Cinedigm // 2006 // 480 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 29th, 2013
Cute, Cuddly & Horribly Wrong!
Comedy springs from three important factors. The first is surprise. Things that aren't normally funny can be funny if they're sprung on the audience when they're not expecting it. The second is contrast. Taking two elements that don't belong together and juxtaposing them gets good laughs. Finally, exaggeration ties the two parts together. The bigger you can make the contrast and the more surprising you can make the situation, the funnier things tend to get. That one of the reasons that animated comedy is such a natural fit. With the ability to juxtapose literally anything that can be drawn, animated comedies can exaggerate and surprise in ways that no live-action comedy can hope to match, even with today's modern CGI. That's why the classic Warner Bros. cartoons are classics: they could do anything, and so they did do anything, offering a lifetime of hilarious sight gags. People have mined that tradition for all its worth, but the digital tools that have made cartoon-making easier have seen an explosion in online cartoon comedy. One of the more famous is Happy Tree Friends, a show that went from an online-only web show to a television run. Now fans can own pretty much all of Happy Tree Friends in one place, and fans of funny, hyper-violent animation should check it out.
Happy Tree Friends began life as a series of short films -- all less than 10 minutes long -- featuring a cast of cuddly woodland creatures like Cuddles the rabbit and Flippy the bear. Like a typical kids' show, the animals have adventures -- at an amusement park or at the zoo -- but instead of the usual cartoon fun, we get a series of episodes that culminate in seriously violent ends for the characters. We're talking stabbed-through-the-heart or crazy head-removed-from-neck kinds of violence. Of course the characters are back the next episode for more shenanigans.
Happy Tree Friends: Complete Disaster does a really effective job of showing the differences between traditional television animation and the kinds of animation that have grown up around the web. The original shorts are all inventive, and in their short running time, they don't wear out their welcome. The longer, 22-minute episodes really showcase how difficult it is to keep up the pace of these kinds of stories for the full running time. Though still filled with the same consistently good animation and clever gags, the longer episodes feel too long. This is the kind of show where individual shorts are designed to go viral and be shared with friends, and even a binge of multiple shorts is okay. However, the need to maintain a longer narrative tends to drag down some of the TV episodes.
Which isn't to say that Happy Tree Friends is bad. Far from it. The show has a clear set of characters, all of whom have distinct personalities. The animation is well-done, even in the earlier shorts. The gags are really clever, assuming you can get past all the violence. Ultimately, the sheer variety of material available across seventy-five shorts and thirteen half-hour episodes is staggering. I didn't believe there could be so many ways to kill cute fuzzy creatures. Apparently, I was wrong.
For this DVD set, the shorts have been "remastered in HD." I'm not entirely sure what that means for this DVD, but I can say that the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer included on these four discs look good. The animation is composed of fairly large blocks of color, and there's good saturation and no serious compression artefacts marring those smooth surface. Motion looks appropriate, with no jagged edges to distract. Overall the show looks bold and bright like it's supposed to. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are kind of overkill for the material, but they're clear and snappy nonetheless.
Though fans get eight hours of animation, there are no extras on these discs, which is a shame.
The box art warns that Happy Tree Friends: Complete Disaster is "Not for small children or Big Babies," and they're serious. Despite the cover art that features numerous cute-and-cuddly creatures, this is definitely not suitable for anyone younger than their teenage years. Unless, of course, you relish explaining death and destruction to little children. It's also not for sensitive adults. Unless a chipmunk getting speared by an errant branch sounds a bit much, then the anarchic stylings of Happy Tree Friends is not for you. Put another way, if you can't handle Kenny's frequent deaths in South Park, then this isn't the show for you.
There have been other Happy Tree Friends releases in the past, and the only thing that this set seems to have over them is that it collects everything in one place. It's a great set if you're a fan and want to have it all in one place, or want to introduce a friend to the violent insanity of the show.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 480 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site