Ruby-Spears (1980), Warner Archive (August 14, 2012), 2 discs, 312 mins, 4:3 ratio, Dolby Digital 1.0, Not Rated, Retail: $24.95
The sassy comic strip feline evades police and torments dogs, while a vampire dog and his cronies enjoy bizarre adventures.
The Sweatbox Review:
It’s funny, but I always considered Heathcliff (the comic strip) to be a shoddy knock-off of Garfield. After all, Garfield has been enormously successful, and both strips feature an orange cat with black stripes. And now, it’s only after researching this review that I find out that Heathcliff debuted first! Is my face red. Indeed, he came out in newspapers five years prior to Garfield. Heathcliff was the creation of George Gately, and it saw its first publication in 1973 (his nephew is the current cartoonist on the strip). Obviously, the strip has been quite successful in its own right, and has its own distinct style and humor, as well as two successful television shows to its credit.
Heathcliff is a fun-loving cat who perpetually seeks to annoy his adversaries (though he may think of them as playmates), including garbage men, dogcatchers, fish market owners, and police officers. He is streetwise and smart, but in the strip never speaks, allowing a wry smile to speak for itself. He has a little of Bugs Bunny in him, in the manner in which he engages his opponents, though Heathcliff (unlike Bugs) tends to be the instigator of any conflicts. One could argue he has a bit of a mean streak, but really he’s just out to have some fun and maybe eat some yummy food if he spots any.
The first of his TV shows has seen its first season released onto DVD by Warner Archive. The Heathcliff And Dingbat Show ran in 1980, and also included segments featuring characters created by producer Ruby-Spears especially for the show. Dingbat is a vampire dog, with a goofy Transylvanian accent, and a speech impediment where his “b”s become “bl” sounds (e.g. “I am going to the blank to get some money.”) His sentences are also punctuated with “blah, blah” at the end. His two chums include a chubby-looking skeleton named Sparerib, who can transform into various bony shapes; and a jack-o-lantern named Nobody, who has feet, but— well, no body.
Heathcliff, aside from speaking in the cartoon, is fairly consistent with his comic strip self. He is mischievous, and always the smartest one in any conflict. He picks fights with dogs and humans alike, and always comes out on top. No one in the neighborhood is safe, whether it be a baker, peace officer, or milkman. He also gets mixed up in some fairy tale adaptations, like Jack And The Beanstalk and Red Riding Hood, which gives the show some variety.
Dingbat and his friends, on the other hand, get into a succession of odd jobs and odder situations, never meaning any one any harm, but freaking everyone out with their Addams Family-like presence. Rats, spiders, and all assortment of creepy things are a normal part of their lives, but not so enjoyable to others. And when Dingbat turns into a smaller bat-winged version of himself, or Sparerib changes into a scale or a cage, it does nothing to endear them to others either.
It seems that one can expect only so much out of cartoons of this era. The Heathcliff And Dingbat Show is certainly pleasant enough to watch, but the scripts are pretty typical stuff for the era: mildly amusing, inoffensive, safe, and silly. With four segments per show (two each for Heathcliff and Dingbat), the stories are pretty short, allowing only for a sequence of gags and a minimum of plot. It’s a hard show not to like, yet not particularly memorable either.
The one thing that raises the show up above absolute mediocrity is its voice cast. Mel Blanc does Heathcliff, Frank Welker does Dingbat, and other regulars include June Foray, Henry Corden, Don Messick, and Janet Waldo. Now that’s a lot of talent! With so many recognizable voices, The Heathcliff And Dingbat Show becomes comfort food for the cartoon-loving television viewer.
Is This Thing Loaded?
No extras accompany this release.
The discs do have chapter stops for each cartoon, as well the opening and the closing credits, which work well with the Play All option. However, it is a little annoying that you cannot select to watch a whole, single episode. If you wish to go to a particular episode, you can only select a single short, and don’t get the show’s opening even if you select the first story. To watch the second (or third or fourth) story, it’s back to the menu again. Guys, there’s a better way to do this.
The clear Amaray case has a tray for one of the two DVD-R discs. I appreciate the fact that, unlike at least one previous Ruby-Spears release, Warner Archive has NOT incorrectly branded this one as part of the Hanna-Barbera Collection. (Of course, it would have been keen to see a Ruby-Spears Banner, but no big deal.)
Ink And Paint:
The prints for The Heathcliff And Dingbat Show are in pretty good shape, it turns out. There is no significant damage seen, and only odd occurrences of dust or scratches. The DVD image is clear and stable, with good color saturation. It’s a little faded and on the soft side, but on the whole quite acceptable. It’s a pleasant surprise, for a three-decade old show showing up in an on-demand DVD-R title.
Audio is fine as well, presented in clear one-channel mono, as appropriate. There are no subtitles or other language tracks.
If you have fond memories of The Heathcliff And Dingbat Show, I don’t think they’ll be diminished any by viewing this DVD set. It’s amusing, if inconsequential, and suitable for all ages. Aside from the stellar voice cast, there is not much that makes the series stand above other shows of its era, but it does have enough entertainment value to justify an occasional look.