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BEANY AND CECIL:  THE SPECIAL EDITION

Review by Michael Jacobson

Film ***1/2

Bob Clampett is truly an animation legend, though probably far less recognized than his peers.  He was one of the three Warner Bros. giants from their animated shorts department, along with Friz Freling and Chuck Jones.  Clampett was actually there from the beginning, serving as assistant director on the very first Merrie Melodies short.  He eventually went on to direct a bevy of the studio’s classic shorts, and today, I think his is the style that’s most easily recognizable.  Though the look of the Jones and Freling directed shorts is probably what’s most associated with Warner cartoons, it was Clampett who truly put the loony in Looney Toons.  He was truly the first to recognize that with animated characters, there were no physical or logical limitations, and as such, his shorts were always the most insanely funny.  If Porky Pig got surprised, for example, his eyes didn’t just open wide.  They popped open to twice the size of his head!  And other characters under Clampett would bend, twist, stretch and contort in limitless ways, or turn into lightning bolts when they ran, or pop their mouths open in giant square-jawed shapes to proclaim their excitement, or even squeeze themselves through keyholes.  Today, when you see Wile E. Coyote fall from a cliff and land in a soda bottle, with his entire body squeezed inside except for the tail sticking out, you have to smile and remember that’s an image that wouldn’t have come about without the groundwork of Bob Clampett.

Clampett was an endless innovator, and soon, with his own company, he would produce a classic for television, “Time For Beany”, a live puppet show that in the late 40’s would capture the imaginations of even the likes of Frank Zappa and Albert Einstein.  But animation remained his forte, and a decade later he would revise these characters into one of the most popular and influential animated shows, “Beany and Cecil”.

Beany was a kid with a propeller cap, and Cecil was a big green sea serpent, who amusingly enough, still looked kind of like a puppet even in animated form.  Their adventures involved them sailing around looking for monsters.  The show was funny, filled with many puns, word plays, and musical numbers that delighted both kids and their parents.

Now, thanks to Image and the DVD format, Beany and Cecil:  The Special Edition brings nearly four hours worth of this classic programming together for fans of the show.  The disc includes over 20 cartoons, plus four of the live puppet show episodes and other live broadcasts.  It’s about as complete a collection as anyone could hope for, and it was well worth the wait after numerous release delays.  You can laugh at me if you like, but I’m actually going so far as to say this is Image’s second best DVD overall, behind Dances With Wolves…that’s how much I like the package, and how well I think it competes against an Oscar winning movie with a THX transfer and great commentary track!

First of all, I’d imagine this is a great disc to get if you have kids.  I mean, almost four hours of programming; parents gotta love that—it’ll definitely offer a break from those Disney videos watched hundreds of times!  But thanks to the extras and the historical significance of the productions, this disc is bound to appeal to the animation enthusiast as well. 

And fans of Bob Clampett, like me, simply need to snatch this title up with both hands.

Video ***

The quality varies, as you might expect.  The cartoons received new transfers straight from the negatives, and they look amazingly good, with very little in the way of scratches or debris, and excellent, bright coloring throughout.  The live shows date back to the 40’s, so they don’t look great, but as good or better than might be reasonably expected.  And the extra bits, including unreleased clips and such, also vary in quality, but are great to have, and probably not going to ever look any better than they do here. 

Audio **1/2

The original mono sound is clear throughout, with no difficulties in hearing or understanding dialogue, but again, of some varying quality.  Older pieces offer a bit more noise, but nothing distracting.

Features ****

This disc is loaded with extras, including commentary tracks by Bob Clampett, Stan Freberg, Walker Edminston, along with audio from story sessions, several behind the scenes home videos, a stills gallery, and a “Lost Work” section of unreleased projects spearheaded by Clampett.  Only complaint:  the menus are a bit hard to navigate, and the disc lacks timer capabilities and numbered chapters between cartoons.  Each one has a stop, but without knowing where you are numbers-wise, it’s a bit hard to find your favorite ones while viewing.

Summary:

Beany and Cecil:  Special Edition is an impressive and comprehensive collection of one of television animation’s most important shows, as well as the early pioneering puppet show.  There’s enough to keep you busy for days, maybe even weeks.  It’s a DVD treat not to be missed by enthusiasts.