Chuck Jones takes on Rudyard Kipling's jungle…and sidetracks for crickets…in DVD releases of some of his lesser known cartoons, starting with The White Seal/A Cricket in Times Square.
Going way back into the 1970s vaults, this series of DVD releases each include one Chuck Jones adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling story, as well as a "bonus" feature starring a cricket who basically plays his wings like a violin.
Let's start with The White Seal, shall we? In a very Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer moment, a white seal is born into a brown seal family, and his father immediately rejects his odd color. But that doesn't stop the white seal from going on an adventure to find an island somewhere that may be a safe haven for seals. Aside from the scary sharks that are constantly a threat, there's a much bigger one—man. This quick adventure tale about a cute little white seal makes it very clear that men are evil and torture poor little seals. I remember this movie from when I was a child, and while it's mostly fluff, the scene in which the humans come to harvest seals for fur was so disturbing to my young mind that it pretty much made me loath humans. I wish everyone could see a cartoon like this when they are young. This tale is narrated by Roddy McDowall. As I said, it's cute, but the only reason it's really memorable to me is because it left an impression when I was young. So I imagine it's still a good film to show to children if you want them to grow up with any sort of compassion. The show is less than a half hour.
Chuck Jones also created this rather simple blue cricket character for the next 25 minute cartoon. Chester C. Cricket accidentally gets mixed into a picnic basket, and before he knows it, he's left his natural habitat in Connecticut behind, and is lost in New York City. But the boy of the picnicking family finds him and wants to keep him as a pet. Chester makes two friends, Tucker the Mouse and Harry the cat, who discover his incredible ability to play soothing music using his wings. So, when the newsstand of the family who found Chester burns down, they believe the cricket is bad luck and plan to get rid of him. It's up to Tucker and Harry to come up with a plan to keep Chester the Cricket in New York. Now, although this story is about the cricket, the real stars are the cat and mouse team, mostly the mouse. They are close to being up their with unforgettable Chuck Jones characters, but overall, this short cartoon, which turned into a series of episodes about the cricket, cat and mouse, is not one of his best attempts at a longer cartoon feature. In fact, some of the sequels were more up to par with Chuck Jones humor.
In true Chuck Jones fashion, both cartoons have that trademark animation, where the characters are vivid and detailed, but all the backgrounds are flat and undefined. For some reason, it works in Bugs Bunny cartoons, but it comes across as dark and dreary in these films, particularly the cricket movie. Also, the score is SO dated at this point, and was clearly composed and arranged in the 1970s. As I said, there are other episodes of both cartoons, once again, lumped together, and a few of them are more enjoyable than these. See my other reviews, because I've covered them also. The real downside to these discs is that they should have just put all the cricket stories on a disc of its own, and do the same with all the Rudyard Kipling stories, but naturally, it's always an issue of making a quick buck with these companies.
Well, not much effort was made in transferring this series. The menus look detailed, but aren't very entertaining for children, and the sound quality of the music during menus is loud and strong. However, when watching the show, it's a totally different story. The features are in the original full frame aspect ratio. The image is somewhat grainy, and specs, dust and hairlines abound throughout. Color is slightly washed out, but not so bad. There are also some blurry moments. And there are commercial fades in a few spots throughout the two cartoons.
This is pure mono. While the sound is clear, it's rather hollow sounding, and needs to be cranked way up.
Aside from 8 chapter breaks for each cartoon, the only other "extra" is previews for various other cartoons. They begin right up when you start the disc…but can't be selected from the menu!
The White Seal/A Cricket in Times Square are two Chuck Jones cartoons that may entertain the children for a short time, but I don't think they're going to go into heavy rotation. If anything, they're probably both more targeted to older "kids" for reasons of nostalgia, as well as Chuck Jones fanatics who must have everything he's ever touched.