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Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Vol. 2
Saturday morning was a big deal for me growing up. I loved television, although my parents limited my exposure to it. (Plus I was always more interested in movies and still am.) Still, I remember every August when each of the networks would, usually on a Friday night, broadcast a half-hour highlights reel advertising their Saturday morning lineup for the upcoming fall. I anticipated this greatly, and would watch these specials to schedule my limited cartoon time over the next several months (I think I was allowed either 60 or 90 minutes each Saturday). Being younger than the cartoons on this set, I grew up watching Plastic Man, Heathcliff, The Smurfs, Fat Albert, The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, The Littles, Mr. T, Muppet Babies, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Snorks, the Star Wars shows, Pee Wee's Playhouse, and The Real Ghostbusters.
Shortly before I stopped watching Saturday morning television in the late 1980s, it started a decline from which it has not really recovered. For a period of about 25 years, 7:00 a.m. to noon on Saturday was a sacrosanct time block for American children. Now kids have their own cable networks. Cartoons are available around the clock. It's too bad the special mystique of Saturday morning programming has evaporated into the bland ubiquity of the numbing "choices" offered by cable television.
This is why I appreciate Warner Bros' efforts in assembling these sets of Saturday Morning Cartoons. We are seeing wave two now, with the studio releasing 1960s Volume 2 and 1970s Volume 2. This set, like the others, offers five hours of content, spread out over two discs. Shows have been presented here the way they were originally broadcast, so that an episode of Quick Draw McGraw reflects the three original segments of the show (Super Snooper and Blabbermouse, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, and Quick Draw McGraw) - rather than being a collection of McGraw shorts. It's a thoughtful grouping of cartoons. The set reflects an era, a feeling, and a specific sentimentality. It's a lot of content that will allow for several weeks-worth of nostalgia, should one wish to recreate the experience on a weekly basis.
Having praised the effort by the studio and the dedication to the memory of a concept that has grown weaker over the past two decades, we now must face the real content of this set and what it is worth. Sadly, fans of animation - classic or otherwise - will likely be disappointed by the shows included here. Although there is some classic Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry content that was repackaged in the 1960s, most of the programs are Hanna-Barbera productions. I realize that for many, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, and The Jetsons are time-honored classics. I think they are all terrible. Yet it goes without saying that those three programs were the most successful to come out of the extremely prolific Hanna-Barbera studio. Other than a single episode of The Jetsons, the shows on this set comprise Hanna-Barbera productions that are not as well-known - many of which are now forgotten, and for good reason.
Take, for example, something called Young Samson & Goliath. On this short-lived show, originally produced in 1967, the boy hero - a normal teen to all outward appearances - becomes engorged by muscled flesh, a Biblical haircut, and a weird Romanesque onesie when he brings together the magic bracelets on his wrists. (Also at these moments, his pet dog, Goliath, turns into a lion.) In the episode presented here, titled "The SSX-19," Samson recaptures an experimental aircraft after it's stolen by terrorists. All aspects of the story are presented with the utmost vagueness - the terrorists' identities, their motives, the real purpose of the plane - and are rendered especially lifeless by the horrible animation and the baffling concept.
The exact same criticisms could be leveled at most of the other cartoons included here, from Quick Draw McGraw to The Adventures of Young Gulliver (which at least had a literate concept). Wally Gator, Magilla Gorilla, Peter Potamus, and Breezly (of Breezly and Sneezly, of course) are all versions of the same character - Yogi Bear. Atom Ant is another head-scratchingly bizarre invention of the Hanna-Barbera crew - and could have been entertaining and very funny if given a fair shot. But all of these characters were really just grist for a cartoon mill that pumped out programming the way Kellogg's makes Corn Flakes - in huge quantities, and without much creativity, invention, or flavor.
Quick Draw McGraw: "Person to Person" / "Vacation Tripped" / "Mine Your Manners"
Space Kidettes/Young Samson & Goliath: "Space Heroes" / "The SSX-19"
The Bugs Bunny Show: "Big House Bunny" / "Canned Feud" / "Home Tweet Home"
The Porky Pig Show: "Scaredy Cat" / "Baton Bunny" / "Feather Dusted"
The Adventures of Young Gulliver: "Dangerous Journey"
The Wally Gator Show: "Droopy Dragon" / "Whale of a Tale" / "Sea-Saw"
The Jetsons: "Elroy's Mob"
Quick Draw McGraw: "The Mark of El Kabong" / "Chilly Chiller" / "Party Pooper Pop"
The Peter Potamus Show: "Wagon Train Strain" / "Missile Fizzle" / "Black Bart"
The Road Runner Show: "Zip and Snort" / "The Jet Cage" / "The Wild Chase"
The Atom Ant Show: "Atom Ant Meets Karate Ant" / "Bowling Pinned" / "Picnic Panicked"
The Tom & Jerry Show: "Saltwater Tabby" / "Mutts About Racing" / "Just Ducky"
The Magilla Gorilla Show: "Private Magilla" / "Army Nervy Game" / "TV Show"
The two discs come in a single-width keepcase, with a nice card slipcover. The artwork on the slipcover and keepcase is identical.
Before going to the main menu, each disc displays a disclaimer warning viewers that some programs feature less-than-ideal video and were sourced from the only elements available. In some cases, this means video or film masters that show signs of significant damage or degradation. For instance, the framing material on The Bugs Bunny Show (and the other Looney Tunes shows) looks awful, but the shorts look great, as they have all gone through restoration for release on the Golden Collection sets. Overall, it's understandable that some of the content here looks less-than-stellar. Generally, I'd say about 50% of the shows look very good, with the other half in various states of disrepair. All programs are full-frame.
All programs have lusterless mono soundtracks. The job gets done, dialogue is generally clear, but that's the best that can be said.
Each disc opens with a brief rundown of the content therein, narrated by Gary Owens. On disc two there is also a short five-minute featurette about Magilla Gorilla.
Although the concept is praiseworthy, and the presentation of these programs in their original format is appreciated, the shows themselves - with few exceptions - are utterly disposable. That, unfortunately, is the legacy of Hanna-Barbera Productions. Profitable and beloved though some of their characters are, the bulk of their product was like a batch of brightly-frosted but flavorless cookies. Made dispassionately, many of these programs were short-lived, sustained only by sponsor dollars, and disappeared without leaving a mark. For nostalgia buffs, there is a moderate amount of fun to be had here. Rent it.