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Warner Home Video presents
Tex Avery's Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection (1943-1958)

"The animated shorts you are about to see are a product of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic, sexist and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following shorts do not represent the Warner Bros. view of today's society, these animated shorts are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed."
- disclaimer

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 27, 2007

Stars: Bill Thompson
Director: Tex Avery, Michael Lah, Dick Lundy

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (occasional non-PC humor)
Run Time: 03h:20m:00s
Release Date: May 15, 2007
UPC: 012569793231
Genre: animation


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

DVD Review

This set may be known as Tex Avery's Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection, but the reality is that Avery—the originator of a unique exaggerated animation style where characters' reaction shots would feature eyes literally popping out of their heads or jaws dropping completely to the floor (see a live action homage in The Mask)—only helmed 17 of the 24 shorts on this two-disc set.

Sure, the character is his creation, but this isn't exactly the full-blooded Avery-only collection it might look like at first glance. In addition to Avery, there's a solitary short directed by one-time Disney animator Dick Lundy (Caballero Droopy) from 1952—though he's mentioned nowhere on the packaging—and six Michael Lah Cinemascope entries from the mid-to-late 1950s. Understandably this is more of a overall Droopy collection than a pure Avery set, so once you're clear on that it becomes easier to adjust to the gradual shift in tone.

By nature, Droopy is the antithesis to Avery's other 1940s marquee MGM star Screwy Squirrel, who is so manic he eventually made Daffy Duck look positively sedated by comparison. Droopy, on the surface, is the personality opposite of Screwy Squirrel; he is a tiny, slightly pudgy, slow-moving, slow-talking basset hound—voiced by Bill Thompson—who is typically at accidental odds with either the lanky, lecherous Wolf (probably one of Avery's finest creations) or thick-headed Spike the bulldog. Avery's fast-paced hellzapoppin' approach to animated comedy is so distinct that even if you're not an animation buff it should be possible to immediately recognize his signature, and as a sad indication of my childhood geekiness his name was the first animation director I became aware of at a young age, and while other kids were getting excited about a character, I was already jonesing knowing it was Avery.

The last block of seven shorts on this set are directed by former Avery animator Michael Lah, and after Tex left MGM in the early 1950s it was left up to Lah to take over popular product such as Droopy. These Cinemascope shorts (presented here in anamorphic widescreen) dramatically pale by comparison to Avery's work in terms of physical comedy and more importantly represent a pronounced shift in the way the characters were drawn; anyone who can remember the miscues as a result of the broad stylistic changes made to mainstream creations like Tom and Jerry (see the dreadful pie-eyed Chuck Jones era of the early 1960s), then the evolution of Droopy in this set will be just as obvious and regrettable. Lah's softening and rounding of Droopy (both visually and storywise) may have not been his doing entirely, but in the end it is his name that takes the heat.

But enough about my issues with the differences in animation directors, because there are still 24 shorts to sift through here. With the bulk of them directed by Avery, the majority does rule when it comes to an array of zany visuals gags. The Chump Champ (1950) and Daredevil Droopy (1951) are a couple of real gems, both featuring a continually elevating series of competitions between Droopy and Spike, with one featuring athletic feats and the other a circus locale. The level of physical comedy hits an absurd peak here, with Avery working fast and loose with the laws of physics to create some wonderfully clever back-and-forth duels. Droopy's debut in Dumb-Hounded (1943), walking on all fours and seeming much too dog-like, is notable for the grand over-the-top double takes by Wolf's escaped prisoner character, which is visited again thematically in Northwest Hounded Police (1946), only with a much more upright Droopy.

There's a disclaimer at the start of each disc that mentions the presence of "ethnic, sexist and racial prejudices", and historically it is important to remember that these shorts were originally made for movie-going adults. They are presented here unedited—terrific news on all fronts—and understandably some of gags may be questionable in terms of today's political correctness. Droopy's Good Deed (1951)—in which Droopy and Spike battle it out for a Boy Scout badge—features a wealthy old white man (picture a tall, skinny Mr. Moneybags from Monopoly) who becomes a rather startling caricature of an old black man, complete with Stepin Fetchit dialogue, after the requisite dynamite explosion. Ditto for Avery's voluptuous female siren Red (she's the one who understandably makes Wolf's eyeballs and tongue explode out of his skull), a sultry, curvy sexpot who predated Jessica Rabbit by nearly five decades. Red's busty shape and sleepy bedroom eyes seem a tad too human and sexual in the context of talking dogs, which when compounded with the potential bestiality angle becomes very, very odd indeed.

This collection may not be entirely kid stuff, but the funny is still funny, and most of that is due to Tex Avery.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicnoyes


Image Transfer Review: Seven of the shorts in this set have been issued enhanced for 16x9 sets, which is fitting considering they were Cinemascope releases. Only one of these, however, is technically an Avery title (Millionaire Droopy), if in name only. The other six are from the kinder, gentler Michael Lah era, all issued in anamorphic widescreen and adorned with a fairly bright color palette. These widescreen shorts are the best looking of the lot here, even with some age-related softness and flicker.

The older 4:3 shorts show their age, with extensive grain, more pronounced flicker and minor print damage in spots, but then again we're talking animation that is now over 60 years old. It's just unfortunate a more substantial restoration process hadn't taken place.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: All 24 shorts are presented in Dolby Digital mono, and while there is nothing especially noteworthy about the delivery, the presentation is suitable. Some of the earlier shorts do come across a little thin-sounding, and there is some periodic hiss to contend with as well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, Classic Cartoons From The Vaults, Popeye The Sailor 1933-1938: Vol. 1
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Packaging for this set is nice, with a slim Digipack case housed inside of a side-opened slipcover. Open up the case itself, remove the two discs and the inside artwork reveals a cheesecake shot of Red, Avery's saucy female creation.

The extras themselves are not terribly extensive, and both appear on Disc 2. Droopy and Friends: A Laugh Back (18m:19s) is a concise Avery history lesson, informative overall but really too brief to do the subject justice. There's also Doggone Gags (05m:04s), which is nothing more than a collection of what a blurb refers to as "grrrrreatly funny moments from the Droopy series", though I just call it filler.

Each disc contains twelve shorts, with each one a chapter each.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

There hasn't been any major restoration work done on these shorts—which is a real shame—but fans of Tex Avery will no doubt still enjoy 18 out of the 24 gathered here. The later Michael Lah-directed shorts just don't have the same manic magic, and there was also a major shift and softening of the animation style.

The early Avery stuff here is just outstanding, even with some troublesome image quality issues.

Recommended.

 


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