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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Complete Weird Cartoons
Complete Weird Cartoons
Shout Factory // Unrated // January 20, 2004
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted January 4, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
Johnny Legend is probably best known for his entertaining compilations of exploitation and sleaze movie trailers and clips (Sleazmania, Teenage Confidential and others.)  This time he has collected a series of public domain cartoons you won't find any place else and released them under the title Johnny Legend Presents The Complete Weird Cartoons.   The 'complete' in the title apparently refers to the fact that both volumes that were previously released on VHS are included in this DVD.

The eighteen cartoons on this DVD are all in the public domain, and the quality varies greatly.  Unfortunately, even the best looking shows on this disc are in pretty rough shape.  Every cartoon has dirt and print damage present.  There are frames missing here and there, and you can easily tell that the prints are old and worn.  The audio quality is just as bad.  There is hiss and noise present in all of the sound tracks to a varying degree.  I'll include other comments on the audio and video quality under the individual cartoons.  I've provided dates for the cartoons where I could determine them, There are none given on the disc.

Alice's Egg Plant (1925):  This show is an early Disney short.  Having gone bankrupt in Kansas City where he started, Walt Disney moved to Hollywood and, eventually, managed to get a contract for a series of shorts.  The series he sold involved a young girl, Alice, in interacting with an animated world.  The opposite of Max Fleischer's successful Out of the Inkwell cartoons, in which the animated Koko cavorted in the real world.  Walt's Alice Comedies were also successful, and he made a total of 56 of them between 1925 and 1927.

In this cartoon, Alice is running an egg farm and gets an order for 5000 eggs.  Unfortunately, a hen from Russia infiltrates the chicken coop and convinces the other hens to strike, leaving Alice in a bind.  Alice has to tirck the hens to get laying again.  What make this such an interesting cartoon is the politics.  Today people don't think of cartoons carring a political message, much less propaganda to beware of the red menace, like this one.

A good show to start the disc off with, it looks better than average program on this DVD.  The contrast is decent for a film this old.  It's evident that they took this from two different prints, because they spliced it incorrectly and the same short scene plays twice.  As for the audio, this is a silent cartoon, and the audio track consists of music from the period playing while the film runs.  The music is not scene specific, and there are no sound effects present.  I was disappointed that they could not find any public domain music that sounded better than what is presented here.  There is a lot of hiss and noise, especially evident during the quiet parts of the song.

Frogland (1922):  This film by Ladislaw Starewicz is a jewel.  Starewicz was a Russian of Polish origin who relocated to Paris where he turned stop motion animation into an art form.  This early experiment in stop motion is wonderful to watch.  It is very rich and detailed, with elaborate sets.  Another political cartoon, this involves a group of frogs who have too much time on their hands.  They complain and grumble, and eventually decide that democracy is the source of their displeasure.  So they pray to Jupiter to send them a king to rule them.  He does, but it's not what the frogs are expecting.  Easily the best film on the disc.

While the content is good, the video is horrible.  This beautiful film is marred by having very little contrast.  Many of the details are lost, which is a shame for such a rich production.  The film is watchable, but just barely.  The sound track, like the previous Alice short, is a record of 1920's music that has a lot of hiss and noise.  This short deserves better.

Alice the Toreador (1925):  Another Alice short from Walt Disney.  In this one Alice sees a notice for a bull fighting competition, with a first prize of $10,000.  The rules state that you have to bring your own bull, so Alice finds the oldest, weakest bull she and find and enters.  Unfortunately, someone switches bulls on her.   The queer thing about this contest is that the toreador's do not use swords, they have to fight the bulls with their fists!

The video to this short is worse than the first Alice cartoon.  There is more dirt and film imperfections, and less contrast.  The details on Alice's face are nonexistent.  You can only make out the most prominent features.  A poor presentation of a good short.

Hold Anything (1930):  An early Bosko short animated by Fritz Freleng (credited as Isadore Freleng.)  In this short Bosko and a plethora of other creatures are erecting a building, but not a lot of work gets done.  The gags in this cartoon are mostly musical in nature, with Bosko playing the ropes on a block and tackle like a harp, or the keys on a typewriter like a piano.  No real plot, just a series of songs.  One thing to note in this short are the mice working at the site.  They look very similar to Mickey.

This is the first sound cartoon presented on the disc.  Unfortunately, there is still a lot of hiss and noise in the sound track.  About average video quality (for this disc.)

Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions (1932):  Betty puts on a trade show for weird inventions.  A spot remover that gets rid of the spot, and the cloth it's attached to.  A windshield wiper for your shirt to remove drips while eating soup and other wacky devices.  Betty sings a song, as usual.

The video on this was a little dark, and there was the print damage that is present on all the shorts on this DVD, but other than that, it wasn't too bad.

Inki and the Minah Bird (1943):  A great Looney Tunes/Chuck Jones cartoon that you won't see on television.  Inki, the young African native, gets in trouble with a lion while  hunting a Minah bird.  There were four or five Inki cartoons made at Warners, and most of them featured the unflappable Minah bird with his unique, slow walk.  These show aren't broadcast any more due to the negative stereotypes of young Inki. He has big lips and pitch black skin with curly black hair.  Aside from the racial aspects, this is an entertaining cartoon, probably the funniest on the disc.  Since Chuck Jones directed it that shouldn't come as a surprise.

This is the first color cartoon on the disc, and it is looking old.  The color has faded a lot, and everything is a little indistinct, as though you are watching it through a fine gauze.  The audio is better than average, but you can tell that the sound track was taken from an older print.  It's a shame, since I'm sure that better prints of short are around.

Betty Boop in Crazy Town (1932):  Another Boop short.  Though there isn't a plot, just a series of sight gags, it's still mildly entertaining.  Betty takes a ride through Crazy Town where everything is reversed.  You go to the barber bald and he "cuts" your hair on.  Mice roar, cats bark and fish fly.

The audio on this cartoon was surprisingly good after sitting through the previous shows.  There was much less hiss and it was noticeably more clear.  The video was about average.

Little Black Sambo (1935):  This cartoon, which has attained some degree of notoriety because of its racist overtones, was created by Ub Iwerks, an early partner of Walt Disney.   Many of the jokes involve stereotyping blacks and will offend a lot of people.  After scrubbing him on a wash board and patting him with black baby powered, Sambo's mother tells him to go out and play, but to beware of the tiger.  "That tiger, she do like black meat." his mother warns.  Well, the tiger does chase Sambo, and Sambo tries to outwit the vicious animal.  The cartoon has almost no relation to the book.  Mainly sight gags.

The animation on this short was very good.  Too bad I can't say the same about the picture quality.  The colors were faded and the images were slightly blurry.  There were vertical scratches throughout the entire cartoon.  The audio had a lot of hiss and was slightly muffled.  Not a good presentation of this cartoon.

In a Cartoon Studio (1931):  Mistakenly labeled on the DVD menu as "Jungle Jinks" (that's the series name, not the cartoon title) this is a unique cartoon where a characters take a tour of an animated animation studio.   There are a lot of gags about the process of animation.  One animator has a live model.  He draw her, she moves slightly, and he draws her again.  There is a pencil sharpener that runs around and looks like Mickey Mouse.  At the end of the short, the cartoon that has been completed, (which consists of animated stick figures,) is screened for a wildly appreciative audience.  An amusing parody.

There is a lot of hiss in this show also, and the video lacks contrast.

It's a Bird (1930):  Another great stop animation piece.  This time the animation is very effectively paired with live action sequences.  A man goes off hunting for a metal eating bird in dark Africa.  He finds one, and with the help of a worm manages to capture it.  This wildly creative film is fun and enjoyable.  The scene where an egg hatches out of an egg is truly astounding.  Unfortunately this seems to be a cut version.  Though I couldn't find a running time for the original, there are plot points missing from the narrative.

Happily, the video on this short is much better than average for this DVD.  The details are present, and the contrast is pretty good.

Intermission:  Four intermission shorts, adds for the snack bar and special showing ads.  These are short, lasting 3 minutes for all four, but look and sound very good.

The Non Stop Fright (1927):  A Felix the Cat cartoon where the amazing cat makes a plane out of a barrel and some boards to fly to Timbuktu in order to win $50,000.  This is an entertaining, if standard Felix cartoon. He uses the items around him in unusual ways, moving a hole in the ground and grabbing a lightning bolt out of the sky to use as a sword.  Fun stuff.

This silent cartoon has a sound effect filled sound track.  Obviously done later, it sound pretty good.  Though the video is a little dark and indistinct, it's an improvement over most of the entries on this DVD.
 
Scrap Happy Daffy (1943):  A WWII propaganda film. Daffy is collecting scrap to help with the war effort.  When Hitler finds out how much metal Daffy's collected, he sends a U-Boat out to destroy the scrap heap!  An amusing cartoon.

The video on this one is fairly clear, but there is a lot color bleeding from Daffy's body to the surrounding area.  The image is misframed too, which cuts off the subtitled translation of Hitler's rantings.

Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat (1941):  Easily the most racist cartoon in this collection, rumor has it that Walter Lantz (creator of Woody Woodpecker) actually meant this to be a celebration of black culture.  I'm not sure I believe that, given that it takes place in the all black "Lazy Town" where the inhabitants are almost too lazy to eat their watermelon.  (I kid you not.)  Things pick up when a steamboat pulls into dock and a woman gets off and starts to sing.  Everyone perks up and starts dancing.  The music is good and lively.  It's a shame that this otherwise good cartoon had to be marred with racist overtones.

The audio is okay on this short, luckily, since the music is the main attraction.  Like all of the color video on this DVD, it is muted by time.  Otherwise a fair offering.

Hasher's Dream (unknown):  This short minute and a half cartoon has a man looking at a circle and watching lines turn into faces and then change further into other shapes.  There are no credits, and I have no idea where this came from.

Small Fry (1939):  This color Fleischer brothers offering is about a small fish who wants to hang out with the "big fry" at the pool hall and smoke.  He sneaks out at night to get initiated and learns that he's too young for such things.  Mainly a musical short.

This video was the blurriest on the disc.  Very indistinct.

The Devil's Ball (1934):  Another great example of Ladislaw Starewicz's stop motion animation skills.  Various strange and weird creatures gather to go to a party hosted by Lucifer.  Not a lot of plot, but mesmerizing to look at.

As with Starewicz's other piece on this disc, this short is dark and a lot of detail is lost.  I'm not sure if this piece is complete or if it's edited.  The only credits at all is the title superimposed over the first show in a crude font.  Looks like it was done 30 years ago with a primitive character generator.  It looks like there are several frames missing too.   There is a bad hum present throughout this short too.

Cobweb Hotel (1936): The last cartoon on this disc is a rather sedate Fleischer cartoon.  A spider opens a hotel for flies and captures everyone who enters.  That is until a plucky couple of newlyweds take the spider on.  Not as strange as other Fleischer cartoons this was a little of a let down.  Not nearly as entertaining as other entries on this disc.

It should also be noted that the preview disc that I reviewed locked up when I tried to play it with my Panasonic DVD player. It did play fine in my Toshiba and on my computer's DVD-ROM drive.

 

Final Thoughts:

Overall, it certainly is a good compilation of oddities and unusual animation, both from a historic and entertainment point of view.   I wish that the audio and video has been cleaned up some, as many of these will probably never appear on DVD again.  There is a slight chance that the Alice Comedies, Betty Boop and the Looney Toons cartoons may eventually see better releases, but I doubt it.  I can't see the more obscure entries, like It's a Bird not to mention the racist Little Black Sambo every being released, much less in a restored edition.  Die hard animation fans should definitely make an effort to check this out just to see some of the great shorts that aren't available elsewhere.  Unfortunately the poor audio and video quality really kills this otherwise interesting disc.  As much as I'd like to recommend it, I can't.  Skip it. 

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