Animated TVonDVD: Star Trek: The Animated Series; The Tick vs. Season One; HarveyToons; The Dick Tracy Show

The Animated Series Box ArtStar Trek: The Animated Series won the franchise's only Emmy; The Tick vs. Season One introduced comics' funniest superhero satire to television; HarveyToons: The complete Collection is a spirited mix of film and TV animated shorts, and The Dick Tracy Show: The Complete Animated Crime Series fails to do justice to Chester Gould's sharp-jawed sleuth…

The Animated Series

Star Trek: The Animated Series

The twenty-two animated episodes of Star Trek that ran over two seasons in 1973-74 are finally available on DVD – in a package that does them justice – thirty-two years after their original run ended. A single screening is enough to tell even the casual viewer why there has been a demand, for so many years, for a home video release of the series – despite the usual limited animation common to television, Star Trek: The Animated Series tells stories that would be at home in the middle of seasons one and two of the original, live-action series.

Under the guidance of original series veteran D.C. Fontana, the animated series dealt with some pretty heady subjects for a cartoon show that aired on Saturday mornings. Yesteryear used the Guardian of Time [first seen in original series episode The city on the Edge of Forever] to tell the story of how Spock became a man – after an accident had changed the timeline so that he had died at age seven; Eye of the Beholder found our heroes stuck in a zoo created by slug-like creatures whose intelligence far outstripped that of humanity [or even Vulcans!]; The Counter-Clock Incident placed the Enterprise in a reverse universe, where black stars shone on a white void…

One of the reasons the show was of high quality was the insistence of Gene Roddenberry that Filmation [who created the series for NBC] use the original cast and many of the same writers. With the exception of Walter Koenig [Ensign Pavel Chekhov], the entire cast from the original series returned to voice their characters. Koenig was given an opportunity to write an ep and turned in one of the series' best – The Infinite Vulcan. Animated Series writers who worked on the original series included Samuel A. Peeples, David Gerrold, D.C. Fontana, and David Wise. The result was an Emmy win – for Best Children's Series. The show was described as a "Mercedes Benz in a soap box derby" in one review.

Features include: three text commentaries by Michael and Denise Okuda [Yesteryear, The Eye of the Beholder, and The Counter-Clock Incident – all excellent]; two audio commentaries by David Gerrold [More Tribbles, More Troubles and Bem]; an audio commentary by David Wiser [How Sharper Than a Serpent's tooth]; Drawn to the Final Frontier – The Making of Star Trek: The Animated Series; What's the Star Connection? [examples of original series references in TAS, and instances of later references back to TAS]; Storyboard Gallery [from The Infinite Vulcan]; Show History.

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Grade: A

Features – Grade: A

The Tick vs. Season One Box Art

The Tick vs. Season One

From its bizarre, scatting theme song to its witty deconstruction of the superhero genre, Ben Edlund's The Tick was one of the brightest, sharpest, funniest animated series to ever reach television. The dispenser of Mighty Blue Justice [with the aid of accountant-turned Moth Man, Arthur], The Tick was an avenger like no other: a large, noble, enthusiastic, but thoroughly unintelligent fusion of man and bug.

Given to proclamations and long-winded similes and metaphors, The Tick [perfectly voiced by Townsend Coleman] appeared to be a human behemoth in a blue costume – until you noticed that his antennae moved! His personality and intelligence could be summed up in his audition for a superhero assignment, when he straps himself into a nasty looking device to demonstrate his invulnerability with the warning, "Stand Back! I might be dangerous!"

This is a hero whose battle cry is "Spooooooooooooooooooon!" […because all the good battle cries were already taken…] His sidekick, Arthur [Mickey Dolenz], wears a moth-man suit and flies – but he's out of shape and easily terrified. Other heroes who pop up to help out include: American Maid [Kay Lenz] – Wonder Woman in red, white & blue French maid's uniform; Die Fledermaus [Cam Clarke] a Batman-like character who's more interested in his press clippings – and women – than actually fighting crime because… he's a coward, and Sewer Urchin [Jess Harnell] – a rain man/puffer fish combination.

The show's villains match the delightful absurdity of the heroes: Chairface Chippendale [Tony Jay] – an evil genius with a chair for a head [who began etching his name on the moon in his first appearance]; Dinosaur Neil – a mild-manner scientist who accidentally becomes a raging dinosaur [and can only be defeated by a common household remedy], and Human Ton & Handy [Maurice Lamarche] – a hulking dimwit who takes orders from a hand puppet. The there were The Idea Men – who couldn't communicate their ideas because their masks completely muffled their voices. And there's always The Evil Midnight bomber [What Bombs At Midnight]…

The Tick vs. Season One collects twelve of the first season's thirteen episodes [legal complications, apparently] and that's over four hours of totally mind-boggling fun. Watch for thrilling origin stories; riffs on talk shows; insane gadgets and mad scientists – and did I mention the brainy hand puppet and his dimwitted handler…?

The DVD is free of extras, but the package includes an insert with a complete episode list, and an exclusive lithograph.

Grade: A+

The Complete Collection

HarveyToons: The Complete Collection

Most people know of certain legendary animators like Tex Avery, Fritz Freleng, Chuck Jones, and the like. When I was a kid, I used to watch a series built around characters like Casper, The Friendly Ghost and Baby Huey. Classic Media has now released all fifty-two episodes of that series under the titles of HarveyToons: The Complete Collection – and, while they might not always match the work of the three giants I named earlier, they had more than a few moments where they did challenge them.

Directors like Izzy Sparber and Seymour Kneitel brought a combination of fluidity and chaos to these characters' adventures and, while less well known than, say, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, provided a lot of quality laughs. Casper, of course, was their best known character, and a ghost who didn't want to scare anyone was a great concept.

Each early Casper cartoon had Casper scaring away the people with whom he wanted to be friends – until he would somehow save the day. In one short [Ghost of the Town], he saved a baby from a burning building. Not only did he make a lot of friends that day, he also ruined
the lives of his fellow ghosts – no one was afraid of them because of his courage and helpfulness. One of the trademarks of a Casper cartoon was his unfailing cheerfulness and determination – he made a great role model for kids.

Such was not the case with Baby Huey – a humongous baby duck who was a few brain cells shy, and always hungry. Then there was Little Audrey, whose imagination was always getting her in trouble – as when she decided to visit the zoo to find a pet! There was also a pairing, Herman & Catnip, that owed much to Tom & Jerry but had their own slapstick charms.

When the HarveyToons ran on TV, an episode would be composed of two theatrical shorts and an original TV short [usually not featuring one of the main Harvey characters]. My personal favorite [and indicative of the intelligence that lurked behind every HarveyToon] is T.V. Fuddlehead, a lovely satire in which a TV addict insists on buying everything he sees advertised on TV.

With over nineteen hours of material on four double-sided discs, there's no need for extras. This is a terrific collection, with very few duds. For animation aficionados [and kids of all ages], HarveyToons: The Complete Collection is an unexpected treat.

Grade: B+

The Dick Tracy Show Box Art

The Dick Tracy Show: The Complete Animated Crime Series

When I was in grade school, I used to run home at lunchtime to watch The Dick Tracy Show. Even though Chester Gould's immortal sleuth barely appeared in it, I still loved it. The problem is, it really hasn't held up well…

I don't know [or care] how The Dick Tracy Show: The Complete Animated Crime Series came to be made. What was charming and funny to a ten-year old kid [that would be 1961] turns out to be bad slapstick, punchless puns and a whole lot of boring going on.

Part of the problem is that characters like Jo Jitsu, Heap O'Calory, Hemlock Holmes and Go Go Gomez are all stereotypes, and/or rip-offs of better characters [Go Go Gomez, for example, is a dumbed down Speedy Gonzalez – himself a stereotype, but at least a witty use of one]. Jo Jitsu is Mister Moto played for clich

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