STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $44.98
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 624 Minutes
Restored episodes
"Huckleberry Hound: A Linguistic Masterpiece" featurette
"Huckleberry Quotes" featurette
• "The Legendary Sound of Daws Butler" featurette

Over the last year or so, we’ve gotten a raft of DVD sets of Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, and other classics have been getting the digital treatment with varying degrees of quality. The latest to be served up is this first volume collection of The Huckleberry Hound Show. The show originally aired during the period that Hanna-Barbera were enjoying decent success and the associated rise in demand. Far from meeting the quality of their theatrical shorts, Huck and his pals were victims of Hanna and Barbera’s increasing mass-production mentality and assembly-line animation. The question that I faced as I sat down to these discs was: will Huck’s inherent charm overcome the quick-and-dirty nature of the work?

The Show

Like any variety show, not all the running time is dedicated to the title character. Each episode is split into thirds, with the first third being a Yogi Bear short, the second third being about the mice Pixie and Dixie and their nemesis Jinks the Cat, and, saving the best for last, the final third being a Huckleberry Hound cartoon. If you were to graph the relative quality of these shorts, I imagine the result would look something like a horn pipe, with the bowl being Yogi, the dip of the stem being Pixie and Dixie, and the mouth of the stem being Huck, like so:

The Yogi shorts offer a familiar formula of denial of gratification; Yogi wants out of Jellystone Park, but all his efforts are in vain; Yogi wants some honey, but all his efforts are in vain; Yogi wants Boo Boo to love him, but all his efforts are in vain. There isn’t much in the way of variation on the formula, but there are the occasional setups that give Yogi a chance to prove his cleverness, for example, and to make his famous claim regarding his intelligence as contrasted with that of his peers.

So, plotwise there’s not much originality, so it’s the characterization that redeems the Yogi shorts, and cemented him in cartoon history. Yogi’s indomitable spirit and distinct voice were enough to make him memorable, and to shift the focus from the variations on a familiar theme to his particular interaction with those variations.

"Kill Hamlet? It shall be done, or my name isn’t Rosencatz!"

Pixie and Dixie? Not so much. This ambiguously gay duo are a strange and pointless example of twinning, taking one character, in this case Hanna-Barbera’s own Jerry the mouse, and splitting him into two entities. Jinks the cat is an analogue for Tom, and the resulting cartoons are nearly identical to the much higher-quality Tom and Jerry shorts, with the addition of dialogue for the characters. The only reason to have split the Jerry character into Pixie and Dixie is so that the mice could banter with one another, but not much in the way of character evolves from the conversations they have.

Jinks is the one redeeming factor, because Hanna-Barbera gave him a unique voice, and the character design is far enough away from Tom’s faux-realism to make him an individual. However, Jinks is missing that quality that Yogi possessed that really sparked the imagination. I attribute it to the fact that Jinks is more of a secondary character than a strict antagonist, thanks to the way he gets sidelined while Pixie and Dixie have their moments. The result is a set of cartoons whose only lasting contribution to cartoon lore is the word "meeses".

You know how it was when you were a child watching cartoons. You’d sit through the dull ones just so you could get to your favorites. For me, it was suffering through Tweety just on the off-chance that I’d get to see a Bugs/Elmer throwdown. Had I been alive during The Huckleberry Hound Show‘s initial run, I suspect I would have tolerated Pixie and Dixie just so I could get to Huck himself.

All aboard for the Appendectomy Express!
Stops in Spleen, Urinary Tract, and Right Lung!

Through some mysterious application of alchemy, Huck’s cartoons are the perfect synthesis of creative plot and distinct characterization. The plots are roughly similar to Yogi’s, except more complicated in that Huck is often triumphant, but events twist so that he wishes he weren’t. They avoid becoming stale by hurling Huck through time, fitting his laid-back personality into a dozen different archetypes, from sheriff to knight, from cop to big-game hunter.

The scenarios are fun, but its Huck’s character that makes him one-of-a-kind. The closest I can get to describing him in terms of other cartoons is that he’s Eeyore, with a bit more of Bugs Bunny’s cunning and optimism. He’s unflappable. His drawl is in place for every line of dialogue, and his demeanor only rarely rises above that of a sleepy afternoon. No other cartoon takes so many things in stride, turning the normal back-and-forth conventions of the cartoon world into a series of overreaches on the part of the antagonist, until Huck comes out on top.

So the episodes are easily worth watching for the Huckleberry Hound shorts alone, but there are some drawbacks to the show in addition to the other uninspiring fare. It’s easy to see how the writing of each episode would suffer because of accelerated time frames, which were caused by Hanna-Barbera’s rush to flood the market; I’m sad to say that the art suffered accordingly, as well. These episodes have some of the worst examples of recycled art that I have encountered, not just in the backgrounds but in the character animation as well. The number of frames drawn is way below what you’d expect, resulting in choppy animation that’s a far cry from Hanna-Barbera’s origins. When the writing is lazy, as it is in the bottom portion of the episodes collected here, it doesn’t help that the art does absolutely nothing to dispel the sloppiness.

Disregarding the artwork, which eventually just settles into your brain and ceases to distract (much like the scolding of a parent), there are two qualities on display in this set: that of originality of plot, and that of originality of character. Breaking it down, all mathematical-like, we’ve got two points for Huck, one point for Yogi, and a no-score for Pixie and Dixie. I’m not sure what that adds up to you for you, but for me the points that Huck scored are worth, like, a million each.

6.5 out of 10

The safety word is "pic-a-nic".

The Look

I’ve already discussed the quality of animation, so the score for this section will be based purely on the fullscreen transfer, which is pretty damn good. The lines are all bold and clean, the restored colors have a decent range, and I didn’t notice any drop in clarity between the foreground and background animation. There are still fair amounts of noise and scratches, so the clarity isn’t perfect. However, where recent Hanna-Barbera releases the visuals have been the lowest-scoring section, here they’re easily the highest.

7 out of 10

The Noise

It’s in Dolby mono, and it’s wonderful. The music is less of a focus for this show than it has been in other Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but that’s all right because it makes way for the great voice work by Daws Butler. The mix is adequate, with a little too much attention paid to ambience rather than to the dialogue. My main gripe is that the mastering process left this set with something of a tinny quality, with not enough in the lower registers; I’m not sure who to blame for that, whether it was the source material or the processing, but it’s just not as full as it could be.

6.7 out of 10

Is it true what they say? Is a man incapable
of resisting the opportunity to crack a lewd joke?

The Goodies

Each of the four discs has one or two small features on it. The first disc contains a nice treat in six episodes that are restored and reconstructed as they initially aired, original commercials and all. These are fun to watch because of the illusion that you’re getting an historical context.

Disc two contains a joke documentary called: "Huckleberry Hound: A Linguistical Masterpiece," which is a cute piece devoted to Huck’s frequent use of slang. There’s no actual information here, but it does serve to highlight one of Huck’s most endearing qualities. Also on this disc is a throwaway music video of Huck tossing out his most famous lines of dialogue set to a thin dance beat.

Disc three has the most informative feature of the whole set, "The Legendary Sound of Daws Butler." It’s a profile of the dedicated voice man for the cartoon (the Hanna-Barbera equivalent of Mel Blanc), his techniques and his results. It could have been a little longer, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into the methods of the man who created so many memorable voices.

Disc four contains a feature of "bumpers and bridges", the segments that linked the shows together when originally aired. Some are in black-and-white, some in color, but the restoration is mediocre for both. Finally, this disc contains a segment in which fans of the original show sit down to watch the pilot episode fully restored, including segments that were broadcast in color, but which many people didn’t get a chance to see because they had black-and-white sets. It’s a heartwarming little feature, but isn’t much more than sugar.

And — surprise! — you get a mini-framed animation cel. Collect enough of these, and you will be able to play some sort of game, possibly Fizbin.

6.5 out of 10

Yes. Yes, he is.

The Artwork

In keeping with tradition, the cover is a transparent slipcase with a few details painted on, such as Huck’s pose. Removing the slipcase gives a cardboard butterfly-fold that features Huck in the same character, but with a different pose. It’s pretty, and I dig consistency.

One quick observation, though: this set has four physical discs, but is really a five-disc set because disc number four is dual-sided. The other three discs have some nice character portraits on them, but disc four is just silver-and-gold (of which I have none). So much for consistency.

6 out of 10

Overall: 6.8 out of 10