Various/King Features (1962-1963, 1989), Rhino/Image Entertainment (January 23, 2001), single disc, 103 mins, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital Mono, Rated G, Retail: $24.99
There are several shining lights among the comic strips that have become animated over the years— Flash Gordon and Popeye stand out to many. However, it is likely that few of you have seen all the contents of this collection. Rhino Home Video and Image Entertainment were kind enough to package highlights from the Beetle Bailey series along with a Hagar The Horrible special, and Betty Boop’s only starring television show. This DVD may have limited appeal to some, but to others it may be a treasure trove of neat-ness.
The Sweatbox Review:
First of all we have Beetle Bailey, Mort Walker’s famous army everyman. Beetle first appeared in twelve newspapers in 1950, although he was seen throughout many cartoons that Walker did for various magazines in the 1940’s. In his pre-syndication days, Beetle was named “Spider”, and was a college student. It was his second year in syndication that the newly named “Beetle” joined the army and found his true role on the funnies page.
Beetle is posted at Camp Swampy, home of your basic motley assortment of true-blue military types and more than its share of screw-ups as well. Beetle’s greatest adversary is Sergeant Snorkel, a rotund man who gives out assignments far more readily than he completes them. The camp is overseen by General Halftrack, a somewhat lecherous yet grandfatherly fellow who must have been on the verge of retirement even when the strip started. Beetle’s peers include the like of Plato (the smart one), Killer (referring more to being a lady killer than a tough GI), Lt. Flap (the… well, the black one), and Zero (self-explanatory). Beetle’s junior nemesis is Lt. Peachfuzz, an overzealous young officer.
Beetle Bailey became a huge success early on, and now appears in over 1800 papers. He starred in comic books almost uninterrupted from 1953 to 1980 (then again in 1992-1994), and has had tons of paperback reprints published. He even had a successful spin-off comic strip, the Walker-written Hi And Lois (Lois being Beetle’s sister). Another kind of fame was in store for Beetle when he became a matinee star in Famous Studios’ short-lived Comic Kings series. From what I can gather, there were five theatrical Beetle shorts, consisting of Home Sweet Swampy, Hero’s Reward, Psychological Testing, Et Tu Otto, and A Tree Is A Tree Is A Tree. I have made this assumption based on the 1962 release dates that I found. These shorts accompanied new ones, along with episodes of Krazy Kat and Barney Google & Snuffy Smith, when they entered television syndication as King Features Trilogy (also known as Beetle Bailey And Friends) in 1963. One director credited for the Beetle cartoons is Seymour Kneitel, while some of the music was by industry veteran George Bruns.
This DVD contains a mix of theatrical and TV shorts, although it is hard to make any distinction other than by the copyright dates. With this disc you get the following:
Camp Invisible – Zero accidentally uses invisibility paint on the camp with comical (what else?) results. Bonus points go to this episode for integrating the word “Saskatchewan” into the plot.
Lucky Beetle – Beetle gets a lucky horseshoe from Cosmo to fend off bad luck on Friday the thirteenth; the magnetized horseshoe creates more bad luck than good, however.
Grab Your Socks – A surprise inspection unsettles the camp.
Is This Drip Necessary – Beetle and Zero try to be plumbers, with zany results.
The Diet – Sgt. Snorkel realizes that he needs to drop a few pounds, and Otto joins him in a diet, with madcap results.
Et Tu Otto – Sarge’s dog leaves him for a cute poochette. The chaplain appears in this one too.
The Jinx – A Chinese fortune cookie leads the gang to suspect Beetle of being bad luck. They overreact, with mildly amusing results.
Courage Encourage – A loony scientist brings a new device to the camp, which helps everyone to behave as if they have more guts than usual. Except for the general.
Go Yeast, Young Man – The general’s birthday turns Beetle and Zero into chefs, with hilarious results. And Sarge does his best Ed Sullivan impression.
Psychological Testing – Two soldiers from Camp Swampy are needed to participate in a competition to determine stability under pressure, against an effeminate competitor. “Ta ta, troopies!”
These cartoons are just as funny as the strip. They remind me very much of the early Hanna-Barbera TV animation, and I mean that in a good way. Just like the Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound cartoons, these shorts rely not on slick animation but on funny scripts and terrific cartoony voice acting. The look of the show is very consistent with the strip, and the voices match the characters extremely well.
Next up is Dik Browne’s Hagar The Horrible, who received his own TV special in 1989. Hagar began its newspaper syndication with King Features in 1973. Its syndication levels began with 136 papers, pretty good for a new strip; but the number is now over 2000, including almost 60 in Hagar’s “homeland” of Sweden. Browne was recognized for a Reuben award for Hagar’s first year, but this was already his second after winning for his artwork on Hi And Lois. Many other awards followed in the coming years, with Browne retiring in 1988 and dying a year later. Dik’s son, Chris, now does Hagar.
Hagar is a Viking trying to come to grips with the anachronistic emergence of women’s rights and men’s sensitivity, as well as the typical concerns of any husband and father. What he considers his true self is expressed in his world-conquering battles, but then he comes home to his family, who he sees as oddballs. Nevertheless, he loves them dearly (when he’s not busy being exasperated by them).
In the special, Hagar has to deal with situations familiar to his comic strip readers. First of all, there is his daughter’s choice for a husband, Lute the Minstrel. Lute is not quite the tough, burly fellow that Hagar envisioned for her. At the same time, Hagar is made to come to terms with his son’s penchant for reading and disdain for fighting. Hagar sees the rise of civilization, and he doesn’t like it. The story is really quite amusing, and true to the characters we’ve come to love from the comics. The show encapsulates all the main points of the characters, while still maintaining a tight narrative. That’s a neat trick.
The look of the show is like a cross between Browne’s drawings and the work of Sergio Aragones. In other words, it’s pretty good. This can be credited to legendary Iwao (Scooby Doo) Takamoto, who did the creative design. The voice acting is solid as well, with Peter Cullen supplying a Fred Flintstone-like performance. Actually, the Flintstones analogy is quite apt, if you are looking for a way to envision what a Hagar show might be like. Similar to Fred, Hagar is blustery but has a heart of gold. You will not be surprised, then, to find out that this was a Hanna-Barbera production. Give credit to Andrea Romano, of Batman: The Animated Series fame, for the good casting. Other voices include Donny Most and Frank Welker.
While I was pleasantly surprised by the Beetle Bailey and Hagar The Horrible cartoons, the reason I bought the DVD in the first place was to see Betty Boop’s 1989 TV special. Betty first came to fame in the 1930’s as Max Fleischer’s flapper cartoon star. She was known for relatively saucy cartoons that oozed sexuality and eventually came under fire from the censors. She eventually covered herself up and behaved more like a “nice girl”, but she lost her appeal then and faded away. She reappeared on 1950’s television, and on various merchandise over the years. And finally, she got a new shot at stardom in Colossal Pictures and Cuckoo’s Nest Productions’ Betty Boop’s Hollywood Mystery.
This show attempts to capture the crazy, anything-goes, rubber-hosed style of 1930’s animation, and we do get to see her in the skimpy dress she became famous for wearing (not to mention a hula outfit and others). Cartoon sidekicks Bimbo and Koko The Clown (he alone is still in black and white) also appear. The story tells the tale of Betty thinking she’s caught her big break in Hollywood. In the opening, we are treated to newly animated duo-toned flashbacks showing famous sequences from her old cartoons. We then find her in a diner, serving patrons while she awaits her big break in Hollywood. Betty and the boys get fired, and a shady character hires them as musicians. He presents himself as a detective, but of course he is a crook. Betty ends up getting framed for a robbery, and she has to clear herself. Be assured of a happy ending.
I wasn’t sure that the 1930’s homage was always working, and the character designs tended towards unappealing, but it was all done in the spirit of the old Fleischer cartoons. (Max’s nephew, famed director Richard Fleischer, was a creative consultant.) The animation is a little rough at times, but the creators could argue that it was done purposely. It’s a fun ride, and it’s terrific to see Betty animated in full color for only the second time, the first being Poor Cinderella in the 1930’s (let’s not include the horrendous colored jobs done years ago on the classic shorts). Be on the lookout for an apparent homage to the Flip the Frog cartoon Funny Face, with a wall full of masks.
So, what links Beetle and Hagar to an old theatrical star? Well, Betty’s rights now belong to King Features. There ya go.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Uh, no. Unfortunately, there are no bonus materials. It might have been nice to include some historical information on the strips. DVD_ROM material would have been cool too, like maybe a collection of comic strips. Or how about a classic Betty cartoon? Oh, well. Too bad.
Snapper case, colorful but nothing special.
Ink And Paint:
All is well here. The Beetle cartoons show a little wear at times, but overall give a clean appearance. The newer Hagar and Betty Boop shows lean more towards pristine. Betty in particular is bursting with bright colors, but Hagar also has a slick, colorful look. I did not notice any artifacting or other problems. For old TV cartoons, you will be pleased.
The audio tracks are only in mono, but they are decent otherwise. Everything sounds clear, and there is no distortion. There’s nothing to brag about, but nothing to especially complain about either.
Many likely overlooked this disc when it came out. For comic strip or animation buffs, the disc holds a nice little bundle of collectible material. Despite the lack of bonuses, I can still recommend the disc on the benefit of its programming. I was surprised by the entertainment value of the shows, especially Beetle and Hagar. To be honest, Betty was a bit disappointing, but it’s still pretty good. Thanks to Rhino for collecting these treasures!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?