Tex Avery's Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection
Directed by: Tex Avery, Michael Lah, Dick Lundy
Starring: Bill Thompson
Tex Avery made some of the fastest and funniest cartoons in the history of the medium. He seemed to have an almost obsessive drive to figure out how he could squeeze the most humor out of a gag to the point that, unlike many of his contemporaries, when he recycled a gag or a premise, he normally would improve on it as well.
Hello all you happy people. You know what? I'm the hero.
Through his tenure at Warner Brothers, he had a hand in creating some of their most recognizable cartoon characters, including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, but he reportedly was less interested in creating characters with enduring name recognition than in creating durable archetypes who can be used in hilarious cartoons. These cartoons are usually characterized by quickly established strong premises from which six minutes or so of escalatingly outrageous gags can flow.
Many of the characters he created during his successful tenure at MGM are recognizable, but their names are either never mentioned or change from cartoon to cartoon. Frequently, their personalities would be adjusted as necessary to serve the story by establishing strong, clear motivations for their actions. These include a succession of wolves, dogs, and sexy cartoon girls in addition to Screwy Squirrel, who appeared in four shorts over a three-year span, and Avery's most memorable MGM character: Droopy.
Droopy's debut has him walking around on all fours looking a bit like a standard basset hound, but his personality is well established as he continually frustrates an escaped convict wolf by finding him wherever he tries to hide.
The Shooting of Dan McGoo (1945)
Two years and 11 cartoons later, Avery brought audiences the second appearance of Droopy. This short was also Avery's second go at sending up the Robert Service poem "'The Shooting of Dan McGrew", having previously done so with his 1939 Merrie Melodies cartoon "Dangerous Dan McFoo". The earlier short featured a tiny dog with an Elmer Fudd voice and a girl who was a caricature of Katharine Hepburn. This time, Dan McGoo is Droopy, and his girl is "Red", who first appeared only a few months after Droopy's debut in Avery's "Red Hot Riding Hood".
Wild and Woolfy (1945)
This is the first of what would be several western-themed Droopy shorts. In this one, after the wolf terrorizes a town, he rides off. As much success as he has avoiding the large posse pursuing him, he cannot seem to shake Droopy and his little blue pony.
Northwest Hounded Police (1946)
This short basically pilfers the best parts of "Dumb Hounded" and "Wild and Woolfy", with Droopy, as Sgt. McPoodle of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, pursuing an escaped convict wolf through Canada. Despite being derivative, refinements in style, characterization, pacing, and wildness of the gags actually improve on its predecessors.
Señor Droopy (1949)
After another three year hiatus, Avery revives Droopy in this short where he competes with a matador wolf against a bull in hopes of winning the hand of lovely Lina Romay (the 1940s Latina-American actress, not the Spanish actress of the same name who would be familiar to fans of 70s Euro-horror)
Wags to Riches (1949)
This is our first introduction to the remarkably expressive bulldog Spike in the Droopy series. The premise here stems from Spike finding out he is second in line behind Droopy to inherit an enormous estate. In a series of blackout gags, he is consistently foiled in his increasingly creative attempts to rub out our little protagonist. This is one of my favorite cartoons in the series due to its dark, rock-solid premise and inventive gags.
Droopy is among a series of hounds on a wealthy estate who are offered a steak for every fox they can catch. One particular fox with a British aristocratic air that suggest he is a graduate of the Ronald Colman finishing school, proves to be more than a match for both Droopy and the rest of the hounds. This is a nice change of pace cartoon which finds Droopy uncharacteristically outmatched by an opponent.
The Chump Champ (1950)
Droopy and Spike, aka "Gorgeous Gorillawitz", compete in a series of athletic events for the title of "King of Sports". Spike's increasingly desperate attempts at cheating in each event continuously (and sometimes literally) blow up in his face.
Daredevil Droopy (1951)
The premise of "The Chump Champ" is slightly revised to have Droopy and Spike in competition for a job as a circus daredevil. Spike's attempts at sabotaging various big-top events leads to the expected amount of unintentionally self-inflicted misery as the oblivious Droopy prevails in each event.
Droopy's Good Deed (1951)
Droopy and Spike are again in competition, this time for a prestigious Boy Scouting award that could lead to a meeting with the President. Spike's attempts to sabotage Droopy meet with his usual amount of painful failure. This is the first appearance of this cartoon in its uncensored form in quite a while due to a few racially insensitive gags that were censored on previous broadcast, laserdisc, and video masters.
Droopy's Double Trouble (1951)
Spike speaks ... and with an Irish brogue, no less! Droopy and his twin brother Drippy ("he's strong") are house sitting. Droopy allows Spike to squat at his employer's home, but neglects to tell Drippy, who brutally enforces a "no strangers" order from the head butler, delivering a beating to Spike once for every act of hospitality offered by Droopy. Not realizing that Droopy and Drippy are two different dogs, Spike is dazed and confused.
Caballero Droopy (1952)
Despite what the packaging indicates, this short was not directed by Tex Avery, but by Dick Lundy, a veteran director of several Disney and Walter Lantz shorts. This was Lundy's first short for MGM, and he would subsequently take over the "Barney Bear" series. With gags from the likes of Heck Allen, it has plenty of funny moments as Droopy faces opposition from a swarthy caballero wolf for the hand of a lovely señorita, but the character designs, animated acting, and pacing come up short of the best entries in the series.
The Three Little Pups (1953)
Avery returns to the Droopy series with this three-little pigs pastiche featuring Droopy, Snoopy, and Loopy as three little dogs running afoul of the Big Bad Dog-catcher, an unflappably easy going bumpkin of a wolf with a deadpan manner and a proto-Huckleberry Hound voice provided by Daws Butler. One particular gag involving the wolf repeatedly changing his pants is a genius application of cartoon logic. This short has a thick-lined style with less detail in both the characters and the backgrounds than the 1940s shorts. It also begins a trend of increasing use of humorous dialog and of gags about television that would continue through the 50s entries in the series.
Drag-A-Long Droopy (1954)
Returning to a western theme, Shepherd Droopy and Cowboy Wolf fight it out over grazing lands. Anatomical oddity alert: After a grazing accident, Droopy is revealed to have a unibutt!
Homesteader Droopy (1954)
Droopy, along with his wife and child, drive a wagon across the west and establish a homestead. When the wolf Sheriff of the nearest town learns that Droopy has fenced off his land and water, he attempts to drive them out by increasingly extreme methods. Even though I am naturally wary of baby versions of popular cartoon characters since they are usually a sign of creative desperation, I have to admit that Droopy's milk-loving baby is both cute and hilarious.
Dixieland Droopy (1954)
Droopy plays "John Irving Pettibone" a character who doggedly pursues his dream of leading a Dixieland Band at the Hollywood Bowl despite resistance from nearly everyone he encounters as he wanders through the cartoon literally jazzing up various situations. This cartoon has a lot of great sound-based gags. It eschews the normal opening title music to deliver a cartoon that is both experimental and hilarious with nearly wall-to-wall jazz.
Deputy Droopy (1955)
This is the last Droopy cartoon made with Avery's involvement. It was co-directed with Michael Lah. It is also the only cartoon in the series where Droopy's voice is not provided by Bill Thompson. Droopy is a deputy guarding a safe filled with gold while the Sheriff takes a nap. Two desperadoes tie up Droopy and try to crack the safe without waking the sheriff, but Droopy conspires to make it increasingly difficult for them to keep quiet. The premise of a character trying to maintain quite while other characters and events work against them is borrowed from a Spike cartoon from three years earlier called "Rock-a-Bye Bear", and is one that Avery would revisit with some regularity.
Millionaire Droopy (1956)
This short was put together without Tex Avery's direct participation. He is still given director credit, though, since it is just a CinemaScope re-composition of "Wags to Riches". It works just as well in scope, although the lush backgrounds of the original are replaced by simpler, more stylized art. All of the subsequent Droopy theatrical shorts are also in CinemaScope.
Grin and Share It (1957)
This short, directed like all of the subsequent Droopy theatrical shorts, by Michael Lah, starts with Droopy and Spike/Butch (they would start referring to Spike as "Butch", in the later shorts, but I'll just keep calling him Spike - you can't fool me so easily, you cartoonists ) as 50-50 owners of a mining operation who strike it rich when they hit gold. The plot then plays out exactly along the lines of "Wags to Riches"/"Millionaire Droopy" as Spike repeatedly tries to off Droopy so that he will inherit his share of the gold.
Blackboard Jumble (1957)
This cartoon is funny, but it barely qualifies as a Droopy short. The premise involves the laid-back bumpkin wolf character attempting to be a school teacher. His students are three rowdy little dogs that look like Droopy, but behave more like Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
One Droopy Knight (1957)
This short transplants a number of the gags from "Señor Droopy" to a medieval setting with Droopy and Spike attempting to slay a dragon in order to win the hand of a princess. It is more talky and slower paced than its bullfighting predecessor, but it did somehow manage to distinguish itself as the only Droopy short to be nominated for an Oscar.
Sheep Wrecked (1958)
Droopy is once again in shepherd mode, this time defending his flock from the Confederate Wolf from "The Three Little Pups" and "Blackboard Jumble". The gags are pretty funny, but the Wolf's asides are more hit and miss than in his previous appearances.
Mutts About Racing (1958)
Droopy and Spike compete in a cross-country road race. This short freshens the formula of the Droopy vs. Spike cartoons a bit by grafting Spike's typically unsuccessful attempts at sabotage onto a tortoise vs. hare-style race plot. The pace of gags is slowed down by some unnecessary dialog.
Droopy Leprechaun (1958)
Droopy travels to Ireland as a tourist and is convinced to buy a souvenir shamrock hat. When Spike sees him walking down the street, he mistakes him for a leprechaun and plots to catch him. When Droopy sees Spike in an old castle he is touring, he mistakes him for a homicidal ghost. This cartoon has way too much set-up and not nearly enough pay-off. One of the hallmarks of the series is the strong premises which fuel hilarious gags, and this short comes across as tepid compared to other entries in the series.
Much like the recent Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collections, the seven CinemaScope titles receive brand new 16:9 enhanced transfers and look spectacular with only very slight film-element related artifacts marring the presentation from time to time. The remainder of the transfers appear to be identical or closely related to the most recent video masters that have been seen through broadcast airings over the last decade (minus the censorship) and appearances as supplements on other DVDs. The earliest shorts are the grainiest and show the most wear and tear, especially "Dumb-Hounded". Compression is very good, with shorts that have appeared as supplements on previous DVD releases looking noticeably more film-like on this release.
The bad news is that four of the shorts are absolutely riddled with noise reduction artifacts. The three shorts on the first disc with this problem are "Wags to Riches", "Daredevil Droopy", and "Droopy's Good Deed". The only short on the second disc with this problem is "The Three Little Pups". These shorts show somewhat less grain, scratches, and damage compared to other shorts from the period, but have intense artifacting that destroys the line quality of the art by creating pulsing artifacts along most high contrast solid lines while erasing some lines almost completely for one or more frames.
The sound is presented as a 192 kbps Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track with modest hiss. There is light audible crackling and popping on the first eleven shorts as well as on the first CinemaScope short, "Millionaire Droopy" (which recycles the soundtrack from "Wags to Riches"). These shorts sound like they were sourced from optical tracks, whereas the remainder of the shorts were likely either sourced from magnetic tracks or some other less noisy master material.
All of the bonus materials are found on the second disc. The only substantial extra is an 18 minute featurette called "Droopy and Friends - A Laugh Back". It covers biographical background on Tex Avery, discussion of the Droopy character, very brief comments about voice artist Bill Thompson, and analytical commentary about various elements of Avery's cartoons in general and the Droopy series in particular. Narrated by Maurice LaMarche, it includes on-camera contributions from animation scholar and filmmaker John Canemaker, animation executive Andy Heyward, and animation artists Don Dougherty and Scott Shaw.
"Doggone Gags", a five minute montage of various gags from the series set to music that I believe is from "Dixieland Droopy", offers nothing unique, and is not likely to be watched more than once by anybody who owns the set.
Finally, the disc also offers promotional trailers for "Wait till Your Father Gets Home", "Popeye the Sailor: 1933-1938 Vol. 1", and "Classic Cartoons from the Vault". The latter is a combined trailer for the DVD releases of "Birdman and the Galaxy Trio", "Space Ghost", and this very Droopy set.
The discs are packaged in either side of a two-panel digipack which is itself enclosed in a cardboard slipcase with an embossed image of Droopy and one of his wolf antagonists on the cover. Amusingly, there is a pin-up picture of "Red" that becomes visible when you remove both discs from their plastic hubs. The disc menus are straightforward. The menus on disc one are all 4:3 just like the shorts whereas the menus for disc two, which includes the scope shorts, are in a 16:9 format. A ten second text-screen disclaimer about the politically incorrect content of the cartoons appears when either disc is first inserted. For some reason, the menus identify the shorts as "episodes".
Warner's first foray into a non-Tom & Jerry dedicated release from their MGM cartoon library has a lot to recommend it, and welcomely removes instances of censorship that have marred a few of these shorts in recent years. Video quality for the seven CinemaScope shorts is outstanding. Video quality for 13 of the academy ratio shorts is as good or better than I have seen -- reflecting the quality of the source elements used for transfer. Unfortunately, four out of the 24 shorts have serious video artifacting that make them unpleasant to watch. Audio quality varies from good to very good. Extras consist of a modestly informative featurette with some background on Tex Avery and the Droopy series and a fairly useless clip montage.