Don't you just love Tex Avery? His zany work shines in this collection, which features his best-known character. I'm a big fan of Disney cartoons (note my byline below), but most of these Droopy shorts (sorry, couldn't resist) are just terrific. They're fast-paced, the characters are often well aware they are in a cartoon (they stop often to address the audience) and nearly every gag takes you by surprise. Avery created Bug Bunny and Daffy Duck at Warner Brothers, but really hit his stride when he left in a censorship fight for MGM, where he spent more than a decade creating these classics.
There's something here for everyone. The first few shorts introduce the deadpan doggie, but actually give more screen time to Avery's libidinous Wolf and slinky, um, woman. OK, dame. (This, by God, is a dame.) Not for kids at all, "The Shooting of Dan McGoo" and "Wild and Woolfy" are as lusty as anything you'll ever see that's sold on Amazon. Avery designed the two shorts with American G.I.s in mind, and they were shown at U.S. military camps during World War II. The other Avery girlie cartoons, "Red Hot Riding Hood" and "Swing Shift Cinderella," are currently out of print. (Want to see an early Avery effort? His 1936 "I Love to Singa" is a bonus feature on Happy Feet (Widescreen Edition).)
The rest of the cartoons here are more family friendly, with the Wolf often replaced by Spike or Butch, both G-rated bulldogs. The last few shorts on this set were produced without Avery by television outfit Hanna-Barbera. They will be of interest only to children.
Most all the shorts have been digitally restored, and they look fantastic. The colors are bright and the focus is sharp. Extras in this collection include the documentary "Droopy and Friends: A Laugh Back," which includes commentary by animation historian John Canemaker, as well as a "Doggone Gags" montage of Droopy highlights.
Here's the list of the cartoons, each with my rating of one to five stars:
The first four shorts on this DVD are the cream of the crop, and worth its price all by themselves:
***** "DUMB-HOUNDED" (1943). A real classic. From the moment Droopy drags himself onscreen (bringing up the rear of a team of police bloodhounds) you know he's a different kind of hero. "Hello all you happy people," he deadpans to the audience, breaking the fourth wall for the first of, oh, a hundred times. "You know what?" I'm the hero." He continually sniffs out the Wolf, an escaped prisoner.
***** "THE SHOOTING OF DAN MCGOO" (1945). The song "Frankie and Johnny" sets the theme for this adventure set in (say it fast) Coldernell, Alaska. It's a gag-filled remake of the Robert Service poem "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" ("A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon; the kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune..."), with a dance-hall dame so hot even Droopy howls at the moon.
***** "WILD AND WOOLFY" (1945). Droopy gets the girl -- and lets loose with another wild howl -- after he saves her from the Wolf's kidnapping attempt. Along the way there's a fork in the road (yes, a real fork) and a horse that takes off its shoes to cross a stream.
***** "NORTHWEST HOUNDED POLICE" (1946). When the Wolf escapes San Francisco's Alka-Fizz Prison -- by simply drawing an escape door -- Droopy tracks him down wherever he goes. Amazingly funny.
Other shorts on Disc One:
*** "SENOR DROOPY" (1949). Bullfighters the Wolf and Droopy ("Senor Droopy from Guada-loopy") compete for a beautiful (and live action!) senorita. About as good as the best Bugs Bunny.
** "WAGS TO RICHES" (1949). Spike the bulldog tries to knock off Droopy when a millionaire leaves our hero a fortune... that goes to Spike if he dies.
* "OUT-FOXED" (1949). Droopy goes fox hunting. Skippable.
** "THE CHUMP CHAMP" (1950). Droopy and Spike compete in sports events. OK, but Disney's "How To" shorts with Goofy are funnier.
** "DAREDEVIL DROOPY" (1951). Droopy and Spike compete to become a circus acrobat. See above.
*** "DROOPY'S GOOD DEED" (1951). Droopy and Spike wage war in a Boy Scout competition. The best moment: when Droopy goes into a burning cabin, the damsel in distress looks a lot like Disney's Cinderella (whose film was, gee, released the same year). A moment later comes the black-face moment with Spike that other reviewers have mentioned. A Rochester gag comes later. The racial scenes take away from an otherwise first-rate cartoon. The slapstick gags are similar to, but funnier than, those in the best Road Runner shorts.
** "DROOPY'S DOUBLE TROUBLE" (1951). Now a butler, Droopy teams up with his twin brother Drippy to stress-out Spike.
*** "CABELLERO DROOPY" (1952). Violinist Droopy and a guitar-strumming wolf (the "Kristo Kid") woo a senorita. More Road-Runner-style gags.
** "THE THREE LITTLE PUPS" (1953). A parody of Disney's "The Three Little Pigs." Snoopy, Loopy, and Droopy are the three little dogs. Has another black-face moment. Includes a couple moments where the characters watch a (real) live-action western on TV.
**** "DRAG-A-LONG DROOPY" (1954). The definitive Droopy cartoon. When his sheep destroy the pasture of some cattle country (the "Bear Butte Ranch"), shepherd Droopy gets into argument, a shooting-skills contest and eventually a head-to-head stampede with the rancher Wolf. Has talking cows, naked cows and the strangest Droopy dame: the Venus de Milo, who, when the Wolf takes over her body (don't ask), runs away on very shapely high-heeled gams. (Yes, gams. I'm really getting the lingo down, don't ya think?)
***** "HOMESTEADER DROOPY" (1954). The plot? The Wolf (here, "Dishonest Dan, the Cattle Man") hassles homesteader Droopy. The reasons to love it? Well, it's got great gags, great writing, a baby Droopy (he's the hero this time) and one of the funniest talking-cow moments in film history. When a bull comes into the Wolf's office and says simply "Moo Moo Moo Moo! Moo! Moo!" the Wolf responds "What? A dirty homesteader just fenced in our water hole in Red Rock Canyon?"
*** "DIXIELAND DROOPY" (1954). Droopy plays John Pettybone, a dog who has one single ambition: to lead a Dixieland Jazz Band in the Hollywood Bowl. A loud Dixieland score, with unexpected sudden moments of dead silence, sets this one apart.
*** "DEPUTY DROOPY" (1955). The characters get more angular (i.e., more '50s-style) and the colors get brighter as lawman Droopy stops some varmints from making off with some gold. No Wolf, no Spike, but not bad.
** "MILLIONAIRE DROOPY" (1956, Cinemascope). A throwback, this is simply a widescreen version of "Wags to Riches."
Now things change. Tex Avery leaves MGM and animator Michael Lah creates six Droopy shorts on his own. Kids will like them, but these remaining cartoons lack the Avery touch. Produced by Hanna-Barbera, they lose their fast pace and unpredictable nature, and seem much more like 1960s TV fare. But the color, at least, is fantastic:
** "GRIN AND SHARE IT" (1957, Cinemascope). When Droopy and Butch (think Spike crossed with Yogi Bear) strike gold, Butch wants it all to himself.
** "BLACKBOARD JUMBLE" (1957, Cinemascope). Three school boys (all of which look like Droopy, but don't have his personality) try the patience of their substitute teacher, a slow-moving Wolf (who now has the voice of Huckleberry Hound). Funny at times, but has none of the deadpan Droopy wit.
* "ONE DROOPY KNIGHT" (1957, Cinemascope). Sirs Butchalot and Droopalot vie to kill a dragon. Nominated, somehow, for 1957's Best Short Subject Cartoon Academy Award.
*** "SHEEP WRECKED" (1958, Cinemascope). Droopy guards his sheep from the Wolf. The best of the Hanna-Barbera shorts. Very colorful, with lots of orange backgrounds.
** "MUTTS ABOUT RACING" (1958, Cinemascope). Droopy and Butch compete in a car race.
* "DROOPY LEPRECHAUN" (1958, Cinemascope) Butch mistakes Droopy for a leprechaun. An airline stewardess looks just like Jane Jetson.