Foreword from Rachel:
Acting according to the maxim that it’s better to have good content than frequent content, a very burnt-out Kevin and I have stayed away for awhile. But nothing provides quite the motivation to write as new DVD releases, and we have a video bonanza in the coming months. The latest Looney Tunes Golden Collection goes on sale today, with the third volume of Fleischer Popeye DVDs soon to follow. Kevin talks about the new releases in his latest “musings”, written a couple of days ago (and only now posted by procrastinator me–sorry, Kevin).
Not that we haven’t been busy during our hiatus. We’ve been spending far too much of our time haunting the best undiscovered treasure on the Internet, namely Stu Shostak’s Shokus Internet Radio. Every Wednesday the esteemed Mr. Shostak interviews a different legendary figure from the world of animation and pop culture. This past week he spoke with two children’s show hosts well-known to generations of former kids in Southern California (and those fortunate few in other parts of the country who had cable): Tom Hatten and Jimmy “Webster Webfoot” Weldon.
I never had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Weldon in his prime, though I have heard him, and very likely you have too (Weldon took his vocal talents to Hanna-Barbera in the early sixties, as the voice of Yakky Doodle). Weldon’s a good old southern boy (Texas, to be exact) who’s enough of a character to fit in with my crazy South Carolina family–he may have made his fortune providing voices for ducks, but he himself is something of a live-action version of a certain, I say, certain animated chicken. Rooster, that is. Interviewing Jimmy Weldon has to be the easiest job in the world for any interviewer–all one need do is sit back and let him do the talking.
Tom Hatten hardly needs an introduction here, as my admiration for the man knows no bounds–and I never miss an opportunity to say so. I’ve written about him extensively in this blog, as he was the catalyst for my own interest in animation and animation history.
If you want to catch Mr. Weldon and Mr. Hatten, you’ll have to hurry, no thanks to me. (Procastination strikes again). Shostak airs repeats of his program all week, meaning the Weldon/Hatten edition will air just one more time: tomorrow at 4 P.M. Pacific time (adjust accordingly for your particular corner of the globe). Just follow the link I’ve provided above. Mr. Hatten and Mr. Weldon will thank you.
If you stick around to the end, you might catch a phone-in comment by a certain humble toonkeeper expressing her heartfelt admiration for Hatten.
What’s that? Oh, yes–Kevin. I haven’t forgotten him. He’s interrupted his Daffy Duck-like vigil at the mailbox to express his boundless enthusiasm for the upcoming and newly-released flood of video headed our way. Pardon me while I go pace for him.
Well, folks, “ah-go-ny, ah-go-ny!!” I feel like DAFFY DUCK at the opening scene of “DAFFY DOODLES”, as he impatiently paces in front of his mailbox wondering aloud the phrase that I’ve used as the title of this piece. In the cartoon, a classic by Bob Clampett if there ever was one, Daffy is referring to his morning paper as he eagerly awaits the day’s comic adventures of DICK TRACY. I use the over-anxious question as my impatient cry for October 28th or eventual due date of the arrival of LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION, VOL. 6! I cannot wait for this stuff to hit the shelves and I am perhaps as anxious to find out how well it sells in hopes that, like the WALT DISNEY TREASURES collections, we see a sudden revamping of the series and news that it will indeed continue! Oh, right now, the news is still that the series is halted after this volume, but that Warners cartoons are still on hand for future restorations and collections, delving deeper into the vaults, but this series is just too good to just flop here as the absolute overview. I don’t say that there are no other interesting in-depth possibilities, but this volume just seems so good that to cut the series off here is like axing an entire fourth of a very good major motion picture! I still hold out hope that the decision-makers can be convinced that, even in these hard economic times, people are throwing down their cash for this wonderful series and genuinely look forward to its arrival each year in our video collections.
I’m sure that many of you have read on other blogs just what is going to be included here. It is going to be so nice to finally get a decent print of “CHOW HOUND” and even “PAGE MISS GLORY”, a cartoon that always looked and sounded rather muddy, even in its laserdisk incarnation. As I dimly recall it (and I seem to recall most things “dimly” these days), “PAGE MISS GLORY” had a comic book appearance about it, something like the later “LOVE AND CURSES”, drawn as if the characters came from a newspaper strip, and this lends itself nicely to the dream sequence had by the bellboy in a rural town about the arrival of this mysterious lady only known as Miss Glory. Knocked out as the result of a mishap, the boy, Abner, dreams of what it will be like when Miss Glory steps out of that limousine. In this dream, she is a slinky forerunner of the “RED” characters that Avery would feature in some of his best MGM cartoons. While there are no wolves around with eyes bulging out, there are Avery-esque gags abounding as the announcement comes across the hotel public address system that Miss Glory has arrived. Each time the royal name is mentioned, workers in all areas go through their own private fit of anxiety. I mostly remember the chef, dropping a pie through the floor and jumping down through the hole it left. We hear a “splash” and even see drops of jelly fly up through the hole and he emerges covered in pie filling, looking like just a glob of the stuff with eagerly blinking eye sockets!
Add to this wonderfully anticipated set the news that the third disk will be yet another all-black-and-white collection, only this will be cartoons produced before all of the major characters that we would immediately recognize as the memorable LOONEY TUNES characters. These are the cartoons that put LOONEY TUNES and MERRIE MELODIES, the respective series, on the map. Some of us have seen some of these titles on laserdisk, and others have been seen sporadically on that golden “LOONEY TUNES” show on Nickelodeon, featuring either Bosko, the major player who launched the LOONEY TUNES series, and Foxy, the somewhat similar musical character who launched the MERRIE MELODIES cartoons, to Buddy, an all-American boy who succeeded Bosko when Harmon & Ising left Schlesinger for what they thought would be more fruitful times at MGM. Bosko was a happy accident, even though some might think of him as a MICKEY MOUSE clone. He could be as bawdy as Disney’s mouse, even moreso, as we’ve pointed out on this blog before, and we’ll no doubt be talking in more detail about just how this is so once the set is out and we’ve had a major chance to review these cartoons in detail. Some of the rarest titles chosen here will be “THE BOOS HANGS HIGH” and “CONGO JAZZ”, and I’ve spoken too often about the fascination with “BOSKO’S PICTURE SHOW” and my co-blogger, Rachel, has given a glorious review of “BOSKO IN PERSON”. While Bosko was a musical character, he was also a bit of a cut-up. MERRIE MELODIES’ Foxy, though, was an almost entirely musical character, and his initial debut, “SMILE, DARN YA, SMILE” will be seen here, perhaps looking as fresh as it did when it first premiered to theaters…and don’t forget to crank up the volume on your home theater system for this one, because the entries here on this golden black and white disk will sound so great with all the musical numbers. Other MERRIE MELODIES cartoons will spotlight other big production numbers, even inspired in a way, in their jazziness, by the Busby Berkeley musicals from which they came, like “SHUFFLE OFF TO BUFFALO” set in a hospital of newborn babies who, fresh out of the womb, can sing and vamp around with the best performers of the day!! These kinds of films don’t even have to have a plot as the song just takes the characters all kinds of interesting places.
The grandest joy, as we have also pointed out, is that there will be more bonus cartoons to this set than any other volume in this series. If the series were to suddenly be given the go-ahead to continue, it is highly probable that future volumes will also feature this many bonus cartoons, both restored and unrestored. Hey, I’m just glad to see any of these at all. One could perhaps tell the restored cartoons because some of these also have their scores included alone as part of the special features jam-packed into this collection. Even though I’ve been told that they are among the unrestored cartoons, I am excited to get the five CAPTAIN & THE KIDS cartoons, the ones directed by Friz Freleng, some of the best and most inventive of the series. Even though both Friz Freleng and Mel Blanc have complained about how senseless the production on this series was, they certainly did what they could with the characters, especially in one of the color entries included here, “THE CAPTAIN’S CHRISTMAS”. We’ve discussed both this one and the black and white classic, “MAMA’S NEW HAT”, and now you’ll be able to see these for yourselves if you’re not already familiar with them.
Another step in the right direction here is the “PATRIOTIC PALS” disk, although that isn’t entirely an apt title for this disk as some of the films involve a world at war. “THE DUCKTATORS”, for example, is mostly a focus on our enemies at the time, fascism and the three dictators who wanted to rule the world, seen as ducks, although the link to a patriotic pal might be, oddly enough, the dove of peace who, when finally confronted, would not back down from defending himself and his beliefs! It is a fantastic ending to this cartoon all too often excised from its public domain prints. It is yet another major reason why this collection is well worth getting!!
I’m also delighted with the oddities included here as special features, like “PUNCH TRUNK”, about a pint-sized elephant that has an entire community wondering if they were losing their minds, as only Chuck Jones could convey this, and “BARTHOLOMEW VS. THE WHEEL”, a cartoon that starts off with a dog’s sudden hatred of wheels because of a near accident, one that carries him back to the stone age, or so it seems. It is a later Warners cartoon, one that does feature other unusual voices other than Mel Blanc. The narrator is a little boy, the owner of the dog.
So this is a very healthy way to almost end the year, 2008. This, along with the third POPEYE THE SAILOR set, will be coming to us within the next few weeks. Actually, the POPEYE set comes near the end of November as far as I know, pushed back so that further “treatments” to cartoons that unfortunately found their beginnings or endings in almost unrestorable shape can be completed so that we fans will be satisfied. No matter what it turns out to be, this set will be anticipated as it concludes the Fleischer years and opens the Famous Studios years. The full list of extras for this have not entirely been revealed as yet, but there is certainly a lot to talk about regarding the changes going on at Paramount’s cartoon studio and how the Fleischers lost the very right to what was originally theirs. There will always be restoration issues about some of these cartoons, because certainly Paramount never took good care of these films, allowing for the original title cards or end credits to be decayed beyond restorability. From here on in, all POPEYE sets will be issued in two disk editions, even when it comes to the Famous Studios’ color entries, partially in hopes that the restoration process might even be better than hoped on some titles. I think, however, that we will be pleasantly surprised at the results.
And what of the MGM cartoons? Oh, man, I’m drooling! That’s all I can say for now. Plans have not entirely been formulated, but we can dream of what could be in the best of all possible worlds, the one we continuously inhabit, beyond news of a failing economy! Hey, even in the Depression, lavish movies got made. I would hope that in this recessionary time, the creative aspect for DVD sets takes us through all this in style until we can say that our world is truly back on its capable feet again. Entertainment gets us through this, and pop culture is perhaps the best cure for all ills. I don’t want that confused with that taboo subject called “nostalgia”. Pop culture is perhaps a better term for what we all seem to be curious about these days and would want for our video libraries, with all conscious history and anecdotal information abounding as well. There is hushed talk of work on restoration of MGM cartoons. I am hoping that includes not only the TOM & JERRY and Tex Avery cartoons, but also the cartoons too often greeted with less enthusiasm, like the HAPPY HARMONIES and other Harmon/Ising era titles and characters. Yes, it is true that some Harmon/Ising cartoons are hideously slow and genuinely unfunny. Think of what a cartoon like “PAPA GETS THE BIRD” might have been like in other hands. I do have to marvel at the spectacle that these cartoons are in some cases, even one as mild as this aforementioned title, the third of the Hugh Harmon THREE BEARS cartoons, centering around nothing more than yet another family squabble, this time over giving Mama’s canary a bath! Wilbur usually saves these cartoons, but not even he can save this long and plodding effort. Its ending is so beautiful to look at, though, as Papa falls down the well for a third or fourth time and the resulting splash is seen behind the end credit, and you’ve got to admit that Papa sure does look ugly covered in sludge from the bottom of the well once pulled up with the water bucket. By the time this one ends, though, we all feel like Papa who ends up throwing *HIMSELF* down that muddy old well out of frustration!
But all this stuff deserves to be seen and included. I’ve been to Harmon/Ising festivals, and the audience is so quiet that one could sneeze and end up scaring the crowd, but I’m not entirely sure that the people who had come to such festivals, knowing what they were about to sit through, were entirely yawning. Sure, a corresponding show that same night was the best of Tex Avery’s MGM titles, but the two shows coupled together show the extremes that were seen throughout the years of theatrical cartoons being made at MGM. Avery’s cartoons will always be appreciated on their own, and I would applaud a COMPLETE set to compete with the majestic job done on laserdisk, but if the consultants want to keep constant reissues fresh and make it interesting, perhaps programs of MGM cartoons similar to the wonderful WOODY WOODPECKER & FRIENDS sets would be in order. This would allow our favorite consultants to dip again into the TOM & JERRY cartoons *AND* give us some of that all-important Tex Avery material-and we can possibly see that alternate version of Avery’s Warners cartoon, “THE CRACKPOT QUAIL”, just to hear the soundtrack and sound effects the way they were supposed to have appeared. Yes, this would be more appropriate for a future LOONEY TUNES set, but I wouldn’t mind the double-dipping in the other direction either, with examples of Warners work by MGM artists!
The beginning of it all was Walt Disney. We all oddly more remember the other studios, partially because of their existence on television. I’d seen Harmon/Ising’s “TO SPRING” or “DANCE OF THE WEED” before I ever saw any section of “FANTASIA”. While some would consider the Harmon/Ising stuff the poor man’s Disney, I felt more comfortable with it all because I’d seen ‘em more often. Also, let’s face it, the other studios knew how to be funny while still appealing to the kid in all of us. Even at the cutest times, Warners cartoons were hilarious. I will always enjoy Chuck Jones’ silent Book Worm character, an idea that Harmon could have learned from. Each of these artists did, in their own way, want so much to further the artistic integrity of the field of animation and, while that never quite did happen, we fans know animation to be so much more than kid stuff.
So let’s support all these wonderful coming attractions and hope that the proposed ideas for 2009 and beyond do achieve fruition so much sharper than I could ever outline it here. We have another chance, once Jerry Beck appears on SHOKUS INTERNET RADIO’s “STU’S SHOW” in January, to voice our ideas. No, neither Jerry nor Stu are looking for such ideas, but we do have ‘em and why not make ‘em known? There are goodies in the works, and I know that there are other thoughts on our minds about characters and such. Let’s share our memories and see that they remain pop culture for now and not necessarily just musty old nostalgia.