Inspired by "The Barber of Seville," Judge Russell Engebretson had his hair styled in a rinky dink with a stinky kink. He finds it quite fetching.
This fine DVD collection gathers many of the best Walter Lantz Studio theatrical cartoons from 1930 to 1955 into a triple-disc, slipcased package. In addition to Woody Woodpecker this set includes a number of the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Cartune Classics, Chilly Willy, Andy Panda, and Swing Symphonies cartoons—unedited and restored.
The contents of the three-disc set:
OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT
The image of Woody Woodpecker has been indelibly branded into the brains of Baby Boomers, thanks in part to The Woody Woodpecker Show, which originally ran on ABC from October 3, 1957, through September 25, 1958. In 1970, 26 additional episodes were assembled and aired on CBS-TV. The TV show was composed of theatrical cartoons interspersed with commentary from Walter Lantz, an occasional kiddie documentary, and some behind-the-scenes short features that explained the mechanics of cartooning in the animation studio.
The Woody Woodpecker cartoons from the Walter Lantz Studio are considered middle-tier by most animation fans, a cut above Terrytoons' output (the studio responsible for "Heckle and Jeckle," "Mighty Mouse," and "Tom Terrific," among many others), but not up to the quality of the Looney Toons or Disney stable of characters. Even in the studio's 1940s prime, which is well represented in this great collection, the cartoons were of uneven quality. Nonetheless, when it comes to gags and a fluid animation style, even the average Lantz cartoon is not at all shabby. The best of them attain a state of toon nirvana.
The earliest cartoons in the collection are a sampling of the black-and-white Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series that was eventually supplanted by Andy Panda and Woody Woodpecker. Bill Nolan perfected the "rubber hose" style of animation that can be seen on the Oswald cartoons, a style diametrically opposed to the realistic depiction of physical movement, weight, and volume that the Disney Studio strived for. A couple of the Oswald cartoons, "Hells Heels" and "Spooks," are incoherently bizarre. They are historically interesting, but won't have much appeal for a contemporary audience. Many of the non-Woody cartoons here will be charming to some and not to others. I'm not a fan of Swing Symphonies in general or the majority of the WWII propaganda cartoons, but they are avidly sought after by many collectors. Woody Woodpecker is the star of this collection, and he is well represented on all three DVDs. Woody fans will not be disappointed.!
Woody is little more than a screwball character in the first few cartoons, but he acquires some personality as he matures. His appearance and voice change, too. The elongated head becomes shorter, his body smaller, and by 1944 the thick, ringed legs disappear altogether. Mel Blanc voiced the first three Woody cartoons before he departed for Warner Brothers. Only his voicing for Woody's signature mad laugh was retained. Ben Hardaway provided the voice until 1952, and then Lantz's wife, Grace Stafford, took over the role.
Under the direction of James Culhane and Dick Lundy, the Woody cartoons became faster and funnier. Culhane's "The Barber of Seville," perhaps Woody's finest moment, is a model of madcap comic timing synchronized to a classical music soundtrack. "Who's Cookin' Who," also directed by Culhane, is a marvelously deranged encounter between a starving wolf and equally ravenous Woody. No matter which remembered cartoons tweak your fancy, you will find several of them in this compilation.
One of my all-time favorites is the 1955 Tex Avery directed "The Legend of Rockabye Point." If ever a cartoon deserved a showcase in the Animated Lunacy wing of the Smithsonian, this is the one. Even though it is marginally a Chilly Willy cartoon, the action centers on a shark-toothed bulldog and a fish-stealing polar bear. It is an animated perfect storm of gag writing and comic timing, with an exquisite ending that actually achieves a degree of poignancy. The viewer will be engulfed in a transcendent state of cartoon bliss. This cartoon alone, for me, is worth the purchase price of the collection.
The prints on this DVD transfer are bright and colorful and appear to be
first generation or close to it. Specks and scratches are present in lesser or
greater degree on many of the cartoons, but they look cleaner than I ever
remember seeing them. I'm sad to report that digital video noise reduction
Bonus shorts were culled from the Woody Woodpecker TV show. The most enjoyable material is the behind-the-scenes peek at the inner workings of an animation studio. Staff brainstorming, hand-drawn cels, music and sound effects synchronization, and Moviola use are ably presented in a series of delightful black-and-white featurettes. There are no audio commentaries, which is a sad omission for those interested in this fertile era of cartoon history.
Before the release of The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection, the only available Woody DVDs were the TV sets issued by Columbia House (for subscribers only and now out of print). Many of those cartoons were edited and of poor quality. If you are looking for Woody Woodpecker, Wally Walrus, Buzzy Buzzard, or Andy Panda theatrical cartoons (to name a few of the Lantz creations here), this restored DVD collection is the only way to go.
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Scales of Justice
• Walter, Woody, and the World of Animation
• IMDb on Walter Lantz
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