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Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Vol. 1

Warner Bros. // Unrated // May 26, 2009
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted May 29, 2009 | E-mail the Author
I've been trying do explain the concept of Saturday morning cartoons to my daughter, age nine. It's a futile attempt, although not as bad as when I had to describe such alien concepts as "broadcast television" or "LPs" or "rotary phones" - at least the networks still run cartoons on Saturdays, so the basic understanding is still there.

But, in that glorious time when us grown-ups walked to school uphill both ways, kids' programming was relegated to the unwanted corners of the schedule. Your local independent station would pile the syndicated cartoons into the after-school block, while the real goodness would await you every Saturday morning, when the networks would pull out the big names for a four-hour marathon of cartoon bliss. An expert viewer would have all three networks' schedules memorized, all part of a plan to capture the best shows (live, of course - none of this DVR or VCR nonsense!).

Networks strived for viewer loyalty, reeling kids in with between-the-shows bridging material (most successful was ABC, whose "Schoolhouse Rock!" played only a small part - "hanker for a hunk of cheese," anyone?) and prime time specials announcing the new fall lineup. To a kid, Saturday morning cartoons were a full-on event, especially whenever a new season started.

I came of age during the rise of cable and home video, leaving me part of the last Saturday morning generation. Cable channels like Nickelodeon and Disney quickly made children-specific program blocks moot for the networks; how could they compete with the idea kids' fare being available 24 hour a day? And then there were the video stores, where kids could now get their cartoon fix all week long.

To keep afloat, the networks tried their hand at attracting a broader audience with live-action sitcoms ("Saved by the Bell," was a surefire hit; others, not so much). Later, some networks would rely on affiliated cable stations to provide programming and branding, making Saturday mornings little more than samplers for cable. Stricter FCC guidelines on educational programming left programmers struggling for a while, as did questions about how to deal with the rise of online programming. Fox wound up abandoning the concept completely, while the "Big Three" are still holding on decently, even as the glut of kids' programming via other outlets diminishes the special appeal the Saturday locale once had for young viewers.

Of course, the Golden Age of Saturday Morning Cartoons is, well, whenever you grew up. The awesomeness of "All-Star Laff-a-Lympics" will mean nothing to someone raised on "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and I'm sure the glories of "Pound Puppies" are lost on a viewer raised on a steady diet of "Magilla Gorilla." If you watched it in your pajamas, a big bowl of cereal on your lap, it's the best.

Which brings me, finally, to Warner Brothers' new two-disc collection "Saturday Morning Cartoons: The 1960s - Volume 1." It's a sort of mish-mash compilation, a variety pack containing selected episodes from series already on disc as well as highlights from series likely to never make it onto DVD in full season form. The bulk of the collection features warmed up leftovers from Warners' library of Hanna-Barbera titles, and it's obvious the studio is using this as a sort of clearing house for old school shows that won't sell well on their own. They might as well called it "Saturday Morning Cartoons: Stuff We Had Lying Around."

But that doesn't make it a bad collection at all. On the contrary, while it might have the occasional dud cartoon, it's ultimately a decent sampler that satisfies a Gen-Xer's nostalgia without overdoing it.

(Side note: the packaging tells us this is "hours of fun for the whole family" - yet also includes a disclaimer informing us that this set "is intended for the adult collector and is not suitable for children." Um... what?)

The set's two discs are housed in a single-wide keepcase with a hinged tray; this fits into a cardboard slipcover. You can play the entire marathon lineup in one go or select your individual cartoon shorts. (Unfortunately, there's no insert guide letting you know what episode is where; you'll have to rely on memory to figure out which disc to pop in for which cartoon.) Let's look at the cartoons presented here, one by one:

Disc One:

"Top Cat": In the episode-length story "The Tycoon," Top Cat concocts a scheme to sell raffle tickets and pocket the cash. Just his luck, he's too wrapped up in his own plans to notice Benny's been given a check for a million bucks. Which is probably for his own good, since Top Cat is kind of a jerk.

"Atom Ant": We start with mini-superhero Atom Ant taking down a trio of escaped cons in "Up & Atom." In "Precious Jewels," Precious Pupp sticks it to a would-be burglar. Finally, those Hillbilly Bears struggle to outwit a woodpecker in "Woodpecked."

"The Peter Potamus Show": Peter does his spin on Jack and the Beanstalk in "Fe Fi Fo Fun." In "All Riot on the Northern Front," Breezly & Sneezly tangle (literally! ka-zing!) with the army over a refrigerator cord. And those blundering musketeers Yippee, Yappee, and Yahooey have to put up with military training in "The Volunteers."

"Secret Squirrel": "Sub Swiper" finds that gadget-loving superspy Secret Squirrel and his sidekick Morocco Mole investigating a disappearing submarine. Squiddly Diddly gets abducted by aliens in "Way Out Squiddly." "Prince of a Pup" has Winsome W. Witch getting mixed up in several fairy tale plots, none of them funny.

"The Flintstones": In the episode-length story "The Happy Household," Wilma takes a job hosting a dinnertime TV show, frustrating an always-hungry Fred. Not only do we not get the familiar "Flintstones" theme here - we're given the blander original theme song instead - we also must sit through an icky pile of "women belong in the kitchen to please their man" grumpiness.

"The Porky Pig Show": Three Looney Tunes classics are presented here without their openings or closings (redubbed bumpers and poorly drawn opening material take their place). In the clever short "Often an Orphan," Charlie the dog hits Porky up for a new home; "Mice Follies" reworks "The Honeymooners" with mice (it's not as funny as it sounds, a misfire with too much parody but too few punchlines); and Daffy Duck plays P.I. in the marvelous "The Super Snooper." Two out of three ain't bad.

"The Quick Draw McGraw Show": Dynamite Kaboom goes up against Quick Draw in "Dynamite Fright." "Outer Space Case" puts private eyes Snooper and Blabber against a Martian. And Doggie Daddy does his best to convince a runaway Augie Doggie to come back home in "Growing Growing Gone." Of all the early H-B characters, I think I love Augie and Daddy the most, and this final short is a good reason why: easy-going comedy and sharp dialogue, none of the forced jokiness that weighs down so many other H-B works.

Disc Two:

"The Jetsons": "Rosie the Robot" is the space-age cartoon's pilot episode, and it's quite rough in telling the tale of how Rosie came to be the Jetsons' maid. (Did bosses really come to dinner that often in the 60s?)

"Marine Boy": Moving on to adventure! A rare non-H-B entry in this set, this import features the Japanese underwater hero fighting sharks and "stone robots" in the solid (and non-humbly titled) adventure "Battle to Save the World."

"Space Ghost": Two top-shelf Space Ghost yarns - "The Heat Thing" and "Zorak" - are divided by (yawn) Dino Boy and "The Worm People."

"The Herculoids": The heroic family faces off against "The Beaked People" and "The Raiders" in two chunks of fun action. (This show always felt more Filmation than H-B to me. But in a good way.)

"Frankenstein, Jr. & the Impossibles": Bubble-happy archvillain "The Bubbler" does battle with rock band superheroes the Impossibles. Then, Buzz and Frankenstein Jr. works to fight Dr. Shock's latest creation in "The Shocking Electrical Monster." And the Impossibles return to face off with a spider-like crook known as "The Spinner."

"The Magilla Gorilla Show": Magilla joins a football team in "Gridiron Gorilla." Proving to be just as grating as those Hillbilly Bears, the backwoods Mushmouse shrinks Punkin' Puss down to size in "Small Change." Finally, in "Atchison, Topeka and Sam Jose," Ricochet Rabbit outwits a train robbing bandito.

Video & Audio

Both discs open with a disclaimer apologizing for the poor quality of some of the episodes, which were patched together from surviving elements. And it shows: which the titles available elsewhere on disc have a more polished look, with solid colors and minimal dirt, many other pieces - most notably the "Porky Pig" wraparound segments - are loaded with dust and scratches. In all episodes, clean or otherwise, interlacing is noticeable, if not overly distracting. All cartoons are presented in their original 1.33:1 broadcast format.

The soundtracks - all in Dolby mono - fare better, clean and hiss-free. Portuguese dubs are provided for all episodes, as are optional English and Portuguese subtitles.

Extras

Both discs feature a "Saturday Morning Wake Up Call!" (3:16 and 2:51), in which narrator Gary Owens briefly introduces the adventures each disc offers. Oddly, these bits feels like it should play at the beginning of the program, with Owens telling you what's to come; instead, they're buried in the extras menus.

On Disc One, "The Good, The Bad, and the El Kabong" (5:58) features interviews with animators and animation experts detailing Hanna-Barbera's switch from theatrical shorts to television dominance, led by their first TV effort, "Quick Draw McGraw." This leads into a short discussion of the character and his supporting cast.

On Disc Two, we first get a bonus "Quick Draw McGraw" episode, featuring "Dough-Nutty" (Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy), "El Kabong Was Wrong" (Quick Draw), and "Gem Jam" (Snooper and Blabber).

Those experts return for "The Herculoids: First Family of Planey Quasar" (4:35) and "Monster Rock: The Adventures of Frankenstein, Jr. & the Impossibles" (5:35), both offering quickie run-downs of the shows' histories and how they fit into the growing monsters-and-superheroes trend of the decade's end.

A batch of trailers rounds out the disc. Previews for other Warners releases also play as each disc loads.

Note: all bonus material is presented in 1.33:1 full frame.

Final Thoughts

This collection makes for an enjoyable nostalgic trip, but several of these episodes are offered in better disc releases, and the rest are served up in so-so at best transfers, and the extras are rather lightweight. As a variety pack for fans new or old, you should simply Rent It.
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