor; but what really sets the show apart is the way it marries said traits to the horror genre so seamlessly, and ties it all up in a kids show to boot.
Equally adept at entertaining children and adults alike, this set comes highly recommended.
Courage The Cowardly Dog: Season One is funny, scary and very, very "NAAAUUGHTY," but it is most definitely not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Cartoon Network
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 286 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Website