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Happy Tree Friends: Volume #1: First Blood

Ventura // Unrated // February 11, 2003
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jason Bovberg | posted February 18, 2003 | E-mail the Author

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?

The moment the insanely annoying theme music begins, you know you're in for something special. Mondo Media's Happy Tree Friends might seem at first to be spawned by Saturday morning TV, the kind of show your tot might plant herself in front of while she eats her frosted sugar bombs. On second glance, though, this is far from your average cartoon fare. Imagine Hello Kitty meets Itchy & Scratchy, and you'll get an idea of the carnage, blood, guts, and mayhem that's in store for you. Happy Tree Friends features a cast of adorable forest creatures prone to appallingly gory accidents as they go about their daily, happy-go-lucky routines.

These laugh-out-loud-funny minutes-long vignettes were produced gleefully for immature-minded adults like you and me, care of the Internet in Flash Animation. (You can download samples from the show's official site.)

The DVD contains the following short-shorts:

Spin Fun Knowin' You, in which Cuddles, Giggles, Toothy, and Lumpy get into some bloody playground mischief.

House Warming, in which Petunia and Handy experience a tree-house mishap.

Helping Helps, in which Splendid the Flying Squirrel bravely saves Giggles from certain death. But then he messes up.

Crazy Ant-ics, in which Sniffles the blue anteater has awful trouble with an anthole.

Havin' a Ball, in which Pop & Cub are on the wrong side of a major thoroughfare.

Water You Waiting For, in which Cuddles and Flaky engage in misadventure at a waterhole.

Nuttin' Wrong with Candy, in which Nutty has a hilariously grisly encounter with a candy machine.

Wheelin' and Dealin', in which Lifty and Shifty have hideous fun at the racetrack.

Pitchin' Impossible, in which Petunia, Lumpy, the Mole take part in a circus gross-out.

Stayin' Alive, in which Petunia, Giggles, and Disco Bear have an unfunny picnic.

Treasure These Idol Moments, in which Cub, Flaky, and Sniffles give us a little Raiders of the Lost Ark riff.

Chip Off the Ol' Block, in which Pop & Cub have a horrific encounter with a lawnmower and a brick.

Nuttin' but the Tooth, in which Nutty and Toothy visit the dentist, with disastrous results.

Hide and Seek, in which Toothy, Flaky, Petunia, and Flippy give us a little Rambo rip-off.

There are terrific moments of gory fun here, but they're not all great. Some of the moments fall flat, and the sheer aggressiveness of the depravity gets kinda old by the end. In a way, they're more suited to the medium from which they sprang than to DVD. There's something extremely annoying about watching that grating opening and theme song before every 90-second vignette. For me, it's more fun to download one or two of these babies during my workday than watch 14 of them in a row. Still, they're addictive and would be great at a party. I especially like the kid-friendly message after each episode, reminding children to brush their teeth and buckle up and eat their veggies.

HOW'S IT LOOK?

Ventura presents Happy Tree Friends in a terrific full-frame transfer of the short subjects' original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. This herky-jerky animation isn't exactly demanding of the DVD medium, but the image is pristine. Colors are bright and vivid, and I noticed no bleeding. Blacks are deep. Aliasing is kept to a minimum. Detail is exemplary.

HOW'S IT SOUND?

The disc contains a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that gets the job done. The bits of dialog, or rather the cute little animals yelps and screams and death rattles, come across nicely. There's not much to get excited about in the audio department.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

Mondo Media has gone all out for the extras. Frankly, I'm amazed by the attention paid to this quirky little project.

First up is Smoochies, an interactive-game section in which you choose a section—Original Cuddles, Happy Easter, Valentine's Day, or Party Smoochie—and use three buttons to kill off a few of the characters in novel ways, including drowning, poisoning, paper cutting, killer yo-yo, python, arrows, and so on. I had a lot of ghoulish fun in this section.

In the Accessories section, you can choose from six bonus features:

In Original Formula, you get a bonus episode called The Happy Tree Friends Bonanza in Banjo Frenzy, an extremely-short-short from 1999. This is the first show ever in this series.

Tree Talk Activision is a running commentary from the creators over all the episodes on the disc, along with running storyboards. The boisterous men explain the characters, their origins, their motivations, the look of the show, abandoned concepts, the constraints of the 8-10 frames-per-second Internet requirements, among many other things. Sometimes, these guys fall into the quagmire of lame humor.

Collect Them All is a collection of character bios and statistics, in the form of "collectible cards" for kids. Each card describes a character's personality, likes, and dislikes.

Special Prize Inside is yet another bonus episode, called Whose Line Is It Anyway. This one features a new character called Russell the Pirate. It's pretty funny, if you're into hideous mutilation and cruel death.

Pop Corn Video is a rip-off of Pop-Up Video that plays over the first short on the disc. It contains some silly "factoids" about the show. This is skippable.

Last but not least is Assembly Required, a 35-minute collection of sketches and character designs with running commentary. This is a humorous feature that basically extends from the running commentary over the show itself.

WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?

Happy Tree Friends was a surprise find for me, something I didn't know anything about before I inserted the disc. I'm happy to report that I was mostly enthralled by this irreverent collection of insane short films. It ain't a grand slam, but it's surely a home run—especially considering the wealth of extras.

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