DVD Review by Andrea Ippoliti
After the success of the first Woody Woodpecker and Friends Collection volume it was no wonder that Universal has decided to release a follow-up set. Starting on April 15, 2008 you can find it in stores, for less than 30 dollars, this 3-disc boxed set with 75 Lantz cartoons and a plethora of bonus goodies. About picture quality, I'll only say that DVNR is way less annoying than in the previous set. As for the rest, you'll be the judges.
Volume 2 continues the Woodpecker's legacy starting from where the first set had stopped, in 1952, from the classic "Termites from Mars" right to the end of 1958 with "Jittery Jester", entertaining us with 45 different woodpecker's entries. Woody's cartoons remained great and funny at least till mid-1956, then Paul Smith's reign of unfun and incompetence began (pretty strangely though, because some of his previous efforts, like "Bunco Busters" or "Get Lost" are indeed among Lantz' best 50s efforts).
Many fans might not be thrilled by the inclusion of all these 50s cartoons but, yes, while it is implicit that these have not the impact of the Woodys of the 40s, lack the beautiful backgrounds and animation as well as the innovative cuts by Culhane and the experience of Lundy, they happen to be anyway good, in some cases even great, cartoons. All of Don Patterson's shorts are in fact interesting entries. The director (that, apparently with no reason, was later put back at his initial job as an animator) shows a nice approach with the character of Woody, his cartoons have great timing and clever gags. "Termites from Mars" is probably his most celebrated work, but "Convict Concerto" (another excellent use of Listz's "Second Hungarian Rhapsody" in a classic cartoon) and "Under the Counter Spy" (a spoof of "Dragnet" already included in the "Spook-A-Nanny" special in the first set) are of the same, excellent, level. As we said before, the first Smith's cartoons do not show his limits as a director but are, at the opposite, entertaining shorts. "Hot Noon" features our Woody playing the hero to conquer the attention of a sexy senorita while "Bunco Busters" is among Woody's best entries ever.
One reason to buy this set is also the fact that many of these 50s cartoons are otherwise available only as the versions used for the "Woody Woodpecker Show", aimed at children, where Grace Stafford added her vocal characterization of Woody to read virtually everything, from signs to cards. So this is the first time the shorts are officially presented as they were seen in theaters at the time of the initial release, where it was assumed that the audience was, gee, at least able to read signs.
Other 50s cartoons included in the set are "Dig that Dog", an excellent effort by Ray Patterson and Grant Simmons, made outside of the Lantz Studio, which was one of Lantz's favorites; "Salmon Yeggs" (first "Windy and Breezy" cartoon, also introducing a proto-version of Inspector Willoughby, who will have his own series later); "Maw and Paw" (the first short starring these two characters, based on the Ma & Pa Kettle movies, starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride, at the time a hit for Universal); " A Horse's Tale" (the first cartoon featuring Sugarfoot the horse. If you have seen Bob Clampett's last theatrical cartoon, "It's A Grand Old Nag", featuring the antics of an equine star, you'll notice the many similarities) and "The Ostrich Egg and I" (with the studio trying to make popular characters out of Maggie and Sam, the wife and husband seen in Avery's excellent "Crazy Mixed-Up Pup", already included in the first set).
Yes, there's space for other 50s (and even 60s) entries, with the best Chily Willy cartoons ever made. Those are classic "Hold That Rock" (marvellously timed and, in fact, originally stoyboarded by Tex Avery), "Operation Cold Feet" (with a crazy polar bear that keeps reappearing troughout the whole picture asking Smedley if he has seen his son. There must have been some preliminary work of Tex Avery in this entry as well, because this running gag is not much different from the ones Tex used in his early WB spot-gags pictures), "Clash and Carry" (in which Wally returns on the screen after years), "Deep-Freeze Squeeze" and the fans' favorite "Half-Baked Alaska" ("More butter?" "More syrup?").
These post-1949 (the year in which The Lantz Studio closed and so remained for a year) efforts must not be underrated and, as pointed out, many classic and good entries are among them, but the coolest part of the set are obviously the 30s and 40s shorts. Here we have 5 Oswald cartoons, including the lively "Five and Dime", technicolor 'cultoon' "Springtime Serenade" (one of the rarest Lantz cartoons to see, looking very much like the Merrie Melodies of the same period) and surreal "Puppet Show" (part animation and part live action, in which puppets can't stand to be controlled by the one- Oswald- who pulls the strings anymore). Another b/w cartoon is also presented, in the form of Pooch the Pup's risqu entry "She Done Him Right", featuring a sort of canine version of Mae West.
The set also includes 3 of the best and most rarely seen Swing Symphonies: "The Hams That Couldn't be Cured" (a masterpiece, hard to find unedited), "Boogie Woogie Man" (Culhane's debut at Lantz', in which he already shows his directorial abilities) and "Juke Box Jamboree" (a delightful Disney-like cartoon). There are also two "Musical Miniatures" by Dick Lundy, featuring marvellous animation, "Overture to William Tell" (with Wally Walrus conducting!) and "Pixie Picnic".
But that's not all. The set gives the deserved space to Andy Panda as well. He appears in some of his best shorts ever: "100 Pygmies and Andy Panda", musical masterpiece "The Poet and the Peasant" (by Dick Lundy, his first, showing the same cut tricks previously developed by Culhane), nice "Dog Tax Dodgers" (with Andy against dogcatcher Wally Walrus) and hilarious "Mousie Come Home". Ah, yes, Andy's "evil brother" (actually a strangely designed version of Andy) appears in "The Painter and the Pointer" too.
And we also have other rare 30s cartoons, like the very rare "Fair Today", "A Haunting We Will Go" (featuring unPC Li'l Eightball and the same ghosts that appeared in Disney's "Lonesome Ghosts"... plus a kid one. No wonder, being the director of both shorts the same: Burt Gillett) and two early Cartunes, "Jolly Little Elves" (also the first color-technically two-color Technicolor- short made at Lantz) and "Candyland", inspired by the works made at the same time at Disney for the Silly Symphonies. These two are among the best restorations in the set.
We have not finished yet!! Included are also many juicy bonus goodies, like an entire episode of the "Woody Woodpecker Show", many "Behind the scenes" segments with Walter Lantz and two rare TV pilot episodes, "The Secret Weapon" and "Jungle Medics".
There's still more Lantz material that deserves proper DVD release (several Andy Panda shorts-including cartoons like "Mouse Trappers" or "Crazy House, that collectors never managed to find uncut and in good condition), the remaining Swing Symphonies (classics among them!), lots of 50s and 60s entries with Woody and virtually unknown stars like Doc, Pepito Chickeeto or Fatso the Bear, some nice Chilly Willy shorts ("Little Televillain" or "Yukon have It") and, of course, b/w Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartons. A third and other subsequent releases depends on the sales of this set.
Is there then any need to tell you what to do? Follow Dr. Stork's advice and buy the set!