Classic Cartoons for Halloween
From the past come all manner of classic cartoons dealing with ghosts and scary stunts meant to mildly frighten while entertaining kids. Winstar has collected many of these, including much-loved characters such as Popeye and Casper the Friendly Ghost, into a DVD that might just be a ghoul-send for your kids this Halloween.
Facts of the Case
Twelve cartoon or animated short features make up this disc, so I'll give a short description of what to expect. In the first feature "There's Good Boos To-Night," Casper is again looking for a friend who won't run at the sight of him, and finds him in a friendly fox. Next up is Popeye, who fights with Bluto for the affections of Olive Oyl by setting up fake ghosts and scares hoping the other will leave him alone with the spindly seductress in "Fright to the Finish." The third feature is a stop-motion animated jazz fest as a young boy sees all the instruments and items in the house come alive. Great music there. "Jack Frost" comes next, as the sly elf Jack cautions a young bear about the dangers of winter. "The Lunar Luger" is a Sputnik-era melodrama cartoon about Destructo and his titular handgun that uses the "power of the moon" to attack the Space Rangers. What it's doing in this disc I have no idea, but it is fun. "Balloon Land" is only a horror show if you're one of the Balloon People in this world who are fighting the dreaded "Pincushion Man." Casper returns for "Spooking Around Africa," followed by Betty Boop in "The Scared Crows." "The Huffless, Puffless Dragon" (1964) isn't scary, unless you consider anti-smoking messages scary. Betty Boop is back for "Is My Palm Read," a somewhat sexy, scary tale about fortunetellers, ghosts, and a desert island. "Wot a Night" is a haunted house yarn with dancing skeletons, and finally "Ouija Board," a 1920 silent live action and animated short film where cartoonists draw things that take on a life of their own.
These twelve offerings are from many different years, styles, and quality; ranging from the 1920 short "Ouija Board" to the 1964 "Huffless Puffless Dragon." Many of them I found inspired and imaginative with all the ideas portrayed and the clever animation. Others were more plain and simple, with "Lunar Luger" and "Huffless, Puffless Dragon" being among the most simplistic in animation styles. But I think just about any lover of classic cartoons will find something to like, and many that you will never have seen before. I can't really go into each of the 12 shorts, but I found them surprisingly interesting and fun as a whole.
Just as the quality of the features vary, so does the picture and sound quality. Each has been remixed into a Dolby Digital 5.1, which in some cases provides wonderful spaciousness and directionality, and in others simply maintains the harsh and strident sounds from the original elements. Picture quality ranges from very good to very poor, also depending on the source elements. Some of the older ones have numerous nicks and scratches, some have a very soft image, but others have held up well. For the most part I'm pleased by the presentation, and only a full restoration would have fixed some of the problems from very old source elements I saw.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I would have liked to see some extra content; especially something that told about each individual feature; such as when it was made, how it was shown, and any links between the animators and directors who made them. Alas there is nothing but the features themselves.
Some of these shorts are anything but politically correct in today's age. In particular there are several of the shorts that portray black characters in blackface with "Mammy" connotations. Some animal characters, such as the bears in "Jack Frost" are definitely done to appear to be blacks in an "Amos and Andy" kind of way. Finally, in "Ouija Board" one of the live action characters is black; a janitor who makes wide eyes and scared faces at all the goings-on. So some of the less pleasant stereotypes and attitudes of our past are in full evidence here.
Do these racial stereotypes disqualify the disc from my recommendation? Not really. I found enough to like that I only mention this so people are aware of it. In general I'm pleased that the shorts have been digitally transferred and kept for posterity, and this disc, though not always a "Scary" theme as advertised, is a collection of little seen short animated features that make a nice part of a collection.
Attitudes of the past I can indict, but the worst offenders among the makers are dead. The disc itself, along with most of its content, I give an acquittal for, and give Winstar a rare recommendation.
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