First the packaging. This set is a textbook case of how to make an absolutely great DVD set. No annoying ads when you start the discs. Easy to navigate menu that makes watching individual cartoons easy and fun. Some of the cartoons, however, are simply three stars. The box has a disclaimer that the set is intended for collectors and "may not be suitable for children". "There's a difference between violence and slapstick", Walt Lantz once said. Nevertheless, he edited some of these 'toons when they appeared in 1970 on The Woody Woodpecker Show. These are every bit as violent as vintage Tom and Jerry 'toons, and parents have to make the same call. My view is that kids remember characters, not stories, and have an innate "cartoon sense" which enables them to tell "toons" from "reality. "Toons" are sometimes worse, but often better than "reality". Parents' real concern should be the extreme "live-action" shows on the rest of the airwaves.
That said, parents doing cartoons without cable will find this a perfect set. It's easy to play one cartoon a day as if it were on TV. Both kids and collectors will appreciate the bonuses in this set, which include one full show and six segments from the Woody Woodpecker Show. This innovative program combined live action Lantz and animated Woody in the studio, Lantz showing kids how to draw cartoons. I would love to have that whole series on DVD. This also recalls the approach of the other Walt (Disney), beginning with the Disneyland show, of similarly mixing live action and animated characters. However, the live Lantz makes very clear the difference between the 'toons and the live animators drawing them, and can say, "hey kids, let's watch this cartoon together". The key word is "together". This echoes the live- host format that launched TV cartoons, and which I feel is the way they ought to be shown, with adult hosts "showing" cartoons.
The 75 'toons on three discs in this set seem like a bonanza, especially given the paucity of Lantz material released up until now. There are 45 Woody 'toons (dating from 1940- 1952); 5 Oswald Rabbit from the Lantz studio years (1930- 1933); 5 Andy Pandy (1939- 1949); 5 Chilly Willy (1953- 1956), 5 Swing Symphonies (1941- 1945) and 10 Cartune Classics, the catch-all title for other 'toons (1933- 1955). These 'toons are remastered, which means simply transferred to DVD, not restored, however, they're all very good prints.
This sounds like the full comport until you realize that Lantz made 198 shorts, and start noting what's not here. "Musical Moments from Chopin" (1947) is often considered a high point. It's listed under the "Woody" 'toons in this set, even though it also stars Andy Panda, and was one of four "Musical Miniatures" that played in theaters. There were originally fifteen Swing Symphonies, and 185 cartoons were syndicated in the 1970s.
Shamus Culhane's cartoons like "Barber of Seville" are interesting for their fast- pacing, but as with many other studios, numerous vintage era Lantz 'toons are mostly strung together sight gags. Disney likely was responsible for bringing story and continuity into cartoons, although Chuck Jones also made good use of it in the Michael Maltese stories starring Bugs Bunny, notably the far more developed "Rabbit of Seville", which one cannot help comparing with Culhane's similarly titled 'toon.
If you like the modern era, as I do, this collection merely wets one's whistle, with Tex Avery's "Crazy, Mixed Up Pup (with a voice reminiscent of Huckleberry Hound). The third disc drops off right before "Termites from Mars", one of the best. Annoyingly, the Lantz show segments make reference to these 'toons, which are not included in the set. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful set for collectors, and a long- overdue recognition of the Lantz Studio. Now, where are the Terrytoons?