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Warner Home Video presents
Top Cat: The Complete Series (1961-1962)

"We're never going to make any money if you guys keep taking jobs."
- Top Cat (Arnold Stang)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 05, 2005

Stars: Arnold Stang, Maurice Gosfield, Allen Jenkins, Leo de Lyon, Marvin Kaplan, John Stephenson
Other Stars: Paul Frees, Don Messick, Bea Benaderet, Herschel Bernardi, Daws Butler, Sallie Jones
Director: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 12h:47m:55s
Release Date: December 07, 2004
UPC: 014764236223
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BAA- B+

DVD Review

Hanna-Barbera was on quite a little run in the early 1960s. They had a huge success in 1960 with the first prime-time animated series, The Flintstones. In 1962, The Jetsons became a household word as well. In between the two came the sometimes-overlooked, but still fondly-remembered, Top Cat, which ran a single season in prime time but was endlessly rerun on Saturday mornings for years afterwards.

The premise of the series is fairly straightforward, centering on a gang of New York alley cats led by Top Cat (voiced by Arnold Stang). T.C. always has a money-making scheme of some sort working, with the help of his crew. These include the diminuitive and innocent Benny the Ball (Maurice Gosfield), the intellectual Choo-Choo (Marvin Kaplan), dopey Brain and beatnik Spook (both Leo de Lyon) and ladies' man Fancy-Fancy (John Stephenson). Their perpetual nemesis is Officer Dibble (Allen Jenkins), the cop whose beat includes Hoagy Alley, where the cats live. Inevitably, Top Cat's plots run him afoul of Dibble.

The similarity between this and The Phil Silvers Show is readily apparent, just as The Flintstones was a thinly-disguised version of The Honeymooners. But based on the central relationship between Top Cat and Officer Dibble, the show also plays like an urban version of Yogi Bear, with the plots a little more sophisticated than just swiping picnic baskets. Since it aired in prime time, the stories were addressed at adults, with a fair amount of humor derived from the situations rather than the typical morning cartoon shenanigans.

Top Cat's voice cast is excellent. Stang had long been a voice actor on radio, and he captures the smug self-assuredness of T.C. beautifully. Gosfield's highly distinctive rasp is entertaining just to listen to, and Marvin Kaplan's Jewish twang is nicely suited to Choo-Choo's character. Allen Jenkins was a longtime veteran of Warner Bros. gangster films, frequently showing up as Cagney's sidekick in crime. The ensemble features a smorgasbord of New York accents, giving the series a grounding in reality absent from Hanna-Barbera's other evening animated series.

The series still holds up pretty well today, mainly thanks to the voice work and the artistry in the character design. The humor tends to be fairly predictable at times, with plenty of staple situation comedy setups. There is a bit of repetition as well; Top Cat masquerades as a millionaire several times just on one disc. Even though Top Cat has not much of a moral grounding, he is good at heart, and frequently uses his scams to benefit others and not just himself, so the ambiguous morality of the situation is at least palatable for parents.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: The thick lines and bright colors (apparently chosen for how they read in black and white) make for a vivid viewing experience. Surprisingly, there's no visible aliasing, as so often seen on television animation. The source prints are in impeccable conditiion. The only shortcoming is that the closing credits (which originally recited the show's sponsors) are slightly edited for legal reasons, occasionally with an abrupt splice.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The mono audio sounds excellent, with no significant hiss or noise of any kind. The dialogue is exceptionally clean, and Hoyt Curtin's Gershwin-inflected score sounds great. For a period soundtrack, this leaves nothing to be desired.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Documentaries
Storyboard
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Leo de Lyon, with animation historians Earl Kress, Jerry Beck and Mark Evanier
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Karaoke version of the theme song
  2. Kellogg's commercials
Extras Review: Warner provides a nice package for this set, uniform with other Hanna-Barbera animation series. Three episodes contain commentary, although the information sometimes seems questionable considering there are different opinions as to the straightforward question of which episode was aired first (Mark Evanier claims it was Hawaii Here We Come, de Lyon thinks it was another unnamed episode, and a TV Guide reproduction states that The $1,000,000 Derby was the debut). A storyboard comparison for The Missing Heir shows early character designs and bears the provisional series title of J.B. and Company.

Two documentaries help flesh out the information, with a 16m:40s making of, Back to Hoagy Alley, hosted by de Lyon and featuring interviews with the creators, including a very ill-looking William Hanna. More interviews with the voice artists, running 31m:14s, feature Stang, de Lyon and Kaplan, together with series writer Barry Blitzer. Kaplan in particular is a great interview and a natural storyteller. There are some interesting tales about the unusual system of voice casting used by Hanna-Barbera. Those who love the theme song will enjoy the karaoke version. The package is wrapped up by a selection of original art, design sheets and character sketches, as well as a pair of animated black-and-white Kellogg's commercials featuring Stang, Jenkins and Stephenson. The last item is the original end title sequence, which explains why there's flashing during the credits. The fourth disc is a DVD-18 (double-sided, dual-layered). Each disc features a convenient Play All button.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Although it didn't do well in its prime-time slot, this series had a lengthy run in syndication. Fans of the series will be very pleased with this package, which provides very good transfers and plenty of informative extras.

 


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