Judge Patrick Naugle has done it again!
There are few cartoon icons that are instantly recognizable even if you've never seen their show(s), and Mr. Magoo is one of them. Created by animator John Hubley (who has noted Magoo was based on one of his uncles, as well as comedian W.C. Fields), Mr. Magoo first showed up in the 1949 theatrical short Ragtime Bear as more of a supporting character, as the title bear was supposed to be the real star. Audiences, however, warmed to the nearsighted old codger, and in no time Mr. Magoo was headlining his own cartoon shorts. Voiced by character actor Jim Backus (best known as Mr. Howell on the 1960s series Gilligan's Island), Mr. Magoo spent most of his time stumbling into various misadventures due to his terrible nearsightedness (although Magoo always avoided any real harm by the end). Mr. Magoo has stayed popular throughout the decades, even garnering his own 1997 live-action Disney movie starring Leslie Nielson. That's pretty amazing considering his only real talent is bumping into things and mistaking a snake for a broom handle.
Fans of classic animation will eat up Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection, which rounds up all of Magoo's theatrical short films into one attractive package. Spread across three DVDs are over fifty shorts that offer up Mr. Magoo going every which way but loose. From walking through a forest full of bears to golfing to boating and everything in-between, Mr. Magoo's cartoon shorts are family friendly little movies that, while fairly insubstantial, provide a few wide smiles and a lot of memories for those who grew up on them. Truth be told, Mr. Magoo as a character isn't much more than a punch line (and, as some would claim, a gross stereotype of people with a visual stigmatism). Magoo roams through each animated short, messing up along the way because of his eyesight. He runs into every manner of character or creature under the sun, often misconstruing who is who and what is what. It's fun to watch him bumble his way out of trouble, though it can get weary after more than an hour.
The 50+ shorts that make up this set (spanning 1949 to 1959) vary wildly in their quality; the best showcase Magoo's interaction with the other cartoon characters around him (including animals, which he often mistakes as people). Jim Backus makes an indelible impression as the loopy Magoo, giving the character a bit more weight than expected. The animation is decent for the time period, but befitting a lot of other sixty year old animated shorts, by today's standards it looks a bit crude and one-dimensional. Still, it's nice to see each of these shorts in the order in which they were released, allowing for some historical perspective and context.
Also included in this package (on its own disc) as a bonus feature is the full-length 1959 feature film 1001 Arabian Nights, which takes Mr. Magoo into the past as a different character named Abdul Azziz Magoo (once again voiced by Jim Backus). This is basically a retelling of the Aladdin fairy tale, with the Mr. Magoo characters in place of the classic ones. It's a cute enough film, although at around 75 minutes, it wears out its welcome almost halfway through. Although I can admire the craft and time it took to make, the animation is crude by today's comparison and can't hold a candle to Disney's far superior Aladdin.
The 53 shorts included on Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection are presented in various aspect ratios including 1.33:1 full frame, 1.85:1 widescreen, 2.55:1 widescreen, and 2.35:1 widescreen (the widescreen cartoons all enhanced for 16x9 televisions). While no one will mistake these cartoons for brand new, Shout! Factory has put a fair amount of work into cleaning up the prints which look a lot better than I had anticipated. The colors are bold and pop nicely with sold black levels. There is some grain and other defects in the image, but it's nothing that will distract viewers enough to warrant much of a complaint. Generally speaking each of these transfers is in excellent shape. The soundtracks are all presented in Dolby 1.0 Mono in English. There isn't a whole lot to report on these audio mixes; the soundtracks are all a fine representation of the original theatrical experiences and little else.
Bonus features include commentary tracks on 16 of the shorts, plus the aforementioned 1001 Arabian Nights.
With the advent of so many cable television options, viewers don't run into Mr. Magoo much these days (if at all) while flipping around the channels. That's a little sad, because one of my most cherished memories are of watching these cartoons (along with Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, and anything by Tex Avery) after I had bounded home from elementary school. Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection is an excellent package that gathers all the Magoo you could want, though it's hard to recommend this edition to anyone other than hardcore Magoo collectors.
A fine collection of animated shorts, plus a bonus movie that will thrill Mr. Magoo fans the world over.
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