Friday, July 25, 2008

Further TTA/F! DVD Notes

If you're only getting one of the two '90s cartoon sets coming out on Tuesday, I think Freakazoid! set is my first recommendation, and not just because I'm such a blinkered fan of that show: the special features are better. The three commentary tracks have the usual quota of laughing at their own jokes plus lawyer-mandated silence (there are a couple of spots where somebody sounds like he's about to say something that the WB legal department might strike out, and then... nothing), but there are a lot of funny remarks and good information given, and credit is given where due: it's too bad Tom Minton wasn't there to comment on "Toby Danger," but all the participants make sure to note that it's his baby all the way.

The seventeen-minute featurette is very good, and addresses the re-tooling of the show head-on by having interviews with Bruce Timm about his original concept and how that eventually developed into the "Beware the Creeper" episode of Batman, and we also get a look at some of Timm's original designs for characters that were used as well as others that weren't. (Worth the price of admission alone is Timm's expression of surprise at the fact that the show is still remembered.) Also interviewed for the piece are the three writer-producers, Ruegger, Rugg and McCann, and director Scott Jeralds. The only notable absence is producer Mitch Schauer, who was largely responsible for making the show look as good as it did on such a ridiculously short production schedule, but Ruegger praises him a lot in the commentaries. Finally they have the promos that were done for F!'s debut on the WB, which worked around the fact that they didn't actually have any clips to show because they'd started so late.

(The controversy over F!'s resemblance to Mike Allred's "Madman" is not mentioned -- that may be another casualty of the lawyers -- but to be honest, I never really saw the resemblance anyway; "Madman" may have been one of the things Timm had in mind when coming up with the character, but it's just not the same character or design.)

The episodes still make me laugh, and if you have even a slightly fond recollection of F!, this is worth picking up at the lowish price. I'll note as an aside that while I knew F! was originally going to be from the Batman team, I'd forgotten just how many Batman people contributed to it; Paul Dini wrote a bunch of segments, Alan Burnett wrote an episode, Dan Riba, Eric Radomski and Ronnie Del Carmen were directors (Riba is caricatured as the prison warden in the season finale), and names like Curt Geda and Joe Denton turn up in the storyboarding credits.

I haven't finished watching the Tiny Toons set yet, so I can't comment in full, but so far it's as I remembered it: very uneven. Endearingly uneven, because it was the first product of a studio that had just been built from the ground up and because everybody in every department was trying new things and seeing if they would work, but uneven all the same; some episodes are good, some are just standard Saturday morning cartoon dreck with higher budgets ("Sawdust and Toonsil"). The voice acting is uneven as well, as some of the actors hadn't figured out that even "funny" cartoon voice acting needs to be dialed down a bit. (Don Messick, of course, is not one of those actors; he always knew how to exercise some restraint.) The best-looking episodes are the ones directed by Art Vitello with his powerhouse crew; most of his episodes were boarded by Bruce Timm and Doug McCarthy.

The special feature, produced by a different company from the one that did the F! feature, is a bit disappointing. It tries to put "Tiny Toons" in the context of Looney Tunes by showing old Looney Tunes clips, and, well, even the best of "Tiny Toons" (or the best of almost any TV cartoon) doesn't come off well in that context. Also, as I understand it, interviews with the directors were shot but are being saved for another volume (if they ever clear the music for the next volumes of TTA and F!); but the result is that nearly everybody interviewed on this first featurette is a writer or an executive. The most interesting stuff about TTA is not how it updated the Looney Tunes franchise but how it essentially created a new studio culture that would go on to give us even bigger hits -- without Tiny Toons, there would be no Batman series, and not only because the Batman people came from TTA -- and that really isn't addressed here very much. Maybe next time.


Anonymous said...

My copy arrived here in the UK yesterday, although I've not had the time to watch it. But I took your advice and bought it. It's been too long since I've seen it. Now if only there were an off-chance that Warners would therefore complete Animaniacs some day...

Whit said...

They waited too long to put out the TTA home video, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Picked up Tiny Toon Adventures but nobody around here had the Freakazoid! set stocked. Will have to order it, I guess.

I've watched enough of Tiny Toon Adventures to have remembered how that show, quality-wise, was all over the map in its early days, where both graphics and writing were concerned.