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Top Cat - The Complete Series
As many people know, The Flintstones were the first prime time cartoon show. Based on Jackie Gleason's long running sketch The Honeymooners, the show did very well in it's evening time slot. It wasn't long before Flintstone creators Hanna and Barbera were approached about doing another prime time cartoon. This time the took The Phil Silver's Show (also known as Sgt. Bilko) as their pattern, and turned the conniving Army NCO into a wily feline. Set in the present day, Top Cat and his gang are always trying to stay one step ahead of Officer Dibble, one of NY's finest who always has his eye on them. The series only lasted one season and the complete series in now available on DVD. After watching these 30 episodes, it's easy to see why the show wasn't renewed.
Top Cat was very derivative of Sgt. Bilko. While the Flintstones took the Honeymooner idea and headed off on their own tangent, Top Cat never strays far from its source material. The shows have the same pattern as Silver's show. Top Cat comes up with a plan to make some money, he uses his silver tongue to talk his way into getting what he needs to pull of his plan, and then the plan goes wrong, often because Top Cat opens his mouth when he shouldn't.
There are a couple of big problems with this show that make it less enjoyable than other HB cartoons of the time. One hitch with the show is that the Phil Silver's Show formula doesn't translate over to anthropomorphic animals, especially when marketed as adult TV fare. Many people watching TV in 1955 (when Silver's debuted) could relate to a scheming Army Sgt. After all a large part of the male population had been in the military ten years earlier. But not many adults would have a lot in common with an alley cat. Much less one that talked to humans. This gave it the appearance of a kid's show.
Top Cat wasn't aimed at children though. It was the most sophisticated program that H-B ever created, and they specifically tried to make it adult friendly. Which leads to the second, and more fatal, problem that the show has: it isn't that funny. In an attempt to make this show more adult, they forgot to put in the 'funny.' There aren't as many sight gags that cartoons are usually filled with, and the dialog isn't that witty. Sure, there are one or two times that I'd crack a smile, but there wasn't an episode in the series that I'd say was funny. The running gag of TC (as his friends called him) referring to Officer Dibble as "Dribble" wasn't that funny the first time, and the fact that this gag was in most episodes didn't make it funny either.
The main thing that dooms this show is that every one was padded or poorly written. These would have been much better shows as 15 minute shorts, but there just isn't enough material for a half hour show. The plots seem to really drag, which is the kiss of death for a cartoon. Other episodes just don't make much sense at all. For example in The $1,000,000 Derby Top Cat comes across a horse that will run like gang-busters whenever it hears the sound of a factory whistle. They go to great lengths to establish this fact. When TC enters the horse in a race, he spurs it on by running an ambulance with it's siren blaring alongside the track. The fact that an ambulance and factory siren don't sound alike doesn't seem to matter, the horse still runs fast. This could be dismissed with "yeah, but it's just a cartoon" but it's a sloppy cartoon. The show was full of disjointed plots like this. It is easy to see why adults turned it off.
With adults tuning out, and the fact that there wasn't a lot of slap stick humor aimed at kids in the show, it is easy to see why Top Cat only lasted a single season.
This show, oddly enough, comes on three single sided discs and a fourth double sided DVD. These five sides include the first, and only, season of Top Cat. Get this set and you've got 'em all.
The DVD offers viewer the choice of English, French or Spanish soundtracks, all in mono. The audio has been restored and sounds very good. As you would expect from a 60's cartoon, there wasn't a lot of dynamic range, but the sound was clean without any hiss or distortion. There are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
The full frame video looks just great. The image has been restored and the colors are bright and vivid, and the lines are tight. There are some defects that were present in the original show, like when the color of paint doesn't quite match on two different levels of animation cells, but this is to be expected and not anything that restoration should repair. There was an occasional errant line or scratch, most of look like they were on the cells themselves, but these weren't distracting. A very good looking set of discs.
There are a good number of extras included with this set.
There are commentaries to several episodes by animation historians Jerry Beck, Earl Kress and Mark Evanier, and voice actor Leo De Lyon. (Hmmm, I wonder if Leo changed his name when he started in show business.) The commentaries are actually more enjoyable than the episodes themselves. They point out some interesting errors and talk about why the lines are so thick (so that they would be reproduced on the lower resolution televisions set that were in homes back then.) They gave histories on the voice actors and related anecdotes about the production. There were a good number of quiet spaces, but they do a good job with the limited amount there is to say about this show. The episodes with commentaries are Hawaii, Here We Come, The Missing Heir, and The Late T. C..
There is also a storyboard/finished cartoon sequence for the cartoon The Missing Heir.
Back to Hoagy's Alley: The Making of Top Cat is 17 minute overview of the series. Hosted by Leo De Lyon, the show has vintage interviews with Hanna and Barbera and clips from the show. It was a good look at this mediocre program.
Cool Cats in Interview Alley is a half hour set of interviews with some of the main characters in the show. Arnold Stang, Leo De Lyon, Marvin Kaplan, and Barry Blitzer are all interviewed by Earl Kress.
That's not all, there is a Top Cat Sing-a-long, where just the music to the theme plays while the words (and music) are shown at the bottom of the screen. A gallery of sketches in included, as well as a series of commercials for Kellogg's Corn Flakes that HB did featuring Top Cat.
A very complete ser to extras.
This really isn't a great cartoon. I'm a big fan of animation, but I just didn't find this show funny or entertaining. The plots are lame, the animation standard for TV, and worst of all the jokes aren't funny. This would have been a much better show if the stories were 15 minutes long instead of half an hour because there is way too much padding in the shows. People who have fond memories of the show from their childhood may want to rent it, but most people would do best by passing this one by. Skip it.