TV on DVD Title: The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection
Rated: Not Rated
Screen format:1.33:1 Full Screen
First theatrical release: 1940-1952
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple prior DVD collections different from this one
Director: Walter Lantz (Producer)
Starring: Woody Woodpecker, Chilly Willy, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Andy Panda, Buzz Buzzard, Wally Walrus
Sound Formats: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Length: 555 Minutes across 3 disks
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Featuring the first 45 Woody Woodpecker cartoons in chronological order plus a prime choice of 30 more various Swing Symphony, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Andy Panda cartoons, this box set is a treasure trove of classic animation and a good start into creating a comprehensive collection of Woody on DVD. Previously available as hard to find 12 disk/tape collection from Columbia House, Universal has done an amazing job of collecting these shorts together and providing a great deal of historical information about them.
Disk 1 includes 5 black and white Oswald cartoons, including ‘Confidence’, in which president FDR encourages Americans to suck up the problems of the day in facing the Great Depression. Also included are 6 Cartune Classics, most in B&W but a few in Technicolor, including spoofs of Universal films King Klunk and the “Toyland premier” which features Frankenstein, Santa Claus and Laurel & Hardy. The heart of Disk 1 is the 15 Woody selections starting with Knock Knock, which is actually an Andy Panda cartoon in which Woody is introduced. Classic Woody episodes included here include The Barber of Seville and Chew-Chew Baby.
Disk 2 includes 15 more Woody shorts, including The Dippy Diplomat (featuring Ammmmmbassador Iiiiiiivan Awwwwfulitch!), Musical Moments from Chopin (featuring Andy Panda) and 13 more. Also included are 5 Andy Panda shorts including the first, “Life Begins for Andy Panda”. Finally disk two has 5 Swing Symphonys including two aimed at US service men, The Greatest Man in Siam and Abou Ben Boogie. I’d never seen Abou before and its an incredible inclusion.
Disk 3 contains another 15 Woody shorts, including The Woody Woodpecker Polka and one of my favorites, The Scalp Treatment. Also included are 5 Chilly Willy cartoons, including his first. Finally included is 5 more Cartune Classics including the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company ‘B’, which I must have seen a thousand times as a kid.
Sadly, this set doesn’t contain my two favorite Woody episodes; I’d especially love to have ‘Under the Counter Spy’. Hopefully this set will do well and Universal will follow up with more of these classics until the whole collection is available. If they are done with as much effort and care as this one is, I say bring it on!
Sound Quality: 3.5/5
Given the age of these cartoons and the obvious print damage that they exhibit (more on that below) the sound on these disks is absolutely pristine. Sure it is only Dolby Digital Mono, but there is very little pops or scratching anywhere, even on the oldest of them. Especially noteworthy is that I never witnessed any of the tinnyness or brightness that other cartoon collections sometimes exhibit. The sound is clear and appears completely faithful to the original masters, and probably is the better sounding than they ever were in any theater. They certainly sound better than they did on my crusty old analogue TV back in the seventies.
Visual Quality: 3/5
While advertised as “Digitally remastered”, very little appears to have been done to clean up the prints here. Constant dust, pops scratches and other elements appear on screen, and while it can be somewhat distracting at times it does reinforce the era of the film stock that underlies these transfers and probably is relatively authentic to how they looked even during the first theatrical run. There is some notable edge enhancement and while I was not distracted by it while watching on my projector, when I displayed these films on a standard CRT they were indeed a bit more obvious. At first I thought these might be matte lines around the foreground elements overlaid on top of the static backgrounds, but I did note a lot of EE in those backgrounds as well.
Color wise however these are bright, accurate and dead on. Woody has never looked so good! Contrast and detail are similarly very high, even the black and white line drawings are very detailed and slow motion or pausing shows just how much went into each frame.
Overall I’m very pleased with the results. I suspect that any kind of print cleanup or high def transfer is out of the question at this point, so I’m thankful to have as high a quality as what has been done, and given the effort that has gone into this release I’d bet that this is about as good as we can hope it to get for a long time.
Extra Features: 4/5
Besides having 25 cartoons on each disk, each also has a collection of awesome bonus material. Disk 1 has the short feature ‘Walter, Woody and the World of Animation’ where these two take you over the long history of Walter Lantz’s animation though the birth and rise of Woody. “Cartoonland Mysteries” likewise shows the genesis of Oswald. Disk 2 is a real treat, taking a half dozen segments from the Woody Woodpecker Show on TV and presenting them one at a time. One segment talks about how Lantz’s wife was chosen as the voice of Woody and another shows how to draw Woody and Andy! Lantz’s enthusiasm for his work is amazing, and I can’t help but draw parallels to similar segments I’ve seen with Walt Disney. Disk 3’s extra is even better, it includes and entire episode of the Woody Woodpecker TV show, and this one is special because it contains the only Woody Cartoon created exclusively for the show, Spook-a-Nanny, so this brings the total to 76 cartoons and not 75!
Overall: 4/5 (not an average)
All told 75+ shorts plus a ton of background details and extras is a tremendous value. Again I can only hope that Woody fans flock to this release and pressure Universal to continue the series, because in my estimation they just got to the point where the Woody Cartoons got good, and even greater episodes lay ahead! That’s not to say these aren’t great, from a historical and completionist perspective this archive is the real deal, but hopefully it’s only the beginning! Going through this set was like an adrenaline rush of childhood memories, and if, like me, you fondly remember hours spent with Woody you will agree, this set is “Recommended.”