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Mondo Media presents
Happy Tree Friends, Volume 1: First Blood (2002)

"If friends were flowers, I'd pick you!"
- closing title card on episode #11, Treasure These Idol Moments

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: January 13, 2003

Stars: Aubrey Ankrum, Michael Lipman, Dana Belben, Warren Graff, Rhode Montijo, Kenn Navarro
Director: Rhode Montijo

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (graphic, violent dismembering and death of cartoon characters)
Run Time: 00h:21m:25s
Release Date: February 11, 2003
UPC: 634991138826
Genre: cult

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BB+B A-

DVD Review

Do you sometimes find yourself watching South Park and wishing it weren't so damn wholesome and syrupy? Then Happy Tree Friends are the animated pals for you.

These fourteen episodes each run about a minute and a half, which is more than ample for the graphic mayhem that undoes the precious little creatures on display. It's willfully perverse, and could well serve as Exhibit A on how our culture today is sending kids to hell in a handbasket, but there's a sick kind of genius at work here, too. It's hard to know how else to characterize the sustained perversion that led to the creation of cute little doe-eyed cartoon characters like Petunia the skunk or Cuddles the bunny, and then in every episode to see them eviscerated and massacred in the most graphic, painful ways imaginable.

Here's a test case for you: episode #4, Crazy Ant-ics. Meet Sniffles, the dorky aardvark, who spies an anthill, likely to contain a tasty little snack. His tongue races down the labyrinthine construction and finds a family of terrified ants, who quickly and savagely drive a spike through Sniffles' tongue and into the dining table. A cheese grater is on hand to rub up and down on said tongue, and the ants then helpfully squeeze lemon juice onto the new wounds. Add a can of lighter fluid and a match, and voilà!

Is this in astonishingly bad taste? Absolutely. But even as that fact registered, I was laughing and watching with jaw-dropping wonder, as, for instance, Flippy, the squirrel with post-traumatic stress disorder, has a bunch of 'Nam flashbacks and offs his friends as gruesomely as he can, or when Disco Bear dances some of them foxy ladies into an electrified fence, rewarding them with certain and painful deaths.

I've got to believe that the audience for something like this is self-selecting, and if you've already read this far, this is probably your thing. These were originally produced for the Internet, and though there are fourteen full episodes, the whole package runs less than half an hour. But if you don't laugh and can get that insanely infectious and annoying theme song out of your head, you're a few up on me.

Part of the appeal of Happy Tree Friends is no doubt that it acts out as gruesomely as possible the secret wish of many parents and even, I suspect, of some children: to take the likes of Barney and the Teletubbies and beat them into a bloody pulp. God bless the guys who made this, then, for doing the Lord's work.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The animated colors are nicely saturated, and the transfer is entirely adequate—given that the original target audience was seeing these via slow dialup connections, seeing this kind of animated savagery in glorious digital has its own peculiar rewards.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The PCM track is certainly sufficient; one of the conceits of the series is that there's no dialogue, so there's not much you could miss out on, anyway. What's here renders the screams and whimpers of pain and suffering with appropriate clarity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by many, many members of the production team
Packaging: Cardboard Tri-Fold
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. four "smoochies"—see description below
  2. Banjo Frenzy—the Happy Tree Friends de facto pilot
  3. character bios with fun facts
  4. bonus episode, plus another in Pop-Up Video style
  5. original sketches with extensive commentary
Extras Review: Lots more good, clean family fun in the package of extras. The commentary track runs not over the full-screen versions of the episodes themselves, but rather over the side-by-side comparison of the finished product with the storyboards. It sounds as if a frat house full of guys are in the room participating in the commentary—writers, voice-over actors, the director, animators, sound engineers—and they gleefully admit that Happy Tree Friends was "created to fill the void of TV violence." They seem like smart, funny, wicked guys; the big complaint about the track is that there are too many of them, they frequently speak at once, and invariably somebody is laughing, interfering with our ability to hear some of the commentary.

Much more rewarding is the commentary track (36m:02s), that accompanies early sketch work for the design of the characters, with only three participants—they're laughing so much that it's infectious, but every now and again you may feel like the loser who's not in on the joke. Especially fun are the Happy Tree Friends who didn't make the final roster; these include Cookie the Sloth, Buddhist Monkey, and Cro-Marmot. Also, the guys' occasional use of profanity is bleeped out on this track; given the graphic nature of the content, it's hard to imagine that anybody listening to them is going to be deeply offended by some garden-variety curse words you can hear on cable all day long.

The four "smoochies" offer a single character in each, and three opportunities to participate in the interactive mayhem. The first, for instance, features Cuddles—choose "Feed" and she chokes and dies on a carrot; choose "Clean" and she drowns in the bathtub; choose "Sleep," and Cuddles is shot up with needles until she flatlines.

Character bios are presented in the manner of baseball cards—Collect Them All—featuring fun facts: Toothy flosses excessively, for instance, and Lumpy the moose talks to lettuce. Banjo Frenzy (00m:34s) was the first little bon bon produced by this team, and it's very much of a piece with the rest of their work; a special bonus episode, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, features a new Happy Tree Friend, Russell the Pirate. In Pop Corn Video, one of the episodes, Spin Fun Knowin' Ya, gets the VH-1 Pop-Up Video treatment, featuring such nuggets as "Toothy has had tail enlargement surgery" and "80% of children hug playground equipment for dear life." I'm also very much looking forward to reading Giggles' tell-all memoir, Tears Behind the Giggles.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

If the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of this world wanted to fulminate against the Gomorrah that is our popular culture, they would do well to have this disc serve as Exhibit A—but if the Happy Tree Friends team is going to hell, I laughed enough to be certain that I'm going with them. You have been warned: this can be extraordinarily offensive stuff, and it's not for everyone, goodness knows. But it's very, very funny, and the extras on hand make this a sick and rewarding DVD.


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