Here’s our picks in reverse numeric ranking:
10. THE COMPLETE RANKIN-BASS CHRISTMAS COLLECTION
Some (or most) of these have been released before – but never collected together like this. First off, all of these have finally been remastered for 4K and put on blu-ray, eighteen Rankin Bass TV Specials and movies, some of which even I haven’t seen before. Additionally, The Complete Rankin-Bass Christmas Collection is notable as a “first” that could portend some interesting boxed sets in the future – it’s a first time joint venture between Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Only by combining their Rankin-Bass holdings could such a collection even exist. What next? The Complete Abbott and Costello Feature Archive? My mind races!
9. HEY THERE ITS YOGI BEAR
The first Hanna Barbera full length feature, Hey There It’s Yogi Bear (1964), is a lot better than you might think – especially in this new restoration. Bill and Joe knew they couldn’t make a ‘Disney movie’, but they let all the strengths of their hit TV cartoon play out in “full” animation, and the characterizations by Daws Butler, Don Messick – and Mel Blanc, Hal Smith and Julie Bennett (as Cindy Bear) – carry the story. Backed by animation from some Hollywood heavy hitters (including Irv Spence, Don Lusk, Ken Harris, Ray Patterson and Fred Wolf, to name but a few), the picture quality is outstanding – and they even restored the original Columbia logo at the header. (Special Features include the original theatrical trailer – and the “Yogi’s Birthday Party” episode from The Yogi Bear Show).
8. CATS DON’T DANCE
Mark Dindal’s Cat’s Don’t Dance, the only feature from the short-lived Turner Feature Animation unit, made no waves when it was released theatrically in 1997. But the animation industry itself recognized its achievement with a Best Animated Feature Annie Award that year (beating Disney’s Hercules and Warners’ Space Jam) – and its gone on to become a cult classic ever since. It’s restoration and release on blu ray was in demand of numerous fan campaigns for the film’s rescue. Warner Archive did a beautiful job here – championing a film that should not be forgotten. (Special Features include the classic Looney Tunes What’s Up, Doc?, Show Biz Bugs, Curtain Razor and Daffy Ducky in Hollywood – and the original theatrical trailer.)
7. MICKEY & FRIENDS 10 CLASSIC SHORTS – Vol. 1 and 2
At last – Disney has started releasing some of its classic cartoons shorts on blu-ray. These two volumes are a beginning (I hope) and you can’t complain about the titles chosen – The Little Whirlwind, Mr. Duck Steps Out, The Band Concert, Lonesome Ghosts, Thru The Mirror, The Brave Little Tailor among them. The picture quality is spectacular, the sound crystal clear. My complaints are only quibbles: The menu/bridging material between each short is pretty annoying – Each short features a video photo album of the cartoons (which we could easily do without), clearly aimed towards children lest they get board between cartoons; only ten cartoons per disc? For $14.99 on Amazon (cheaper on eBay and other sellers) makes up for that only slightly. Unfortunately there are no special features on either disc. One would think that Disney would have put out more volumes for their golden anniversary, but didn’t. Regardless, these two volumes (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) are highly recommended for both fans of Disney and classic cartoons alike. Okay Disney – now give with Silly Symphonies! -Nelson Hughes and Jerry Beck
6. GAY PURR-EE
I’ll be honest – this one blew me away. I had only seen bits and pieces of Gay Purr-ee throughout the years. I could never make it past a half hour without distraction. This time, I put on the blu-ray, darkened the lights and watched it on my largest home screen – and came away with a whole new opinion. This is an underrated little gem. The art direction and color stand out – the voice work is a revelation; Garland and Goulet give it their all – and if your are familiar with Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, and Picasso (among others) you’ll be in for a treat – and if you unfamiliar with those painters, you’ll be introduced to them in the same wonderful way Chuck Jones (who co-wrote the script with his wife) brought us opera and classical music in his classic Looney Tunes shorts. The last great UPA production (produced concurrently with the equally masterful Magoo’s Christmas Carol) – highly recommended! (Special Features include Song Demos and the original theatrical trailer – and three classic Looney Tunes with a French theme: For Scent-Imental Reasons, French Rarebit and Louvre Come Back To Me.)
5. LITTLE KING
I have always been a fan of the New York City based Van Bueren Studios. One of my favorite series the studio released was the theatrical screen adaptation of E.G. Soglow’s most popular comic strip character, The Little King. Thunderbean Animation previously released a dvd featuring all the Little King cartoons uncut and uncensored, plus two Sentinel Louie cartoons as bonus material, so it was time for an upgrade. For me, one of the highlights on the set includes MARCHING ALONG (’33) taken from the original camera negative, courtesy of Sony Archives and the Library Of Congress. There’s plenty of special features to go around on this release. The Little King never has looked this good. Both 35 and 16mm prints were used and fully restored. I wouldn’t pass on this blu ray if I were you. Grab a copy of The Complete Animated Adventures Of The Little King if you haven’t. Makes for a perfect holiday gift. – Nelson Hughes
4. CINDERELLA and SNOW WHITE (4K)
There must be a dozen previous versions of both Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella on home video released over the years. From VHS and laser disc to multiple reissues on DVD and blu ray. Now comes new 4K Ultra High Definition scans of both, but this time off the original nitrate negatives and with the creative input and QC of Disney Animation artists Eric Goldberg and Michael Giaimo. This is pretty much IT. The ultimate version that (to my eyes) is equivalent to 35mm film prints I saw back when they reissued these films to movie theaters – back it my youth. If you haven’t bought these in the past, now is the time. I believe all the previous bonus features have been ported over to these new releases. I hope they are doing this for the rest of the pre-1970 features – they can’t come out fast enough.
3. LOONEY TUNES COLLECTORS CHOICE Vols. 1 and 2
Thad K. reviewed Vol. 1 HERE and Vol. 2 HERE – and he said it all when he discussed Looney Tunes Collectors Choice Vol. 1: “It’s quite flabbergasting to see things like the ‘30s Merrie Melodies with such clarity and color.”
“Looney Tunes Collectors Choice Vol. 2 offers a total of 25 classic Warner cartoons. Five more than the first volume, and a wider array, this time spanning from the late ‘30s to early ‘60s. Films by Tex Avery and a single black-and-white cartoon by Norm McCabe are added to the mix of cartoons from Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin, Bob McKimson, and Art Davis…the picture quality is mostly jaw-dropping across the board, showing a level of detail never thought possible with careful restoration that retains the original animation and artwork.”
Need we say more?
2. THE PUPPETOON MOVIE Vol. 3
Producer Arnold Leibovit continues the widely acclaimed blu ray series featuring the animated film works of legendary producer, George Pal. Volume 3 picks off right were volume two left off. So what’s included on this set? Well, I’ll tell ya. 28 classic Puppetoons shorts presented in HD in the most stunning restorations you will ever see on film. Courtesy and officially licensed by Paramount Pictures and with the assistance of some of the world’s leading archives, there’s no shortage of rare goodies on this set. Included is the very first Paramount Puppetoons release with Jim Dandy and more animated antics with the beloved character Jasper. Cartoon selections that were presented in SD on the first volume are back, this time in HD including both Dr. Seuss shorts. The set also gives fans a look at some of Pal’s earliest work. Including some of Pal’s 2-D animated cartoon shorts made in the mid 1930s. Extras include an unreleased interview with Pal himself. A release that should be on every cartoon fans home video library. Order it directly from the producer himself at his website. – Nelson Hughes
1. FLIP THE FROG: THE COMPLETE SERIES
With all the great home video releases that came out this year, Jerry and I felt this one was a no brainer. FLiP was eight years in production and it was well worth the wait. It is certainly a crowning achievement for Thunderbean Animation and what will eventually become their most biggest and important release. The two disc set features all 38 theatrical cartoons uncut and uncensored from the Ub Iwerks studios which was distributed by Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer. The Flip cartoons were MGM’s first animated theatrical releases from 1930 through 1933. If you love pre-code cartoons, then this set is for you. Officially licensed from Blackhawk Films, almost all the prints taken from 35mm prints from the UCLA FILM AND TELEVISION ARCHIVE and several of the other major film archives. Steve Stanchfield and his staff should be applauded for the tireless long efforts for painstakingly restoring these cartoons in all their natural glory. The special features include unseen artwork from the Iwerks studio, rare early 1910s musical recordings and so much more. There’s plenty of audio commentaries (a first for Thunderbean) from some of the top animation historians and a special video introduction by Ub’s granddaughter, Leslie Iwerks rounds out this excellent release. Flip finally gets his due with the help of Thunderbean and you won’t be disappointed. Get your copy of Flip The Frog: The Complete Series now! – Nelson Hughes