Our reviews of The Little Rascals Collection (published November 29th, 2004), The Little Rascals, Volumes 1 And 2 (published January 8th, 2004), and The Little Rascals, Volumes 3 And 4 (published January 8th, 2004) are also available.
Mischief loves company!
Eight of the original Little Rascals short films form the debut of these rugrats onto our favorite digital disc.
Very much the product of another time, The Little Rascals takes you back to the time of the Marx Brothers or Laurel and Hardy, when comedy mined the natural riches of slapstick and the humor of everyday life without resort to constant profanity, crudity, or mean-spiritedness. Inspired by a group of normal children at play, Little Rascals' creator Hal Roach first brought these comedic kids to the big screen in a series of silent shorts, which soon became these "talkies" that are most familiar to us. There was a later series of similar short films made under the MGM banner, but by that time the series was past its prime and merely a vehicle to be exploited.
You probably already know whether you are the sort of person to enjoy the gentle humor of The Little Rascals. There are no great insights into the human condition, no cunning wordplay, or outrageously poignant parody. It's simply a group of kids getting themselves into all manner of minor scrapes and troubles, or getting themselves (or their friends) out of them, or both. The comedy is low-key, simple and without airs, which is likely to come off as corny and hopelessly old-fashioned to many modern appetites. The child actors are the strongest point in favor of The Little Rascals, maintaining a very natural and genuine performance across the ensemble, so clearly Hal Roach chose them well.
Without any nostalgia for "Our Gang," I found the overall effort to be mildly amusing, though sticking through all eight of the short films in this disc took a bit of effort. Perhaps The Little Rascals is best enjoyed in small doses?
When you realize that the source materials for The Little Rascals are nearly seventy years old, the video quality is better than you might expect. There is quite the plentiful variety of film defects even in this digitally mastered transfer, but that comes with the territory. Another age-related defect that I have observed in old films surfaces here, namely a light/dark pulsation, but this is kept in check and never amounts to more than a mild distraction. The sharpness varies, often from scene to scene, usually with moderate softness but with occasional bouts of crispness. Of critical importance for a black & white film, the contrast of The Little Rascals is above average.
The mono audio is adequate, though it seems to be mixed lower than normal (which is easily remedied, but just remember to turn it back down before you pop in Saving Private Ryan). The synchronization of the sound may just be a hair off, but no worse than that, and I bet only picky reviewers might notice (or care).
Facts of the Case
I don't think I can do better than the quick blurbs for each episode on the back of the disc, so without further ado:
Fly My Kite: The gang loves Grandma, but her slimy son-in-law loves her money. When Dirty Dan tries to take away her retirement fortune, it's the kids (and Pete the Pup) to the rescue!
Honkey Donkey: Spoiled rich kid Wally just wants to have fun—so he's invited the gang and their pet mule Algebra to his mansion. Now Wally—and especially his stuffy chauffeur Barclay—are about to get some real kicks!
Beginner's Luck: Spanky's reciting Shakespeare in a talent show but he can't seem to get his lines out—because the gang's pelting him with pea-shooters! Spanky's mom tries to spare him, but gets "disdressed" along the way.
Reunion in Rhythm: The grammar school is putting on a musical with all your favorite songs ad stars. Darla singing "Baby Face," Spanky in "Broadway Rhythm," Alfalfa's "I'm Through With Love," even Buckwheat-the-poet reciting "Little Jack Horner."
Hook and Ladder: No sooner does the gang start their own fire department, than they've got their own fire! "1st Fire Chief" Dickie Moore, Stymie and tag-along Spanky are hot to put out the blaze—but they have to find it first.
The First Round Up: The gang decides to go camping and they've bright everything—except their own courage! Darkness falls, the fire burns out, and the ghosts and goblins (in their heads) get the best of them—even brave little Scotty and Spanky.
Teacher's Beau: The gang's teacher, Miss Jones, is leaving to get married…just when they were starting to like her. But Spanky and Alfalfa have an idea to get Miss Jones "unhitched"—so they "cook up" a plan for her going-away party.
Hearts are Thumps: Spanky, Alfalfa, and Buckwheat have a heartfelt reaction to Valentine's Day: they start the infamous "He-man Women-Haters' Club." But when Alfalfa falls for the dimpled Darla, Spanky bursts his freckled friend's bubble.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Extra content is sadly limited, particularly given the longevity of the Little Rascals, from the silent beginnings in 1922 to the last of the MGM films in 1944. Leonard Maltin, a self-professed Rascals fan and co-author of a "definitive book" called "The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang," provides short video introductions to each volume. He tosses in only the briefest of insight and a dab of context in the two to three minutes he has, which is better than nothing, but not much. Otherwise, there is a photo gallery with a few pictures of each of the child actors and a decent ten minute short film featuring a Hollywood animal trainer who demonstrates how dogs can be trained to act according to the demands of a director (as Pete the Pup did in the Rascals films). I doubt that it would be of much use in actually training a dog, but who knows? I'm not a dog person anyway.
The Little Rascals is certainly not for everyone, especially for those whose tastes have been formed by modern comedy and films in general. If classic comedy or "Our Gang" nostalgia is your bag, then by all means pick this one up, because for the price ($15 retail), you get some bang for your buck.
The Court appreciates the efforts of Hallmark Entertainment in bringing these classic short films to DVD, and merely cautions this Defendant to consider greater extra content for this long-running comedy series. The Little Rascals films are just too darned cute for the Court to even consider charges. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Introductions by Leonard Maltin
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