Wednesday, May 16, 2007

DVD Review: Tex Avery's Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection

Fred “Tex” Avery is widely considered one of the most original and influential animation directors of all-time. After a career at Warner Bros., where he helped create and define the Looney Tunes style as well as characters like Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny, Tex Avery moved to MGM. It is there that he created one of his most enduring characters, Droopy.

Now, Warner Bros. brings this classic character to DVD in Tex Avery's Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection. Featuring every theatrical Droopy cartoon, including those not directed by creator Tex Avery, this 2-disc set marks the first time that non-Tom and Jerry MGM shorts have been released on DVD in the U.S. Although some video issues pop up on some of the cartoons, this set is well worth your time.

First appearing in the 1943 cartoon “Dumb-Hounded,” Droopy isn't your typical cartoon hero. While characters like Bugs Bunny are filled with energy, Droopy is not. He moves slow, talks slow, and rarely shows any emotion. Yet Droopy always succeeds in the end. Usually, he succeeds not because of things he actively does, but simply because he's “the hero,” the one who goes up against arrogant jerks who always underestimate him. Droopy, as a character, is a jab at the traditional notion of a cartoon hero.

What makes the Droopy cartoons so great is the wild world that Tex Avery created for them. Avery's cartoons, especially those he made at MGM, move at a breakneck pace with gags that come a mile a minute. Anything could happen in Tex Avery's cartoons and it often did. Characters broke the fourth wall and commented on the action in the cartoon. Gags always defied expectation and every scene was a chance for another laugh. Even though some of the cartoons on this set are over 60 years old, they feel fresh and contemporary in an age of shows like Family Guy.

Twenty-four cartoons appear on this DVD set, with 17 of them directed by Tex Avery (not 18 as indicated on the packaging). The cartoons are presented in chronological order across the two discs and they are uncut. This is notable because a couple of the cartoons contain some outdated racial gags. The DVD packaging makes it clear that this set is intended for adult collectors and if you somehow miss that, a disclaimer also appears at the start of each disc.

The video quality on this set is pretty good overall. Most of the shorts look pretty nice with the quality varying from short to short. The final seven Droopy cartoons were done in CinemaScope and they get anamorphic widescreen transfers on the DVD. When these shorts were broadcast on TV, they were usually pan-and-scanned, so it's wonderful to see them in widescreen for the first time.

Unfortunately, there are also some issues caused by the use of DVNR (or Digital Video Noise Reduction) software in cleaning up dirt and scratches. Most of the time, DVNR software works well in cleaning up old movies. However, caution has to be taken when using it on animated films. If the DVNR software isn't calibrated correctly, the software will mistake lines of animation for scratches and erase them. This is exactly what happened to four cartoons on this set. Things look relatively normal when there is little movement in the cartoon. As soon as things start moving, the DVNR errors are noticeable. With some lines of the cartoon missing, things look blurry in motion. The affected cartoons (“From Wags to Riches,” “Daredevil Droopy,” “Droopy's Good Deed,” and “The Three Little Pups”) can be enjoyed despite the DVNR errors, but the video is still disappointing.

There are not a lot of extras on this set, but they are enjoyable nonetheless. The short documentary “Droopy And Friends: A Laugh Back,” is a look at Tex Avery's career, the creation of the Droopy character, and Tex's legacy. “Doggone Gags” is a short compilation of some of the funnier gags from the Droopy cartoons. There are also various trailers for animated DVDs on the set including one for the highly anticipated Popeye The Sailor Volume 1 DVD set.

Overall, Tex Avery's Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection is a set that serves as a nice introduction to the world and characters of Tex Avery. These cartoons have held up pretty well over time and audiences weaned on cartoons influenced by Avery will find something to enjoy here. Considering there are over three hours of cartoons to be found, the price is pretty low as well. This set is definitely worth picking up whether you're a classic animation fan or just someone who wants a good laugh.

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