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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection (1930-56)

"Ha ha ha HA ha!"
- Woody Woodpecker (multiple actors)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: July 25, 2007

Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for cartoon violence, racial stereotypes, alcohol and tobacco use
Run Time: 08h:55m:00s
Release Date: July 24, 2007
UPC: 025195000802
Genre: animation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BBB B

DVD Review

After some fallow years in terms of classic animation, the major studios have been cranking out some great packages; Universal throw in their two cents with the three-disc collection of Woody Woodpecker and His Friends Classic Cartoon Collection, gathering 75 Walter Lantz-produced shorts spanning the years 1930 (Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Hell's Heels) to 1956 (Chilly Willy in Room and Wrath). Woody gets the bulk of the spotlight as expected, with 45 shorts (of 198) presented here. Other Lantz favorites like Oswald and Chilly Willy get a handful of shorts, along with odds and ends material that include some Tex Avery-directed classics. Most of the Lantz shorts that were nominated for Academy Awards are here as well, along with some vintage Lantz-related bonus materials. The presentation is usually excellent, so this is really an easy purchase for classic animation fans.

Woody first popped up in an Andy Panda short (1940's Knock Knock, and he proved popular enough to spin off into his own series of shorts. I watched Woody, along with the other classic animation characters, constantly as a kid, but the cartoons have been out of circulation for years, so this was the first time I have seen many of these shorts since then. I was struck by how much the early Woody resembles Daffy Duck, down to Mel Blanc even providing his voice for Woody's first few appearances. If I have a criticism of the Woody Woodpecker character, it's that he isn't much of a character. He's just...generic cartoon wacky. Don't get me wrong, I generally enjoyed what I watched here, but to me Woody lacks the quality of the Warner greats like Bugs and Daffy.

Chilly Willy debuted in 1953's Chilly Wllly, but found his footing with the excellent Tex Avery short, I'm Cold, a year later. Chilly had even less of a personality than Woody, limited in part due to a lack of speech, but given a worthwhile foil like Smedley the dog (voiced wonderfully by Daws Butler), his shorts could be enjoyable. Andy Panda gets his share of five toons as well, including his first appearance, Life Begins for Andy Panda. Andy is pretty much as non-descript as Chilly, at least as seen in the toons presented here. He lasted until Lantz was forced to shut down his studio in 1949 and wasn't seen again.

Fans of the real old stuff will salivate over the inclusion of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts Oswald was a creation of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks before it was unceremoniously taken from them, and Lantz cut his directorial teeth on some of the subsequent Oswald pieces. The five Lantz-directed shorts included here feature the New Deal-oriented Confidence (complete with singing and walking FDR), and another with the ever-popular Hollywood caricatures, Merry Old Soul. The five released in this set are all that's readily available of the post-Disney/Iwerks shorts. (The Disney company got back the rights to the Disney-made Oswalds last year in a oddball deal revolving around sportscaster Al Michaels, and plan to bring those out later this year.)

As to the rest, it covers a wide range of material, featuring lesser known characters like Pooch the Pup through later Avery classics like Crazy Mixed Up Pup and the cruelly hilarious Sh-h-h-h-h-h. The final two are among the finest material in the set and I'm glad they hold up as well as I remember. Also on hand are shorts with some unfortunate racial elements, like Pigeon Patrol with its portrayal of a Japanese buzzard, and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company 'B' and Life Begins for Andy Panda, which include African American caricatures. Your level of personal tolerance will determine your own reaction to these; personally, I found them pretty tame compared to other stuff I've seen from the era. All in all, this is a real time capsule of a package, and it has something for most animation fans, and consequently gets a warm recommendation.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: I wasn't expecting to be blown away by these, and they look okay in general, with a decent level of grain and varying color, some shorts looking more worse for wear that others. None of them look terrible, though there did seem to be a slight bit of edge enhancement; it was not at a level I considered distracting.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Each short's original soundtrack is provided, and some sound better than others, varying for preservation reasons, I presume, as the first Chilly Willy short has noticeable hiss, for example. Overall though, these sound solid.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 75 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
2 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The extras are all vintage material mostly gathered from Lantz's Woody Woodpecker televison series; the first disc features a segment called Walter, Woody, and the World of Animation (13m:47s), in which Lantz and Woody cover how the character was conceived in a mix of live action and animation. Also on the first disc is a segment of the Going Places theatrical shorts series (10m:30s), in which we see the development of an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit toon. Disc 2 includes several short behind-the-scenes segments from the TV series (22m:33s), looking at different aspects of the production process. Disc 3 contains an entire episode of the television show, this one an episode that included the only short made especially for the show, Spook-a-Nanny. It gathers most of the classic Lantz characters for a Halloween-themed episode, but it is, in a word, horrible. It isn't funny at all, and even at six minutes, it's still torture to sit through.

The shorts are selectable via a "Play All" option or individual selections. My only complaint would be that you can't select just one of the three sections per disc as a play all option; if you want to watch all the Chilly Willy, you either have to step through all the preceding shorts to play all, or select each one from the menu. A minor thing, but there it is. The packaging is colorfully designed with full lists of contents for each disc and dates for each short.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

If you collect classic animation, then this set will likely have something you'll enjoy. Still, with a passel of classic Tex Avery and and several rare items, this is a bargain for the price. The discs are put together well and the shorts themselves look very solid for the most part. I can't say that Woody and company stand up to the Warners' stable, but there are plenty of laughs here.

 


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