Is Judge Dennis Prince the only one astounded by a talking alley cat. Apparently, Officer Dibble runs across this sort of thing every day. In New York it seems anything is possible.
"He's the boss, he's a VIP, he's a champ-i-on-ship.
Nearly three decades before The Simpsons would ever presume to dominate prime-time television, a mere animated show out-drawing and out-lasting all time slot contenders, there was another "cartoon show" that became an unexpected national prime-time phenomenon: The Flintstones. Clearly based upon Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners, the weekly misadventures of Fred Flintstone and friend Barney Rubble, and their attempts to outfox wives Wilma and Betty in the stone-age town of Bedrock, struck a familiar chord with viewers and propelled their show for a full six seasons from 1960 on.
Producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera naturally set about to see if they could repeat the feat. In 1961, they turned to another live-action TV favorite, The Phil Silvers Show: You'll Never Get Rich, as inspiration for a new evening-time animated outing: Top Cat. Rather than the conniving motor-pool Sergeant Ernie Bilko coercing his squad of lazy ne'er-do-wells in a quest for fast fortune, this animated offshoot featured a slick-talking alley cat, T.C. (voiced by Arnold Stang), complete with fancy hat and vest, who oversees the hijinks of his trash can compatriots, including Benny the Ball (an obvious incarnation of Bilko's own Private Doberman voiced by the same actor, Maurice Gosfield), Choo-Choo (Marvin Kaplan), Spook and The Brain (both voiced by Leo de Lyon), Fancy-Fancy (John Stephenson) and the resident authority figure to be foiled, Police Officer Dibble (Allen Jenkins).
Unfortunately, Top Cat didn't translate its source material as well as The Flintstones before it. Whereas the stone-age capers of Fred and Barney where well-written and incorporated the ongoing clever use of prehistoric critters and inventive stone-and-stick tools to represent the modern conveniences of 1960, Top Cat had no reliable "shtick" going for it. The clever cat just schemed his way in and out of situations while Officer Dibble and the other humans merely interacted with the character without ever raising an eyebrow. (He's a friggin' cat, for goodness sake; why doesn't anybody take note of this?) Failing to recognize the need for a clever hook, this would-be follow-up to The Flintstones simply never took hold. After premiering on the ABC network on September 27, 1961, the and show canned after a single season and 30 episodes. It fared somewhat better after moving to Saturday mornings, where the 30-episode canon was recycled between 1962 and 1969, a time and place where many youngsters would come to embrace the show and ultimately remember it fondly all these years later.
Whether you're a fan of T.C. or not, you have to applaud Hanna-Barbera studios for continuing with their fine boxed-set releases of classic 'toons. Another in the "Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection" series, this four-disc foldout digipak set contains the complete run of 30 thirty-minute episodes tucked into a spiffy plasticized transparent slipcase. If you've been yearning to be reunited with Top Cat, or are completely new to his alley, here are the episodes you'll find in this new release:
• "Hawaii Here We Come" (includes running
Each episode is presented in its original full-frame format, looking probably more vibrant than it ever has in over 30 years. The detail level is quite high, which serves as both a curse and a blessing. While you can enjoy the sight of crisp lines throughout each episode, you'll also see every nick, scratch, and other blemish common to cell animation. Some animation purists see this as an element of charm in their beloved cartoon classics, and to that end, this disc set won't disappoint. The audio is offered in an energetic Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that is more than suitable here.
Long-time fans and even casual newcomers will find some fun extras on hand, beginning with three audio commentaries that accompany specific episodes (as noted in the episode list). Listen in as animation historians Jerry Beck, Earl Kress, and Mark Evanier are joined by voice actor Leo de Lyon to offer a fun and factual offering of observations, historical tidbits, and humorous anecdotes about the show. A featurette, "Back to Hoagy's Alley," is a 17-minute look back at the making of the show, hosted by Leo de Lyon, featuring vintage clips of none other than William Hanna and Joseph Barbera themselves. Next is a fun interview featurette, "Cool Cats in Interview Alley," where animation historian Earl Kress talks with voice actors Arnold Stang, Leo de Lyon, and Marvin Kaplan. Show writer Barry Blitzer is also along to offer his comments. The "Top Cat Collection" brings us a gallery of original character sketches and finished cells to peruse, and there's a storyboard-to-episode feature as well. A sing-along feature lets you step up to the digital karaoke and belt out the title song if you so desire. The most prized extra, in my eyes anyway, are the vintage Kellogg's Corn Flakes commercials that featured T.C. and others pitching the Big K's crunchy breakfast staple. (I would love to see more material like this whenever and wherever possible.)
In all, this is a competent release, to be sure, though I can't say as the show itself is one of my personal favorites. Nevertheless, the folks at Warner Brothers Home Video are duly commended and heartily encouraged to continue releasing more long-time favorites in this well-done "Classic Collection" format.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Key Episode Commentaries
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