Judge Paul Corupe assures us that no giant Philistines were harmed in the making of this charming children's show from the creators of Gumby.
In the early 1960s, the United Lutheran Church in America earmarked more than a million dollars to develop a new kind of children's programming: a wholesome show that would center on the adventures of a young boy named Davey and his faithful dog, Goliath, who would face simple problems to be solved with a gentle lesson in church-approved morality and caring. To get the show in production, they turned to two of the most prominent talents in the industry, animators Art and Ruth Clokey, whose stop-motion series Gumby was a certified Saturday morning hit. The fresh-faced values of the show clicked with the Clokeys, and over the next decade-and-a-half they produced over sixty fifteen-minute episodes and six half-hour specials of Davey and Goliath. Today, more than forty years after the show first debuted, Davey and Goliath have become a permanent part of the pop culture landscape, thanks to references in commercials and TV shows like The Simpsons and Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Facts of the Case
A well-meaning youngster still learning the intricacies of his social world, Davey Hansen (Dick Beals, Roger Ramjet) invariably gets into trouble, usually through acting carelessly towards others. Luckily, whenever he finds himself at a moral crossroads Davey can turn to his trusty dog Goliath (Hal Smith, The Andy Griffith Show). Goliath, who can talk only to Davey, always brings a sobering dose of scruples to the problem and helps his precocious master learn a valuable lesson.
This double disc set delivers four episodes of Davey and Goliath, and a thirty-minute special:
• "Stranded on an Island" The Hansen family head to an island for a picnic, but when the tide turns, Davey and Goliath find themselves temporarily unable to leave. 7/10
• "The Kite" Davey and Jimmy invite socially awkward Teddy to help them fly a kite, but when Goliath accidentally destroys it, all three learn an important lesson about forgiveness. 9/10
• "Finders Keepers" Davey is busy earning money to buy Goliath a birthday gift, but when he finds a ten dollar bill, he must decide whether or not it's right to spend it. 9/10
• "Blind Man's Bluff" When Scottie, an African-American kid who doesn't like white kids, is injured, and has to wear a blindfold, his cousin hatches a plan for Davey to become his new friend. 8/10
• "To the Rescue" Davey and his school friends arrive at summer camp looking forward to a relaxing vacation, but they find themselves saddled with chores. Initially, they complain about having to learn how to work together, until a downed plane puts their cooperation skills to the test. 8/10
A mainstay on television for more than four decades, Davey and Goliath has proven to be a show as popular as it is durable. A hit across the globe, Davey's misadventures have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Cantonese—a feat practically unheard of for any sort of Western-centric religious programming, never mind a show aimed at children. While the secret to Davey's success is due in part to the Clokey's distinctive stop-motion animation, it also has to do with the unpretentious, relevant stories that still appeal to kids (and adults) of any and all religious faiths.
Aimed at a demographic of kids from 6 to 12, the show's amazingly straightforward and honest scripts were penned by children's book author Nancy Moore, pending sanction by the church. Sure, the show was strongly rooted in Christian values, but it wasn't always overt—Davey and Goliath was cleverly focused on dramatizing simple moral problems children might actually come across, and presenting informed, considerate-minded decisions. In this way, shows on this DVD set like "Finders Keepers" and "The Kite" transcend religious boundaries and offer an admirable, selflessly moral message to kids no matter if they are regular churchgoers or not. Concepts of co-operation, responsibility, and even racial tolerance are touched on throughout the series, and they're actually made entertaining with often inventive stories about robots, plane crashes, and lost island adventures.
Of course, there were episodes of the show that were created especially for the Lutheran Church—a series of six thirty-minute specials, one of which, "To the Rescue" is included on this release. Here, the show was much more plainspoken about its religious slant, with frequent appearances by the town pastor and one or two direct references to Jesus. But even here, the messages are fundamentally the same as in the TV episodes, and despite the fact that Davey leads a hymn singing and says grace before dinner, the show's message is less still concerned with helping others and co-operation. As revealed in the documentary that accompanies this set, the unspoken message of the show was always meant to be "God loves children," and through Davey's live-and-learn examples, the show is a shining success of an inclusive, entertaining, family program that presents applicable life lessons for youngsters without boring them with abstract concepts or browbeating them into submission.
Technically, however, the show was far from holier-than-thou. Without the benefit of being able to track their progress, the animators who put Davey and Goliath through their paces had to make educated guesses as to how to move the figures, which often gives less than satisfying results. The jerky movements and unconvincing voice sync that plagued the production become even more noticeable on the later episodes, when the Crokeys stepped up production. Thankfully, it's quite easy to dismiss this as part of the innocent charm of the show.
Davey and Goliath first came to DVD via two long out-of-print samplers by Image Entertainment, but this new DVD, carrying the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seal of approval, looks to be the first in a series that will eventually encompass all the episodes of the series. As far as the quality of this release goes, Davey and Goliath has certainly seen better days. Although the episodes have been remastered, they still show their age, with a fine layer of grain and other source artifacts. Color, however, is quite good, and those who remember the show as having a washed-out look will be pleasantly surprised. The audio, though, is in need of some kind of a miracle for Starlight's next release. Prepare to crank your sound up to make out the voices and music, which are presented in a mono track that is extremely limited in fidelity, even by 1960s TV standards.
The extras kick off with Oh Davey! The History of the Davey and Goliath Television Series, an hour-long TV special which originally aired on ABC. Hosts Clifton Davis and Mary McDonough skim the surface of the history of the show with plenty of clips and scripted reminisces, but there are interviews with Art and Ruth Clokey among others involved with the creation of the show. Unfortunately, the last quarter of the documentary is little more than a veiled ad for Davey and Goliath's Snowboard Christmas, an all new straight-to-DVD release produced in 2004. Rounding things off is an interactive read-along of "The Kite" by Scholastic, which should appeal to children.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I wish DVD companies would stop releasing TV shows in "volumes," and just give us a nice big box set. Even shows like The Muppets and The Superfriends, which originally came out in single releases, have gotten wise to the season set mentality, realizing that single releases are just frustrating and silly for fans, who are forced to follow a completely arbitrary release schedules to complete their collections. There doesn't even seem to be any rhyme or reason to the episodes selected for this disc either, which features two shows from the first season, two from the fourth season, and "To the Rescue," the very last thirty-minute special which was made in 1975. Also troubling is the fact that the Image releases contained eight fifteen-minute episodes on one disc, while this release has two discs, but only five episodes and a documentary. That's not very much content, and at this rate, collectors looking at plunking down for over twelve $20 volumes of a show that could have been packaged into five two or three disc season sets.
Despite being a relic of the 1960s, Davey and Goliath has aged magnificently, and its underlying message of tolerance and respect is just as relevant today as it was when it originally aired. If there's any fault with this double DVD set, then it's the decision to release the series in volumes with decidedly few episodes on each disc. Still, with the inclusion of both the documentary and the read along book as extras, Starlight seems to be aiming this release at both old fans of the series as well as new ones, and no doubt many will welcome Davey and Goliath's return with open arms.
I don't know, Davey. Not guilty?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Starlight Home Entertainment
• Oh Davey! The History of the Davey and Goliath Television Series
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