Saturday, August 11, 2007

Last of the WOODY goodies

My compliments to all involved in the WOODY and POPEYE DVDS. Both sets are excellent and here's hoping for a volume 2 for each.

Although both series of shorts have been rare in recent decades, I consider myself lucky to have been born just in time to enjoy their heyday in syndication before virtually disappearing in the 1970's. From that point on if you saw either Woody or Popeye anywhere it was usually a later (poorer) short from the twilight of their run. Woody was at one point my very favorite cartoon character, but he virtually dropped out of view in the late 1960's. Luckily, I had seen enough of the B & W Fleischer cartoons in adulthood to know that they held up (to say the least), but Woody became so scarce for so long I was beginning to think maybe my memories of enjoying the early ones were faulty. Happily, these DVD's bear my fond memories out. In fact, they are in many ways better than I remember.

Although the Woody's aren't as lavish (or quite as well crafted) as Warner and MGM shorts, they are freewheeling, loose and pretty action-packed. The gags are good and often unpredictable and Lantz gets lots of credit for not over-analyzing the characters (at least not early on). Woody can be an aggressor or victim, sane or insane, driven by hunger, greed or just a penchant to annoy others. You never quite know how (or when) each cartoon will end. I am impressed by the fact that while the DVD revived many memories, the cartoons still seem fresh, and it says something that as a kid I don't remember noticing Woody constantly changing model, even within a given cartoon which goes to the issue of what "on-model" really means (a lifetime peeve).

I am also glad there are many more cartoons where Woody has a "man" voice and even that changes from cartoon to cartoon. Yet for all his flexibility he is always ineffably himself. Maybe because there isn't much to the character to begin with, but what little there is, it's unique. There's a lesson in there somewhere about over-thinking characters. And somehow I like the guy, even though I don't really "care" about him in the classic sense. After all Woody doesn't do much to solicit sympathy or "identification" but he sure is fun to watch and I can't wait to see what he does. Whatever it is, it's usually something the laws of physics or propriety wouldn't let me do, which is what animation is all about. I had also forgotten what wonderful 'heavies' Wally Walrus and Buzz Buzzard were, at least initially. The genius stroke of making Wally Swedish is pretty brilliant and Buzz (who I remember just being kind of rotten) is actually a nicely realized sleaze-ball.

The extras are great. The shows where Walter Lantz walks you through the process are things I remember seeing when very small and had a lot to do with stoking my fascination for the animation process. I remember having made up my mind to become a cartoonist by the time I was four years old and these clips had a lot to do with it.

Most of the animation is really inventive and very often the humor comes as much from the execution of the action as from the gag ideas themselves. What a novel concept! Fans of Emery Hawkins will be in heaven watching this stuff. There are also many lesser known animators who seem to are pretty fantastic here: Pat Matthews, Les Kline, Ken O'Brien and Alex Lovy among them. The Lantz studio Tex Avery cartoons are among that director's best and funniest later work and it seems like the animators had no trouble adapting to whoever was in charge. And although none of the soundtracks would be mistaken for MISTER ROGERS', it's a joy to watch how much time is devoted to purely visual pantomime. Compared to the shrieking yakk-filled cartoons of today, many of them seem quiet.

Jerry Beck if you're reading this, my thanks to you and all involved.


Thad K said...

I've always had an affinity for the Lantz characters, almost as much as the Warners characters, and probably more so than Disney's stable (shorts wise).

You are right about Wally Walrus' voice... Giving that lovable tub of lard a Swedish accent was genius. And yes, Buzz Buzzard is a delightful slimeball.

I personally feel there's enough material for another 1.5 volumes to appeal to all cartoon fans, but after that, it's admittedly only recommended for fans who are really hardcore.

Will Finn said...

Where/how did you get turned on to Lantz cartoons in this unholy day and age? Like I said in the post, they were on all the time until I was about 8 and then they all but disappeared. I haven't seen them hardly at all since then. Local TV in LA ran them a tiny bit when I was in my 20's but they were horrible prints and were hacked to ribbons to allow more time for crap ads.

Thad K said...

We were often in Ontario when I was 5 or 6 and YTV was playing all of the color Lantz cartoons (for the most part uncut) for years, so I managed to see a lot of them that way. I also saw them on Cartoon Network when they ran the syndicated Program Exchange package (they ran the good ones quite often).

I didn't to see them again until I started making contacts on the Internet (way, way before YouTube) and trading cartoons. (that was when I was 12, crap, that was long ago).

Similarly, I saw the Famous cartoons on Fox Family's Harveytoons Show. I didn't learn for several years I was supposed to hate those cartoons. I don't know why though.

Bruce said...

Very much like Thad, I had grown up with the Woody Woodpecker Show when it was redelivered during the Nineties, on Teletoon and YTV.

However, my first introduction to cartoons was when the ‘Super Station TBS’ was showing a LOT of Warner Bros Cartoons (Harman and Ising, Friz Freling's, and a lot Bob Clampett cartoons) when I was at the age of two. The very, and I mean VERY first animated short I had ever saw at that age was "Bugs Bunny Get's the Boid," and I was enchanted by the antics of Beaky Buzzard trying to capture Bugs, and since then, I have never forgotten a second, even today when I watch the film on one of my LTGC. It wasn’t until I watched Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, at the age of 9, that I made the decision of going into the field of animation, and I'm still clicking to it since, and I will continue my education in the life drawing courses and drop-in's, as well for the ever so informative blogs on the net.

Oh, and in case if you are interested, I had recently discovered that you were the lead animator for Cogsworth (Beauty and the Beast). Both of my sisters had made me suffer to watch that film when I was a kid, and to me, the characters were bland and uninteresting.

They made me watch it, whenever I wanted to go outside and play, to eat, or um, sleep. I’d greatly anticipated for Gogsworth to come on the screen, since he was the sole character that kept my interest in the film, as well to help me out of my ordeal. That and it would be a great pleasure to work with you one day.

Oh, and trying not to be selfish, but do you like my blog, Will?

Julián höek said...

thanks for the pics will!

ncross said...

Hi Will, I got your message.... I'll definitely send you a DVD! Sorry about that!!...Out of curiosity, was there a plastic wrap on the cover?

bsleven said...

Mr. Finn,

I wanted to let you know that I absolutely enjoy your blog. Not to mention that I am a fan of your work as well. I have have admired you drawings in all of the "Art of" Disney books for years.

I will indeed be visiting your blog often.

: )

Jenny said...

Lovely post, Will.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Nice comments on Woody and beautiful monochrome pictures! On some Golden Books I like the monochrome better than the color pages!