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"Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1960s, Vol. 2": Frustratingly Uneven

by on November 2, 2009

The second volume of the high concept Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1960s is out, and like the first volume it has its ups and downs, both in the cartoon selection itself and the presentation.

Volume 2 provides more Looney Tunes than Vol. 1 did, which of course pleases me as a LT fan. True, some of it is repeat material from the various Golden Collections, but luckily we get four new-to-DVD shorts to balance things out. “Feather Dusted” is one of the Foghorn Leghorn shorts where he acts as a father figure to Egghead so he can win over Miss Prissy. While not his best, it has amusing scenes and some great, energetic visuals by former Clampett animator Rod Scribner. “Home Tweet Home” offers a Sylvester/Tweety story set in the park, with a prototype Granny (who looks vastly different). As usual with director Friz Freleng, the gags are timed well and get me laughing just with their execution. “Zip n Snort” is a typically funny Road Runner cartoon, with the most memorable gag being when Wile E. Coyote slicks his feet with grease and, of course, loses control and skids down the railroad tracks towards an oncoming train. Finally, “The Jet Cage” is significant in that it was the final cartoon scored by Milt Franklyn, who succeeded Carl Stalling and had a very similar cartoon composing style; he only completed two minutes of it before dying of a heart attack. The rest of the score was by Bill Lava, who was uncredited in this cartoon and whose more modern, atonal style clashes with the material that opens the short. Other than that interesting production tidbit, it’s a rather weak Sylvester/Tweety outing, with the gimmick that Tweety can fly with the aid of a jet-powered bird cage.

The included Jetsons episode, “Elroy’s Mob”, is enjoyable despite a well-worn plot, which has Elroy, due to a report card mix-up, running away from home and inadvertently getting involved with a pair of criminals. I especially found it fun how prophetic this episode was; one of Elroy’s classmates watches The Flintstones on a wrist watch TV. iPhone, anyone? Its future-predicting technology like that which make The Jetsons fun to watch nowadays, even with the dated animation.

I also rather liked the Snooper and Blabber (cat and mouse detective team), Quick Draw McGraw (cowboy horse), and Auggie Doggie shorts (father sounds like Jimmy Durante, while the son is a prodigy), where traces of Looney Tunes veteran Mike Maltese’s witty writing is still to be heard, even if executed at a slower pace than in the theatrical shorts he worked on.

To my surprise, I even enjoyed an action cartoon called Young Samson and Goliath, whose plot involves the wristband-donned teenage hero and his shape-shifting dog rescuing a stolen aircraft from baddies. Sure, compared to action cartoons today, the animation is positively static and the action scenes are pretty corny (for example, Goliath the dog pouncing at a guard might as well be in slow motion), but it had that campy ’60s charm which is hard to resist.

Not all entries fare so well, though. The Hillbilly Bears is a one-note cartoon whose sight gags don’t impress and whose voice acting annoys (and no, not being able to understand one of the character’s mumbles isn’t automatically funny). Space Kidettes lacks the outer space imagination of The Jetsons and just isn’t funny. Even a short while after watching Peter Potamus and Atom Ant, I can’t remember a thing about either. And Young Gulliver suffers from some blatantly obvious repeated animation, such as the eagle flying towards the camera, which I swear happens ten times in the episode!

As with volume 1, there’s duplicate material from other DVDs, which doesn’t benefit cartoon collectors. Here’s a list of what shorts can be found elsewhere:

  • “Army Nervy Game”: Magilla Gorilla: The Complete Series
  • “Baton Bunny”: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 1
  • “Big House Bunny”: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 1
  • “Canned Feud”: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 1
  • “Elroy’s Mob”: The Jetsons: The Complete First Season
  • “Just Ducky”: Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume 2
  • “Mutts About Racing”: Tex Avery’s Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection
  • “Salt Water Tabby”: Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume 1
  • “Scaredy Cat”: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 1
  • “The Wild Chase”: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 4

Special features are slim; both discs come with “Saturday Morning Wake-Up Calls,” which are just quick previews for the shows we’re about to watch. Aside from the enthusiastic announcer’s voice (which sounds similar to the deceased Don Messick to me), these are skippable, especially if you watch the episodes beforehand. There’s also a quick featurette on Magilla Gorilla, which doesn’t tell us a lot we wouldn’t already know, though it features interviews from people in the cartoon field, so it’s worth a watch. Rounding things up are some Warner Bros. trailers. So, not a lot of bonus material is on here.

The bigger problem with this set, though, is the fluctuating video quality. I realize that Warner Bros. probably had less-than-ideal prints to work with, but on some you ask yourself, “Seriously? This is the best they could come up with?” A perfect example is “The Road Runner Show”, where the three cartoons which make it up (“Zip n Snort”, “The Jet Cage”, “The Wild Chase”) look positively bad. “The Jet Cage” and “The Wild Chase” both have soft, faded colors when they’ve looked crisper elsewhere, and “Zip n Snort” is so washed out that it comes close to looking like a black and white picture half the time! What’s even more frustrating about this is that we clearly see far better prints of “Zip n Snort” in the Saturday Morning Wake-Up Call bonus feature, so why did it look so beat up and worn in the program itself? Were they trying to replicate how these would’ve looked on old televisions? It makes no sense. At least some other Looney Tunes material on here looks good: “Big House Bunny”, “Canned Feud”, “Scaredy Cat”, and “Baton Bunny” use their Golden Collection-quality prints, and it goes without saying that they stand head and shoulders above the other LT shorts on here.

As for non-Looney Tunes material, again, it’s a mixed bag. I had no issues with the Jetsons episode, and the other early ’60s Hanna Barbera shorts (such as Auggie Doggie and Snooper and Blabber) looked acceptable enough. But others, not to reiterate a point, looked soft, muted, and beat up. And one cartoon even is presented in its incorrect aspect ratio: “Mutts About Racing”, a Droopy short from 1958 that was presented in Cinemascope. I imagine they were trying to preserve the way it was shown on TV screens back then, but it only makes me want the full picture instead of the sides cut off.

While there is some fun material on Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1960s, Volume 2, I find it hard to give a full recommendation based on the video quality alone, as well as repeat material from other DVDs. Yes, the people behind the set deserve props for including The Bugs Bunny Show this time (wraparounds and all), and it was interesting to see some Hanna-Barbera material for the first time (some of which hasn’t been regularly or easily seen on TV in years), even if I didn’t like all of it. But it’s just a shame more care couldn’t have been given to some of the images on the set.

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