Kino Lorber brings us the DePatie-Freleng Collection, consisting of three releases with more on the way of 1960s and 70s animated shorts series from the studio that resulted from the untimely closure of Warner Bros' animation department. This volume features their last original character, Crazy Legs Crane (voiced by Larry D. Mann), in 16 short cartoons made for the Saturday morning "All New Pink Panther Show" in 1978 which also featured previously-seen shorts from the studio's other characters. The title character here is sort of a bird version of Disney's Goofy- he's not very bright and talks like a slack-jawed yokel. He appeared briefly in a couple late 1960 DePatie-Freleng As these cartoons run just six minutes each, they're not very big on plot but they get in some good laughs. Several of them include his son "Junior" (voiced by Frank Welker), who is smarter than his dad (speaking more coherently) but still looks up to him. Like the sons of Sylvester the cat and Foghorn Leghorn, Dad tries to teach him hunting and survival skills but usually fails while demonstrating, causing much embarrassment. Initially Crazy Legs tries to teach Junior how to catch dragonflies, their favorite delicacy, but is foiled by the character who ends up stealing the show: a literal Dragon Fly, a tiny insect-sized dragon with fly-like wings who breathes small breaths of fire. He's also voiced by Frank Welker and speaks in a funny manner said to have been inspired by Andy Kaufman's "Foreign Man" act- an indistinguishable accent with twisted English, even working in Kaufman's "thankyouverymuch" into the end of sentences. His best schtick is flying around singing traditional folk songs like "Oh Susannah" with alternate lyrics that seem to be made up on the spot- most viewers will either find this hilarious (as I did) or absolutely annoying.
Each cartoon is rather short and quick, wrapping up right at the six minute mark. Many end quite abruptly as if they had simply ran out of time, some with punchlines that come out of nowhere- for example in "Animal Crack-Ups," Crazy Legs and Junior find themselves at a circus while chasing after the dragon fly- suddenly Crazy Legs is catapulted into the sky and finds himself on top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which he mistakes for the world's biggest oil derrick- fade to black, The End. The later shorts dispense with the chasing and let Crazy Legs and the Dragon Fly just hang out together, such as a trip to the beach where the dragon fly cooks hot dogs, or watches Crazy Legs try to build his dream home- of course he works in plenty of wisecracks and constantly calls him "big dumb bird." His cruelest moment is when he talks Crazy Legs into believing that he actually can't fly, presenting him with statistics about his weight that convince him that it's scientifically impossible for him to fly and suddenly plummet to the ground- prompting Crazy's Jimmy Durante-like conscience to pop up and psyche him back into flying.
Overall there's not much to these cartoons, but they work for what they are. Being made for TV the animation isn't quite as good as most theatrical shorts but still a notch above that of most of the other cartoons that aired in the late 70s. There is a laugh track but it's not too intrusive.
The HD transfers of these cartoons are amazing- they almost look too good here compared to how they likely looked when they originally aired. As with Kino's Blu-Ray disc of DePatie-Freleng's "Ant and the Aardvark" cartoons, you can see just about every brush and pencil stroke, and here you can also make out where the animation cels were placed over the still backgrounds (those more well-versed in animation can likely better describe this than I can). Most of the disc encoding is free of banding and artifacts, losing a point only because of brief pixelization during fade-outs that you almost have to be looking for to notice.
There's nothing really special about the audio but it's reasonably clean- not so much as the picture but audio wasn't a high priority for television during this time. The Blu-Ray disc encodes the mono track in 2-channel DTS Master Audio which some receivers may refuse to Pro-Logic decode and play through the front left and right speakers, but it still remains phantom-centered in that case.
Kino has two 16-minute featurettes which they've also included on the discs of "The Ant and the Aardvark" and "The Inspector": "Goodbye Warner Bros., Hello DePatie-Freleng" gives a good account of how many of Warner's animators were able to keep their studio going after Warner had decided to stop doing cartoons, mainly doing animated title sequences for movies including The Pink Panther, TV commercials and then more short cartoons. "Of Aardvarks, Ants, Inspectors and Cranes" gives a brief history of how the Ant and the Aardvark were developed along with Crazylegs Crane and the Pink Panther-inspired Inspector. Three of the cartoons are repeated with audio commentaries- one from animation historian Jerry Beck and two from Mark Arnold (author of several cartoon-related books including "Think Pink! The DePatie-Freleng Story"). As I was a bit unsure of exactly what to say about the cartoons in this review, I had to laugh as both of them acknowledge here that there really isn't a lot to say about Crazy Legs Crane. Jerry Beck comments that the Dragon Fly character is so annoying that he roots for him to be killed, and Arnold spends the second of his two commentaries listing the artists involved which is helpful as there are absolutely no credits on any of the cartoons or printed elsewhere.
These cartoons are a bit simple but definitely funny (the Dragon Fly should've gotten his own series), and watching them all at once on this disc is the video equivalent of reading a book compilation of daily newspaper comic strips. It's amazing how good they look on this disc, I'm certainly looking forward to Kino's future DePatie-Freleng releases.