Judge Russell Engebretson is ashamed to admit he spent far too much of his childhood not watching cartoons.
"Hello, all you happy people."—Droopy
This double DVD set gathers all 24 of the Droopy Dog theatrical cartoons (1943-1958) into a single handsomely embossed slipcase.
• "The Shooting of Dan McGoo" (1945)
• "Wild and Woolfy" (1945)
• "Northwest Hounded Police" (1946)
• "Señor Droopy" (1949)
• "Wags to Riches" (1949)
• "Out-Foxed" (1949)
• "The Chump Champ" (1950)
• "Daredevil Droopy" (1951)
• "Droopy's Good Deed" (1951)
• "Droopy's Double Trouble" (1951)
• "Caballero Droopy" (1952)
• "Drag-A-Long Droopy" (1954)
• "Homesteader Droopy" (1954)
• "Dixieland Droopy" (1954)
• "Deputy Droopy" (1955)
• "Millionaire Droopy" (1956)
• "Grin and Share It" (1957)
• "Blackboard Jumble" (1957)
• "One Droopy Knight" (1958) (Nominated for an Academy
• "Sheep Wrecked" (1958)
• "Mutts About Racing" (1958)
• "Droopy Leprechaun" (1958)
Although not associated with an iconic cartoon character such as Mickey Mouse or Wiley Coyote, Frederick Bean Avery (born in Taylor, Texas in 1908) is still one of the animation deities whose name can be uttered in the same breath as Bob Clampett or Chuck Jones. His lunatic gags and perfect comic timing have seldom been surpassed. Tex Avery invented only a handful of named cartoon characters (with the famous exceptions of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny that were at least partially his creations). One of those characters, Screwball "Screwy" Squirrel, had a short five-cartoon run. He was a character whose manic antics all other animated rodents could only strive in vain to match, but Screwy never gained a large audience. Screwy's persona was too berserk to be cute. However, the mention of Droopy, the deadpan Bassett hound with a weepy monotone drawl, can still bring a fond smile of remembrance to even the casual cartoon watcher.
Overall, the Droopy cartoons in this collection look very good (with a major caveat that I will come to in a moment). The seven widescreen CinemaScope cartoons, six of them directed by Michael Lah, boast the finest transfers. Unfortunately, they are also the dullest and least funny offerings in the Droopy oeuvre. Most of the gags are recycled from earlier cartoons, and they lack the magical Avery touch. Just compare the hilarious Avery-directed "Wags to Riches" with its CinemaScope remake, "Millionaire Droopy." The remake's backgrounds are simple and monotonous, with the sketchy, angular style typical of animation from the early fifties and some time afterwards. At least "Millionaire Droopy" was based on an earlier work by Avery and retains a good bit of the original's charm. The remainder of the CinemaScope cartoons range from mediocre to outright bad.
Now for the caveat I mentioned earlier. Some cartoon aficionados have complained that maxed-out DVNR (digital video noise reduction) was applied to four of the early cartoons: "Wags to Riches," "Daredevil Droopy," "Droopy's Good Deed," and "Three Little Pups." DVNR, applied judiciously, is a handy digital tool to quickly remove scratches and dirt specks from old film elements. Unfortunately, when it comes to animation, DVNR confuses many lines and squiggles with print imperfections and removes or blurs them. Casual viewers aren't going to notice, but comparisons to the un-retouched cartoons shows a startling loss of line detail. It's a major gaffe that prevents this DVD from receiving my whole-hearted recommendation. There is some loose talk that Warner's Home Video may reissue the entire set of Avery's cartoons and correct the noise reduction (in America, the only near-complete Avery sets to date are on out-of-print VHS tapes and laserdiscs). We can only hope.
The meager set of extras on the second disc includes a brief featurette, a redundant set of gags collected from the cartoons we've already seen, and three trailers. The featurette is a decent introduction and tribute to Tex Avery that briefly sketches out his career with Warner Brothers and MGM, but there is a crying need for a more in-depth set of extras. Avery was a cartoon genius and possibly the most influential animator who ever lived. He deserves more than a 19 minute extra.
On the plus side—and it's a very big plus—the cartoons are presented in all their unedited glory; which is why there is a disclaimer on the back of the slipcase that the collection "…is intended for the adult collector and may not be suitable for children." Potential viewers who are uninitiated into the wild and wooly world of Tex Avery should be forewarned. Many of his cartoons are not for the faint of heart. Avery once drew a simple sketch with the sub-heading of "cute props." It included sticks of dynamite, an anvil, an axe, a large wooden mallet, and the ever-popular bowling ball bomb with a sparkling fuse. Not included in the sketch was a hangman's noose, which also makes occasional appearances. His cartoons are rife with cigarettes, beer, pistols, salacious red-headed femme fatales, and lustful howling wolves. Avery's racier cartoons were not aimed at the yard-ape demographic. They were aired in theaters for adults—WWII G.I.s in particular. It's wonderful to see the cartoons properly restored as they were intended to be seen by their original audience.
Ominous warnings of animated mayhem aside, I saw most of these cartoons on television as a mere sprat and have come away from the experience only moderately warped. An Avery cartoon goes down like an icy glass of Texas Tea, and it freshly cleanses the palate of the latest sugary overdose of Disney product. I happily declare these animated shorts generally safe for all viewers, and further suggest that you dare not call yourself a cartoon fan until you have seen each and every Tex Avery masterpiece uncountable times. That means a purchase, not a rental, is a necessity.
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