Judge P.S. Colbert hereby vows to replace future profanity-laced utterances with the phrase "confound it!"
By George, Shout! Factory, You've Done It Again!
So you think you know Mr. Magoo?
Were you aware that he, alongside such distinguished company as Paul Robeson and James Gandolfini, counts among the "loyal sons" of Rutgers' University?
Can you name the four Oscar-nominated shorts he starred in? What about the two that actually won?
Or perhaps you've merely regarded him as a pint-sized source of amusement; an occasionally cranky, but generally sweet myopic old man, forever mumbling (courtesy of the indispensible Jim Backus) and bumbling his way into and out of potentially deadly situations, clueless of the treachery he faced?
Aha! That means you only know the animated legend from his later TV work. Noo worries, because that just happens to be the focus of the Shout! Factory's new box set, deceptively titled: Mr. Magoo: The Television Collection 1960-1977.
I say "deceptively titled" because its billing leads one to believe they'll be getting all the TV work of the great nearsighted one during this period, when in fact, the set omits the most highly-regarded item of the era, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, first broadcast on NBC for Yuletide audiences in 1962.
However, before you consider retaining the legal services of Lionel Hutz, look again at the title of this set and see how those clever Shout! Factory workers have covered themselves. It doesn't say the Complete Television Collection, now does it?
Okay, that's settled, now let's dig in!
The Mr. Magoo Show, first produced for syndication in 1960, is probably the most well known and widely-recognized item in this collection. This single season totals twenty-six episodes, with five cartoon segments in each, separated by "introductions" by Magoo and his animated co-stars—Charlie, the Chinese houseboy; Mother Magoo (June Foray, the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel, and millions of others you'd easily recognize); nephew Waldo and his scheming pal Presley (or Prezley, depending on whom you believe); and Tycoon Magoo and his nefarious butler, Worcestershire (both voiced by Mel Blanc, who also covers uncountable other characters here).
Listing these segments by title is pointless, since you can expect Magoo (first name: Quincy) to regularly engage in a bit of driving, strolling through zoos, and wandering onto construction sites. The action really only varies based on the location of each "story," numbering 130 in all.
Feeling experimental, I subjected several episodes to my nine year old son and seven year old daughter, in order to see whether the charm of these (personal) childhood favorite cartoons translated to today's youngsters. I'm happy to report they drew multiple belly laughs from both test subjects.
I originally worried they would be put off by what might be construed as antiquated production techniques (the shows were done fast and on the cheap, in order to save UPA studios from almost-certain bankruptcy), but this seems to have been a non-issue. With repeated viewings of these four single-sided discs, I've only strengthened my resolve that, in addition to being rendered in the first place by exceptionally talented people, undeterred by a shoestring budget, these episodes have been masterfully restored for this collection over a half-century hence.
The Famous Adventures Of Mr. Magoo is the set's most ambitious project; a retrospective, episodic collection of historical events and literary characters with Mr. Magoo (now an actor) playing a key role in each, though not necessarily always the subject of the story. Commissioned by NBC, following the ratings success of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, this 26 episode anthology bowed in the fall of 1964 and covered quite a bit of ground, essaying the exploits of William Tell, Rip Van Winkle, Cyrano De Bergerac, Gunga Din, Dick Tracy, and Paul Revere, among others, in 25 minute vignettes, though some tales are two-parters, and "Mr. Magoo's Robin Hood" takes up an epic four half-hour slots.
While visually sumptuous, this four single-sided disc collection epitomizes the phrase "mixed bag," in terms of historical accuracy and the stories' ability to hold one's attention. However, there are some wonderful surprises in store, and the conclusion of "Mr. Magoo's Doctor Frankenstein" literally caused my jaw to drop.
Though initial ratings for this Saturday night series were high, audiences most likely frustrated by the hit-or-miss quality of the show soon abandoned it. In January 1965, NBC added insult to injury by switching the program's time slot so that it was competing with Gilligan's Island on CBS, another half-hour comedy show featuring the talents of Jim Backus!
Ironically, it was on the same network less than five years later that Magoo returned to prime time, albeit briefly. Uncle Sam Magoo ran as an hour-long special on February 15, 1970 and then vanished into the ozone…until now. But why?
Thematically, it picks up where The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo left off, with "the actor" Quincy Magoo playing the iconic title role in order to tell "the story of America as seen through the eyes of Magoo." At 53 minutes, it's twice as long as individual episodes of the previous series, but this latest venture takes on a much larger task, tracing the country's origins (going all the way back to Norseman Leif Ericson's "accidental" discovery in 1000 AD) and charting its progress all the way up to its (then) present day, paying tribute to heroes from Pilgrims to Astronauts.
Pretentious, ponderous stuff?
Remarkably, not. Quite the opposite, in fact! Eschewing rah-rah jingoism in favor of explosive color, unforced humor, and majestic choral arrangements of American musical standards, this patriotic tribute to the U.S.A. was clearly a labor of love for all involved, and the feeling is infectious. A veritable cornucopia of sight and sound sensations, Uncle Sam Magoo is this collection's crowning achievement.
It naturally follows that once you've reached the top, there's nowhere to go but down, which brings us to What's New, Mr. Magoo?, the last and least item of the bunch. Two single-sided discs evenly split the sixteen episodes that made up this 1977 revamp, and again the transfers are great.
The show starts out promisingly enough, with a catchy title song that features Backus bouncing Magooisms off the lyrics, which cleverly explain the program's first big problem:
"My, but your dog McBarker looks a lot like you!
He'd be a good night watchdog,
But he's near-sighted, too…"
Yup, this time out it's the adventures of Magoo and Scrappy-Doo!
And what does this look-alike, sound-alike, tag-along do? Well, he basically repeats everything Magoo says and then laughs just like Dick Dastardly's old canine foil Muttley used to do in The Wacky Races. Clever, right?
By this point, the rights to Mr. Magoo had been leased out to Depatie-Freleng studios, which seems to have regarded its latest acquisition with a mixture of boredom and contempt.
For one thing, it seems Magoo's new handlers have confused near-sightedness with distant-mindedness; the poor old man simply doesn't recognize anything anymore, whether it's near, far, in his hands, or roaring at him like a big, angry lion! In other words, the double Oscar-winner has gone from myopic to moronic.
The studio's determination to do this project on the cheap clearly shows in the illustrations, which are awful. Driving down the road in his jalopy, Magoo passes billboards with nothing painted onto them! Brick buildings and tile floors are routinely missing squares…in the middle of them!
What's more, supporting characters are constantly posting warning signs and reading them aloud, but for whom? Magoo hasn't yet arrived to blunder through them, so one can only assume this information is being passed along for the benefit of an apparently illiterate viewing audience, suggesting perhaps the producers were targeting that all-important pre-reading demographic?
No wonder this noisy eyesore went straight from one Saturday morning season on CBS to over three decades in a can. Though, to be fair, it might temporarily slake those who hunger for the re-release of such animated treasures as The New Adventures Of Gilligan or Baggy Pants And The Nitwits.
While no subtitles are provided, there are plenty of bonus features. Those interested in a primer on Magoo's evolution and the process of animating him will be pleasantly surprised by the brief but informative documentary "Oh, Magoo…You've Done It Again!" offered as an extra on the Uncle Sam Magoo disc, in addition to a photo gallery featuring rare cells in various stages of completion, all of which will allow you to get to know Magoo, through and through! We're also blessed with episode commentaries and collectible booklet.
Suffice it to say, disturbingly obsessed Magoo fans will be able to digest this collection in anything but bites. Nevertheless, when played responsibly, these four single-sided discs do pack a great deal of pleasure.
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Studio: Shout! Factory
• Episode Commentaries
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