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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Chuck Jones Collection
Chuck Jones Collection
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // November 6, 2007
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted November 17, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Shows:

Chuck Jones is most remembered as one of the fantastic directors who created many of the best Looney Toon cartoons.  He was responsible for the creation of the Road Runner and Coyote shorts, as well as Pepe Le Pew, and directed such masterpieces as What's Opera, Doc? (1957), Duck Amuck (1953), Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century (1953), and One Froggy Evening (1956).  (Those four cartoons are in the top five cartoons of all time according to The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals, a book by animation historian Jerry Beck.)  After Warners shut down their animation division, (according to Fritz Freleng, as recounted in Jones' autobiography, Chuck Amuck, this happened when Jack Warner discovered that they didn't make the Mickey Mouse cartoons) Chuck started his own animation studio.  In 1962 he started Chuck Jones Productions which specialized in making animated specials for television.  He ultimately wrote, directed, and produced nine half-hour prime time specials and Loinsgate has now released six of these on a single DVD.  These shows are all good, and a few of them reach the great level.  With a nice image and solid sound, this disc will please both young and old alike.

The first three films on this disc (chronologically speaking) were inspired by The Cricket in Times Square, a Newberry Award winning novel by George Selden.  The second trio are based on Kipling's Jungle Book stories.

The contents:

The Cricket in Times Square (1973) - When Chester Cricket (Les Tremayne) gets trapped in a picnic basket he finds that he's been transported from his home in Connecticut to New York City.  The insect soon makes friends with Tucker the Mouse (voiced by Mel Blanc) and Tucker's pal Harry the Cat (also Les Tremayne), and finds shelter in a newsstand in Times Square.  The stand is run by a struggling family, but their fortunes pick up thanks to Chester.  He can play any song he hears on the radio with his wings.  This soon brings people from near and far to hear his melodic wings.

This is an undeservedly overlooked show.  It is heart-warming and has a good message and it never becomes heavy handed or overbearing.  The show also has a lot of humor, especially Chester's love of eating, and will keep children interested and adults entertained.  A show that has sadly slipped under a lot of people's radar, it deserves more attention.

A Very Merry Cricket (1973) -  This Christmas special, while not as good as the first installment is a nice, entertaining adventure.  When Tucker and Harry get depressed by all of the commercialism of Christmas, they travel to Connecticut to find Chester.  Once reunited with their friend, they all travel back to the Big Apple so that the Cricket can play a holiday tune on his wings and remind everyone what the holiday is all about.

While this is a fun holiday special, it's not as subtle as it could be.  Hammering home the same sentiment that Jones put forth in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it isn't an elegant or endearing as the earlier classic.  Even so, kids will enjoy the show and adults should stick with it to see the ending which works very well.

Yankee Doodle Cricket (1975) -  The final installment of the 'cricket' series is the weakest of the lot, but still worth watching.  Tucker, Harry, and especially Chester are all back to let us know the 'real' story behind the American Revolution.  Set around 1776, this special reveals how the mouse, cat, and cricket were responsible for some of the famous events of the time, including Harry starting Paul Revere's historic ride and Chester composing Yankee Doodle.

While this wasn't a bad show, but it is the most dated of the three.  Some of the jokes, aimed at adults of the time, will pass over a lot of people's heads today.  A good example of this is when Thomas Jefferson is trying to compose the first lines of the Declaration of Independence, he starts with a lot of phrases that future presidents would use, all of which he discards.  One such phrase, "Let me make one thing perfectly clear" has Harry dismissively swatting at the discarded parchment.  While it was funny, how many people today will know that the phrase is attributable to Nixon?

It's easy to see how this was made too.  In 1975, everyone was excited about the upcoming bicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  From the daily Bicentennial Minutes (remember those?) to the Freedom Train criss-crossing the country, history was on everyone's mind and it must have been an easy to get a green light for this project.  Unfortunately Chuck Jones seems to be on autopilot with this show.

The White Seal (1975) - The first of three Kipling adaptations, this is the story of Kotec, a seal who is totally white.  Though he's separated from the other seals by his odd color, his life is quite normal at first.  His mother teaches him how to swim and to tell the difference between dolphins and sharks, and warns him to stay away from humans.  When a hunting party arrives in Kotec's area and start to kill his friends, he forgets his own safety and runs towards the hunters.  Thinking that Kotec is the ghost of all the seals they've killed the men run off.  Kotec knows that they'll be back however, and sets out to find a place where no man can find him.

This, as well as the other Kipling stories that Jones animated, are decidedly different in tone from his other efforts.  While the show never shows the seals being killed, the looks on their faces and the general reaction is pretty scary and intense.  Kotec's quest to find a place free of humans isn't just a lark either; it's a matter of life and death.

Even though it is different, this is a very good show.  With a dash of humor, such as when Kotec can't decide if the large sea animal he's encountered is a shark or dolphin, only to discover it's a whale, the show tells the story wonderfully and will have children and adults engrossed.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (1975) -  Easily best program on this disc, this is classic alone is worth the price of the DVD.  Set in India, this tells the story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a young mongoose that is washed into the garden of an English family after a monsoon.  The mortal enemy of snakes, the mongoose protects the family from reptiles.  There hasn't been a mongoose in this particular garden for a while however, and Rikki soon discovers that there is a pair of cobras living there, and the eggs the female laid are about ready to hatch.  The cobras reason that if the family is gone, the mongoose will leave and set out to kill the humans.  It's one young mongoose against a pair of cunning snakes that can strike as quick as lightning.

This story is just excellent all around.  Chuck Jones and his team perfectly capture the tone of Kipling's story and translate it to the small screen with style.  The animation is very good, and the narration by Orson Welles is perfect.  His deep voice brings a lot of suspense to the piece and his depiction of Nag, the cobra, is creepy.  The animation is great too.  The way that Jones makes Rikki move, a fast zip from one area to another, either full speed or stopped, creates a feeling of speed and power that belies the little guy's size.  Both fun and tension-filled, this is a classic piece of animation that is just as impressive today as when it first aired decades ago.

Mowgli's Brothers (1977) - This final show is basically the same story as Disney's Jungle Book, except this version sticks much closer to Kipling's original story.  When an infant human is discovered by a pair of wolves, they decide to raise him as their own.  The young boy, named Mowgli, grows up in the wolf pack, learning their ways.  When the leader of the pack, Akeelah, grows old, the tiger Shere Kahn invades the wolves' territory.

Although a decade had passed since Disney animated this story, it still was a gutsy move for Jones to compete with big D head-to-head.  This adaptation is very good too, superior to the Disney version in a lot of ways.  This TV special keeps close to the Kipling story even using his dialog through most of the film.  They did make a couple of changes but not nearly to the extent that Disney did.  Even if you're a fan of the earlier movie, as this reviewer is, you'll find Jones take on Mowgli and his pack very enjoyable. >

The DVD:


Audio:

This disc comes with a mono soundtrack which is the way these shows were originally broadcast.  All of the shows sound good, with no trace of hiss or background noise.  The range is a little limited and the songs don't have the punch that they should.  This is understandable for TV shows from the 70's, and isn't a fatal flaw.

Video:

The full frame image looks great.  The lines are tight and the detail and contrast are very good.  The colors are even and strong.  The prints that were used are great, with little in the way of print damage.  Digitally only some very minor aliasing mars an otherwise fine picture.

Extras:

This disc also included a nice featurette:  Heart and Soul:  The Timeless Art of Chuck Jones.  This 15-minute biography interviews his wife and animators and they talk about the influential animation director while focusing on the works included on this disc.  A nice look at the man who made so many classic cartoons.

Final Thoughts:

In a lot of ways, the Kipling shows that are included on this disc are some of Chuck Jones best work.  He was in control of the production from start to finish and had a love for the source material.  All three of them are excellent, and those alone make this a disc worth picking up.  Added to that are the three Cricket shows, which, while not quite as good as the Jungle Book specials, are well worth watching.  This is a great set of cartoons that will charm young and old alike.  Highly Recommended.

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