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The Spin Sheet

DVD review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Tennessee Tuxedo And His Tales: The Complete Collection (DVD)

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Tennessee Tuxedo And His Tales: The Complete Collection
1963-1965 (2012) - Shout! Factory
Released on DVD on March 13th, 2012

Dolby Digital

Program Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/C/B+

Coming off their hit King Leonardo And His Short Subjects - and right before they changed the world of animation pop culture with Underdog, Total Television Productions (TTV) was tasked by cereal giant General Mills and ad agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to create a cartoon that they were told couldn't be done: educate children just as intently as you entertain them.

The gauntlet was thrown by FCC Chairman Newton Minnow in May of 1961 when he challenged the attendees of a convention for the National Association of Broadcasters to simply watch TV all day for a single day and they would see it had was essentially garbage - that it was possibly the worst form of entertainment around - calling it a "vast wasteland" with no value for the public interest. He wasn't too far off, considering most everything at the time was commercially funded comedy sketches performed by tired vaudevillians.

And so, GM and DFS wanted something of value for the children to watch. Enter TTV with a plan in the form of a simple comedy equation. They figured, what was one of the greatest cartoons ever made? Popeye. And how does Popeye work? Well, Popeye enters, he gets chased up a figurative tree, someone (usually Bluto) throws rocks at him as he's trapped in the "tree," he eats a can of spinach which powers him to leave the tree and he triumphs. The end. So together, the minds at TTV (Treadwell D. Covington, Joe Harris, W. Watts "Buck" Biggers and Chet Stover) gave us Tennessee Tuxedo, his faithful chum, Chumley and their educator Phineas J. Whoopee and his amazing Three-Dimensional Blackboard (the 3DBB) in Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales. The idea was, Tennessee and Chumley get chased up a tree story-wise, rocks get thrown in the form of a task or mission and their education on a subject needed to get down is the spinach. And guess what? It works. Quite, well actually. Tennessee Tuxedo is one of the great mostly forgotten cartoons and I hope this truly beautiful set helps get this wonderful series back out there. The show featured some really great writing, excellent voice casting (Get Smart/Inspector Gadget's Don Adams, Bradley Bolke and Larry Storch voice the main cast) - and even if the educational subjects feature some dated technology (newspapers, telephones and celluloid film) - it's still fun to watch and really good subjects starters for younger viewers while they watch it on their iPad, texting their friends on their cell and dropping their video clip off on YouTube.

Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales: The Complete Collection brings us all 70 "episodes" of Tennessee in various states of quality - but for the most part, it's on par with the Underdog set released by Shout! last month. I pull episodes in quotes up there because, instead of trying to recreate the experience of watching complete half-hour episodes of the show like with Underdog, this set serves as an archive of all the individual Tennessee Tuxedo cartoons ever produced - and frankly, that's just fine as far as I'm concerned. Also included are selections of The King and Odie, The Hunter, Klondike Kat and Tooter Turtle which aired along with Tennessee interchangeably - some of which were newly included to air with Tennessee and some were repeats from the TTV classic King Leonardo And His Short Subjects.

Video is presented full-frame at 1.33:1, and again, much like Shout!'s Underdog set, the video quality is as good as it's going to be and isn't so bad as to be distracting. For the most par, honestly, it's pretty good. Audio is in a standard mono-only track and serves the cartoon quite well.

Extras include commentary tracks on about eight Tennessee cartoons and one King and Odie featuring such luminaries from the show as Larry Storch, Bradley Bolke and Buck Biggers along with animation historians Mark Arnold and Wally Wingert. There's an informative and breezy featurette entitled Tennessee Tuxedo Will Not Fail that goes into the production of the cartoon, focusing on the educational value of the show and contains some choice moments with Larry Storch. A short selection of bumps called Riddles which feature Tennessee and Chum asking Mr. Whoopee a riddle that he would answer with his 3-D Blackboard as well as a selection of archival previews and show opens pulled from old copies of 16mm and what looks like videotape. Nice to have; but nothing Earth-shattering.

Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales: The Complete Collection is a fantastic, must have set for fans of classic animation. I truly hope a new generation of cartoon fans will be exposed to this and others of it's ilk like Underdog, King Leonardo and His Short Subjects and - maybe its success will prompt someone to bring The Beagles to DVD? One can hope, right?

Todd Doogan

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