Two Depatie-Freleng Cartoon Series’ Arrive High-end and Hi-Def
Kino Lorber is back with another mini-wave of vintage cartoons from Depatie-Freleng, the prolific studio best known for the animated Pink Panther, both the opening titles of the feature films (often cited as the highlights of some of those movies) and the many self-contained shorts. This time, we welcome to Blu-Ray a pair of multi-episode collections of forgotten characters, The Blue Racer and Sheriff Hoot Kloot.
Flying high by the early 1970s, Depatie-Freleng (named after the business-minded David Depatie and former Looney Tunes titan Friz Freleng, both of whom owned and ran the place) had a full docket of characters and cartoons to output.
While no one would likely label these cartoons classics, they are certainly worth acquiring for animation aficionados of all stripes.
While the quality didn’t always noticeably suffer from the workload, the continued introduction of new characters might’ve been ill-advised at this particular phase. Depatie-Freleng had a lot of balls in the air, making for a haphazard juggling act – perhaps at the greatest expense of snake lovers…
THE BLUE RACER
DIRECTED BY GERRY CHINIQUY, et al./1972-74
STREET DATE: MAY 30, 2017/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
It’s postulated several times by the various animation historians on the disc that The Blue Racer is an ill-defined hodgepodge of partially realized conceptual ideas. Depatie-Freleng’s gameboard-style spinner of stuff could’ve landed on any number of characters (most notably a smart-alec Japanese beetle), but in the end the titular speedster serpent got the star on his dressing room door. The theory remains unverified on the disc’s considerable extras, though it certainly makes sense.
There are thirteen shorts on this Blu-Ray, looking and sounding pretty darn good. The quality of comedy and sheer cartoon magnetism that one seeks in episodes such as these vary from “pretty good” to “meh”. Internal logic and even the character visual models are even less sturdy. Case in point, the Blue Racer, a desert serpent, more than once, for whatever reason, finds himself zipping around Japan. Other times, he’s zipping around Alaska, or even snake-averse Ireland. Stock backgrounds? Creative exoticism? Whatever; it is what it is. The character himself is rather ill-defined, sometimes down on his luck. It’s the vocal performance of Larry D. Mann as the Blue Racer, that is his most consistently entertaining aspect.
Animation buffs will be sold on the extras. Included are a pair of informative documentaries featuring Mark Arnold, Jerry Beck, Barbara Donatelli, Will Friedwald, Art Leonardi and layout artist Martin Strudler. There are also audio commentaries for selected films by author Mark Arnold, director Bob Balser, animation historian Jerry Beck, filmmaker Greg Ford and cartoon writer William Hohauser.
The same extras listing basically applies to The Blue Racer‘s sister disc:
SHERIFF HOOT KLOOT
DIRECTED BY GERRY CHINIQUY, et al./1973-74
STREET DATE: MAY 30, 2017/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
“This type of character was just in the air back then”. So explains animation historian Jerry Beck in the short featurette’s portion about Sheriff Hoot Kloot. The short-tempered high-strung blustery lawman, usually from somewhere down south: Buford T. Justice, J.W. Pepper, and so forth. Hoot Kloot, a sawed-off and stocky lawman in a wonderfully warped Western town, not only unquestionably belongs among them, he predates them. Which, in this context, makes Mr. Beck’s observation all the more apt.
This blu-ray serves up all seventeen Hoot Kloot shorts, a run of cartoons that is consistently more engaging and enjoyable than its sister disc, The Blue Racer. From the character designs to the loose and fantastical UPA-esque backgrounds, Hoot Kloot is a pleasingly odd series of visual mini-feasts. And, it’s fun to say. Hoot Kloot.
It’s also fun to watch, with a few laugh-out-loud gags to be savored. It helps that the characters are well defined and immediately recognizable types. The title character, as mentioned already, is a singularly focused loud and short sheriff, looking to always do right by the law and make good on his sworn duty. Despite his top billing, though, the rotund Hoot Kloot, as voiced by Bob Holt, is typically the butt of jokes, on the receiving end of mischief both circumstantial and inflicted by others. It’s almost as though someone gave Elmer Fudd a badge, a huge hat, and a double shot espresso.
In the de facto Bugs Bunny role, then, is Crazywolf, the whackadoodle and warped antagonist of several episodes. It’s not hard to imagine a slightly tweaked Crazywolf as the lead character, basically pulling the same hijinks and being okay to root for. As he stands, he’s a bit too wacky for that – but only by a hair.
It’s Fester, Hoot Kloot’s talking horse, though, who’s the brains of any given operation. A scrawny steed with human-shaped feet, an entire short is devoted to the prospect of him getting horseshoed. Other times, he’s airing his frustration with his owner as a grieved member of an organized labor union. He may be loyal to a fault, and his height-challenged owner has to come up with new ways to hop onto his saddle every time, but what other options does a scrawny animal have when he’s the one horse in these one-horse towns?
As previously mentioned, this disc features the same pleasing level and quantity of bonus features as The Blue Racer. So much so that the two documentaries are literally the same. But that’s fine, as both series’ are fairly covered on both.
While no one would likely label these cartoons classics, they are certainly worth acquiring for animation aficionados of all stripes. The Blue Racer amounts to an interesting curio; Hoot Kloot is that and more. Great care and attention have gone into these releases, and that should not be ignored.
Previous volumes in Kino Lorber’s DePatie-Freleng series are The Inspector, The Ant and the Aardvark, Crazylegs Crane, and Roland and Rattfink. Though this critic has so far been unable to sample those offerings, one has no reason to suspect that they are of inferior technical quality. And, informed sources tell us that more Depatie-Freleng is on the way!