When he heard the Gumby theme, Judge Clark Douglas realized that Gumby is a part of him. He's still having nightmares.
He was once a little green slab of clay. Gumby!
I remember watching Gumby as a child, but my memories have always been quite hazy. Before I popped in this Gumby Essentials DVD, I only remembered a few key facts. I recalled that there was a green fellow made of clay named Gumby, and I also recalled that Gumby had a pony friend named Poky. I also distinctly remembered some troublesome characters called "Blockheads." Along with the catchy little theme song, these elements were all I could remember. So, it was time for me to put Gumby Essentials in the machine and attempt to unlock my inner child.
There are fifteen episodes on one disc, divided up by the decade in which they were originally aired. The 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1980s are each represented by five episodes hand-picked by Gumby creator Art Clokey. On the DVD menu, you can click on one of these three decades, and then scroll through the five episodes from that particular decade. Or, you can just hit the "play all" feature on the main menu and play all fifteen in chronological order. The episodes are as follows:
From the 1950s:
From the 1960s:
From the 1980s:
Don't get too excited when I tell you that this is probably the most impressive Gumby DVD release to date. As some of you reading this review probably know, a seven-disc Gumby set was released by Rhino back in 2002. That set disappointed and angered a lot of Gumby fans, because Rhino could not license the original music and voice work. In addition, some of the longer shorts from the 1950s had been truncated to nearly half their original running time. This new compilation DVD restores the five 1950s shorts to their original length, and brings back the original music and voice work for all of the episodes.
The first five early episodes are certainly the trippiest of the set, and thus the most interesting. "Too Loo" finds our green pal Gumby attempting to help two kidnapped musical notes find their home again. So he takes them to Music Land, where he visits such instruments as the xylophone, the tuba, and the flute, attempting to find out if any of the musical notes happen to be missing a brother and sister. "Rain Spirits" is even more peculiar, as a young American Indian enlists Gumby and Poky on a mission to help him find the mystical Rain Spirits. This episode ends with the unforgettable image of a powerful Rain God spanking a goat. Things are even more unusual and sinister during "In the Dough," when Gumby asks a roll of bread dough to teach him how to cook. It turns out that bread dough cannot be trusted; he's leading them into a trap! All the other bakery items intend to turn Gumby and Poky into pastry filling and use them to flavor a tasty dish! I'm not sure why a loaf of bread would be interested in eating a sweet pastry with clay filling, and I'm not sure I want to know. Meanwhile, "Robot Rumble" and "The Racing Game" are more typical episodes about Gumby attempting to domesticate a robot and win a big automobile race.
Things are still peculiar as we move into the 1960s, as we meet a character called a "Groobee" for the first time. This ambitious bee eats sawdust and nails for supper, and has a unique gift for building wooden cages around animals or people he considers to be dangerous. It's a shame he's not around during "Hidden Valley," when Gumby and Poky meet some ferocious dinosaurs and attempt to stage a photo-op. "Ricochet Pete" is a cutesy little Western adventure, and "The Small Planets" sees the little green man and his horse traveling through space (which is inhabited by children with obnoxious personalities). The highlight of this section is probably "Gumby Crosses the Delaware," in which Poky mistakes George Washington for a beatnik. George asks for food to give to his men at Valley Forge. Poky replies, "So, just another guy looking for a free handout, huh?" After Gumby hastily corrects Poky, the two buddies help the good general fight the British. Anyway, it's a fun episode, and it also offers a bit of character trivia: now we know which political party Poky is a member of.
Easily the most disappointing episodes are those from the 1980s, when Gumby attempted to make a comeback. The episodes lack the visual inventiveness of the early shorts, and generally seem a little soulless—and Gumby-less, for that matter. Gumby doesn't have much to do during these shorts, as the attention is placed on smaller supporting characters. "The Wild Horse" is about Gumby's little sister attempting to tame a flying pony (not Poky), while "The Knight Mare" offers us a portrait of a clumsy, bumbling Don Quixote. The two evil Blockheads cause trouble in various forms for Gumby and friends in "Goo's Pies," "To Bee or Not to Bee," and "Kid Brother Kids." These episodes turn Gumby, Poky, and a number of other new characters into members of a lousy amateur 80's rock band, a lame attempt to make Gumby "cool" for a new generation of viewers.
The packaging boasts that the episodes have been digitally remastered, but don't get too excited about that, either. These shorts actually look pretty crummy, with all kinds of scratches and flecks in every episode (particularly the earliest ones). The audio isn't much better on the early shorts, where the music and dialogue are often slightly damaged. Things look a little better on the 1980s episodes, but still not too impressive. The sound is technically good on these, but that is balanced out by the fact that the voices have been altered. For some reason, now Gumby and Co. speak like robots; it sounds like their voices have been filtered through a storm drain.
Less than 15 minutes of extras are included on the disc, most of which are moderately interesting. There's a three-minute claymation short called "Gumbasia," a cutesy little homage to "Fantasia." "Gumby on the Moon" is the very first Gumby episode, which demonstrates how well-formed the character was from the very beginning. The "Rare Gumby Bumpers" are little 15-second skits related to the episodes on the disc. These are included as part of the "Play All" feature between the shorts, but I suppose it's nice to have them separately, because…well actually, I can't imagine why anyone would want to watch them by themselves. But they're here, anyway. The classic Gumby theme song is included as a bonus feature here, but it doesn't appear in front of any of the episodes. Finally, there are some rather unhelpful character bios. Click on Gumby, and you'll learn that he "loves to go adventures with his friends." Really? I never would have guessed.
This is as good as it gets for Gumby fans at the moment, so I have no choice but to recommend it to them. However, I must still express my general discontent with the seemingly small amount of effort that went into producing this disc. Perhaps someday we'll get a Gumby equivalent of one of those Looney Tunes Golden Collection boxes, but until then, this will have to suffice. Classic Media is guilty of not putting enough effort into restoring the audio and video of these shorts, and the 1980s episodes are guilty of being poor imitations of the originals. Gumby and Poky are free to go, and are granted a restraining order against the Blockheads.
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