Peter Pan Records gave the world its last chance to enjoy soundtrack versions of some Walter Lantz cartoons on vinyl just before the advent of VHS tapes and CDs.
Walter Lantz’ WOODY WOODPECKER AND HIS WACKY FRIENDS
6 Cartoon Classics Complete with Music, Stories and Sound Effects
Peter Pan Records # 1120 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono)
Released in 1981. Cartoon Directors: Tex Avery, Alex Lovy, Sid Marcus, Paul J. Smith, Don Patterson. Writers: Dalton Sandifer, Cal Howard, Homer Brightman, Mike Maltese. Music: Clarence Wheeler, Walter Greene. Running Time: 38 minutes.
Theme Music: “The Woody Woodpecker Song” by George Tibbles, Ramey Idress; “Wackity Woody” by Greene and Bernard, “Chilly Willy Song” by Mary Jo Rush.
Voices: Grace Stafford Lantz (Woody Woodpecker, Mimi, Winifred Witch); Dal McKennon (Professor P. Cosmo Klunk, Professor Dingledong, Charlie the Polar Bear); Daws Butler (Gabby Gator).
Cartoons: “Birds of a Feather” (March 1, 1965), “Under the Counter Spy” (May 10, 1954),” “Witch Crafty” (March 14, 1955), “Woodpecker in the Moon” (July 13, 1959), “The Legend of Rockabye Point” (April 11, 1955), “Everglade Raid” (July 14, 1958).
Lantz cartoons ebbed and flowed from the general public’s field of view during the latter part of the 20th century. After TV had altered the fates of most “in-studio” short cartoon makers, Lantz was one of the few who kept producing them through 1972, though to little fanfare. In 1957, Lantz himself followed colleague Walt Disney’s trend of on-camera hosting when he appeared in live action segments of ABC’s Woody Woodpecker Show, Thursday afternoons (after a truncated 30-minute Mickey Mouse Club).
The half hour cartoon block continued to bump around the TV dial until the mid-‘60s, then it reemerged on NBC Saturday Morning in the early ‘70s and finally became mixed in with other daytime syndication short cartoons. All the while, Lantz characters were still merchandised sporadically and enjoyed a presence in theme parks. There was also added access of a few VHS and DVD releases, as well as a revival series.
Peter Pan’s 1981 record album came as a welcome surprise during the cartoons’ syndicated run. The LP’s six short soundtracks, dating from 1954 to 1959, must have been selected because they were part of the TV package, allowing the listener to catch the video portion if one of the titles aired by happenstance.
Each of the cartoon soundtracks on the album is narrated in a light and airy style, the narrator describing the missing visuals with occasional amusing remarks. This technique was used by Cricket Records in 1959 on their Felix the Cat soundtrack album, with Mason Adams performing the honors, almost as a sportscaster might call a game.
After Woody’s familiar theme music and his familiar laugh begins the album, the narrator still feels compelled to tell us who it is on this record we’ve chosen to play–with a proud “Peter Pan Records Presents Woody Woodpecker and His Wacky Friends…” He proceeds to set up the premise of “Birds of a Feather.” His voice is placed very slightly to one side of the stereo channel, with the soundtrack on the other with added reverb, keeping both elements distinct. The effect is that of being in a theater with someone telling you the visuals—a highly prescient technique not unlike Audio Description now done on films and TV for the American Council for the Blind.
Sometimes it was necessary for the narration to be rewritten. “Under the Counter Spy”, is a spoof of Dragnet, a TV series that might not have been as well-known to the masses in 1981, especially kids. The cartoon ends with the very specific-to-TV image spoofing the Jack Webb production company logo: a man’s hands stamping a “Mark VII” (only in this case he hits his thumb). Since this can’t be seen, and most listeners might not have understood the reference, the narration explains the “Ouch!” and other sounds by saying, “Woody kicks the trunk in anger, hurts his foot and heads back home to bed.”
Next up is “Witch Crafty,”, with Gracie Lantz offering her take on the classic comic cartoon witch (this one is named Winifred). It’s followed by 1959’s “Woodpecker in the Moon”. It’s a fairly standard 1950’s character-in-space short, but it does prompt the fun fact that Woody made an appearance in George Pal’s sci-fi classic Destination Moon nine years prior:
Lantz favorite Dal McKennon is given a chance to truly shine in 1954’s “The Legend of Rockabye Point,” Tex Avery’s Oscar-nominated mini-masterpiece. It wasn’t that Avery hadn’t done this many times before, and brilliantly (especially with Droopy), but at this “point” he had honed it to perfection.
Chilly Willy, star of The Legend of Rockabye Point, is the only Lantz character besides Woody to get a solo track on this album (“speaking” through the charming Clarence Wheeler score). The cover depicts Andy Panda, Homer Pigeon, Buzz Buzzard, Knothead, Splinter, Wally Walrus—and yes, even Oswald the Rabbit and Space Mouse—but the cover art is where they stay on this LP.