Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Can't Make Public Domain Watchable, Either?: Hunky & Spunky & Friends- You Can't Shoe a Shoefly

Ella: The Life and Music of Ella FitzgeraldYou know, if a company wants to release public domain films to make a quick buck, then fine.  A public domain film is one that has no copyright owner, and can be recreated and shown again and again.  Digiview Productions puts many of these films on DVD, and sells them at giant retail outlets for a buck, hoping unsuspecting consumers will shell out the pocket change to either add to their DVD collection, or shut up the kids who see the cartoon cover.  This collection of animated shorts would be interesting in any other form, like cleaned up and released by a major distributor.  Instead, Digiview should be ashamed of themselves (or himself or herself, I think anyone with a disc burner and a copy of a public domain film can open a DVD business).

The films are listed in order, along with a brief review and a one-to-five star rating:

"Hunky & Spunky: You Can't Shoe a Horse Fly"
Directed by David Fleischer
Two donkeys (or horses?) are bothered by a hungry horse fly when they decide to stop for a nap.  I don't know who is Spunky and who is Hunky, but the gags are as weak as the annoying title song. (* *)

"Land of the Lost Jewels"
Directed by I. Sparber
Children Isabel and Billy go to the bottom of the ocean to find Isabel's lost lucky pin.  Terrible picture quality and editing ruin an already sad piece of pun-filled animation.  (*)

"Boy Meets Dog"
Directed by Walter Lantz
Based on Gene Byrnes' comic strip "Reg'lar Fellers," little Bobby brings a dog home, and upsets a father who would today be considered abusive!  Bizarre, the stuff of nightmares.  (* *)

"The Goal Rush"
Directed by I. Sparber
Canine College and Alley Cat College meet at the Milk Bowl for a big football game.  Goofball stuff, but it does contain a couple of grins.  (* * *)

"Once Upon a Time..."
Directed by Mladen Pejakovic
A black dot on a white background transforms itself into a charming vignette about a baby and its parents.  Cute little story. (* * * *)

"The Invisible Moustache of Raoul Dufy"
Directed by Aurelius Battaglia
Little Raoul has blonde hair and blue eyes, "like a millionaire," and grows a light blond moustache and tries to become a painter.  Narrated like a story book, and nice enough with some appealing scenes until the abrupt ending. (* * *)

"The Tender Game"
Directed by John Hubley
Ella Fitzgerald, backed by the Oscar Peterson Trio, sings "Tenderly" as watercolor animation portrays life and love in a big city.  Simple and marvelous. (* * * * *)

"Freedom River"
Directed by Joseph Cavella
Deliriously simplistic fable about the arrogant people of an unnamed land who let their freedom go to their heads.  Solemnly narrated by Orson Welles. (* * *)

Now then, aside from the fact that all the films are animated, there is no reason why this diverse collection of films would be gathered together into one volume. This is a problem. I imagine Digiview grabbed a handful of films, spliced them together, and released it. Even the DVD cover is full of mistakes- it gets the opening film's title wrong, has the phrase "Hunky and Spunky- Yankee Doodle Donkey" on the spine, and unrelated artwork of a bulldog and the aforementioned donkey on the front. The back of the cover lists the films being color and black and white (all the films are color). The disc runs about an hour, including a strange collection of "previews" of other public domain flicks.

The sound is cranked up too loudly, and the picture quality varies from mediocre to awful. I am giving "Hunky & Spunky & Friends: You Can't Shoe a Shoefly" a ranking based on the average of the film's ratings, but Criterion Collection this ain't. Digiview, you kind of suck...(* * *) out of 5 stars.