Thursday, June 07, 2007

dvd review: tex avery's droopy

Animation fans rejoiced when it was announced that one of Tex Avery's classic creations was finally going to receive his due on DVD. It is turning out to be a banner year for animation fans with lots of classic animation DVDs headed our way. The question is: Is this the Droopy set you've been waiting for? Is worth a spot on your DVD shelf? Is it a Shelf classic? Find out in our review of the two disc DVD set, Tex Avery's Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection.

The hard facts:
Tex Avery's Droopy The Complete Theatrical Collection
Two Discs of 24 Shorts
Studio: Warner Home Video
Color (Techincolor) / Animation
Release Date: May 15, 2007
Not Rated
Original Production: MGM
Director: Tex Avery,Dick Lundy & Michael Lah
Stars: Bill Thompson

By 1941, animator and director Fred "Tex" Avery, had been working for Warner Brother's Animation Studio under Leon Schlesinger for almost 6 years. He had been a linchpin at the studio, along with Frank Tashlin, Chuck Jones, and Bob Camplett. He was partly responsible for the fast paced style that focused on gags, visual humor and devious wordplay that stood in contrast to the style of the current king of Hollywood animation, Walt Disney. Tex helped to establish and flesh out the characters that many of us have come to love: Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck just to name a few. It was a Bugs Bunny cartoon that Avery was working on in 1941, The Heckling Hare, that led to Tex leaving Warner Brothers.
Tex has originally put in a gag at the ending of the short that Schlesinger objected to as being too over the top. According to Michael Barrier commentary on the short (found on the DVD collection: Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Vol. II, Bugs and the Dog that was chasing were to fall off of a cliff three times, and on the third time Bugs turned to the camera and said,"Hold on to your hats, folks, here we go again!" a reference to some sexual humor that had been heard on the radio. After an argument between Avery and his boss, Schlesinger had the cartoon edited to completely erase the gag and end the cartoon abruptly. Avery was furious when he discovered Schlesinger's machinations and quit the studio altogether.
In 1942, Avery had began work at MGM animation studios. It was there that his over the top visual style, ignore the rules humor, and perfect quick pace timing came to it's full fruition. Avery not only had a studio willing to let him loose, he was also working for perhaps one of the more wealthier studios of the day. That translated into better budgets for shorts that created a more lavish look on screen. It was at MGM that Avery would bring his talents to bear, creating some of his bets work. We created several characters, but perhaps his best was a little hound dog with a sad sack face and voice to match named Droopy.

The Shorts:
Droopy's debut was the 1943 short, Dumb Hounded. He was a slow poke police hound that was able to be everywhere at once. His quarry was a Wolf that would become his erstwhile adversary over many other shorts. Always the little guy, Droopy turned the situation on it's ear. He hardly ever seemed to loose his confidence or even stir himself to great concern. He was the little guy who could get out of any situation, foil an attempt, run faster, and pop up out of nowhere, despite the best efforts of his nemesis. And he usually got the girl too.
In fact, in the first short, the Wolf asks the very question that audience members must have been wondering themselves: "How can you be in so many places at once?" Droopy's answer, which pretty much summed up Avery's attitude towards animation logic: "Now, let's not get nosy, bub." In another short, Avery also offers up another funny insight as message to audiences, when one of his characters states the obvious, "You can do anything you want in a cartoon." Avery's style was more concerned with timing and character and incredibly over the to visuals. Anyone that had a problem with that just need to remember exactly what is they are watching.
Avery would also introduce another famous creation in a one-off short, Red Hot Riding Hood, a sexy red head who never really had a name. She would also make several appearances in Droopy shorts, setting up not only another reason for a rivalry between Droopy and the Wolf, but also made for some very funny sight gags. Later on in the series, Droopy would gain another opponent in the form of the dog Spike (or sometimes Butch). Usually Spike was at odds with an unsuspecting Droopy over money or any kind of prize, whether it was a trip to Washington DC or a kiss from the Queen of Sports.

The twenty four shorts included on this set are:
Disc One-
The Shooting of Dan McGoo
Wild and Woolfy
Northwest Hounded Police
Señor Droopy
Wags to Riches
The Chump Champ
Daredevil Droopy
Droopy's Good Deed
Droopy's Double Trouble
Caballero Droopy

Disc Two-
The Three Little Pups
Drag-A-Long Droopy
Homesteader Droopy
Dixieland Droopy
Millionaire Droopy
Grin and Share It
Blackboard Jumble
One Droopy Knight
Sheep Wrecked
Mutts About Racing
Droopy Leprechaun

Beyond several trailers for some upcoming DVD collections, Tex Avery's Droopy features two extras on disc two: Droopy and Friends: A Laugh Back and Doggone Gags. The later is essentially a gag reel of some of the funnier visual gags that are scattered throughout the shorts. It's almost a throw away feature, for the real treat comes in watching the gags in the full context of the shorts. Something else could have been added in place of the gag reel, or it just should've been dropped altogether. Otherwise it's a bonus novelty.

On the other hand, Droopy and Friends: A Laugh Back is a worthwhile documentary clocking in at 18 minutes. It's a nice retrospective of Avery and his famous creation. It features interviews and comments by several animators and an Avery biographer. It's a nice feature, but it really leaves you wanting more. There have been other documentaries and features on Tex Avery over the years that I've seen. Hopefully if any of his other MGM work is collected (and some of my favorite Avery shorts would fall in the one-shot category) we'll see some of those features there.

Here's where things get interesting. On the first disc of shorts, there were several times where there was dirt and scratching present. The second disc was fairly clean. In fact the color on disc two is fantastic and bright. As many of you know, I'm not a tech hound, but I do look for remastering, aspects, etc. There could have been some more time spent on cleaning up the shorts on disc one, but if it would have prevented the release of the set because of expense, I'd rather have the set. Just be aware that not all of the features have been remastered, but that may be an issue with extant prints.
On the audio side the sound is excellent. Bill Thompson was the voice actor who gave life to Droopy. A versatile radio actor for many years (most notably on the Fibber McGee and Molly Show), Thompson brought his sad sack, old man style voice to the character and it matched perfectly with the visual. It' s no surprise, as Thompson's radio characterizations, particularly his character on Fibber, Wallace Wimple, served as inspiration for Avery in creating Droopy. Thompson also brought Wimple's greeting, "Hello, folks" to Droopy as well. Thompson also went on voice other characters (including Spike in the Droopy shorts) at MGM and Disney. You might remember him as the rotund forest ranger, J. Audobon Woodlore, in several Donald Duck and Humphrey Bear shorts for Disney.

What's missing/added?

Fortunately, the shorts are presented as uncut. I've viewed an older video tape of some of the more controversial shorts and I've seen several of the "cut" shorts on television. As far as I can independently determine, the suspect gags are still intact. Warners puts a written "disclaimer" of sorts that reminds the viewer that the DVD set is intended for the Adult collector, and that any of the controversial material does not reflect the current attitude of WHV or WB Studios. The written title card is at the very beginning and once you get past it, you won't see it again until you take the DVD out and put it in again. All in all, I prefer that they handle it this way, rather than censoring the shorts or by placing a disclaimer (or heaven forbid, an actor's spoken introduction) before the viewing of each short.

The Bottom Line:
Tex Avery's Droopy is highly recommended. For many years I've clamored that it was a travesty that Avery's shorts were available in nice DVD collections in Europe, while none were available here. This is an excellent start in the right direction, albeit an imperfect one. Any real problems I have with the set are very minor, but I felt the did need to be mentioned.
Otherwise, the timelessness of Avery's work is evident. I think my kids have watched the set more than I have, and that's a stretch for this Droopy fan. This DVD set is assuredly a Shelf classic and deserves to be on the shelf of any animation or comedy fan.

Review Rating:
Reviews are really arbitrary, so we try to think of in terms of : Shelf Classic, Must Have, Rent, Borrow, and Don't Bother, which I suppose we could assign as stars or something? So how about:
Four and Half Glasses?

In other words, Tex Avery's Droopy is a Shelf Classic.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Hello, all you happy people


filmfanman said...

Droopy is one of my favorites. Hopefully this means we'll see a Screwball Squirrel/Misc. cartoon collection soon?
Picking up my copy this weekend- but I sure wish it had more extras. PBS did a documentary on animators and on Tex Avery in the 80s I think. I saw it in reruns in the 90s. Hopefully they could find it for the next set.

ed said...

Love Droopy, but I saw the trailers on my set which I just got from amazon, and I am really excited about the Popeye set coming out. Do you know when?

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