Saturday, October 28, 2017

Blu-Ray/DVD Review - Cartoon Roots: Halloween Haunts

I am a huge fan of early film and early animation. I love how original and innovative they were. I love how surreal the stories are. Many people look back at Looney Tunes shorts from the 40s and 50s and say how clever and innovative they were, but really they were only copying what had been done for decades before.

Cartoon Roots: Halloween Haunts is a Blu-Ray/DVD anthology of short films from 1907 to 1948. All feature animation, and many feature live action mixed with animation. They are unrated and appropriate for most ages.

The Good

Restoration. Some of these films are 110 years old, so it is really incredible to see them looking this good. Considering the projection technology that existed when these were first created and shown, they may look better than they ever have. I really have to hand it to Tommy Jose Slathés' Cartoons on Film for preserving and presenting these treasures.

Innovation. One of my favorite things about early film is how creative and innovative the early filmmakers were. This was all new with no real precedents, and the animators were a lot of young kids with wild ideas, so they were really free to experiment and fail. I don't think we'll ever see such an era again.

History. Included with this set is a booklet with background information on the shorts that is fascinating and helps put them in perspective.

Three Felix the Cat Cartoons. I love Felix the Cat. His early cartoons are still some of the most original, fun, feisty, and original adventures I've ever seen or read. I think he could be a big hit today if a filmmaker would go back to his roots and make something that daring, bold, and irreverent. And we get THREE cartoons on this set. Granted, one is a mediocre color cartoon that lacked the feistiness of early shorts, but it was still fun.

The Bad

Mundane Selections. Not every film that has ever been made is a classic and deserves to be viewed or preserved. There are a few examples on this set.

No Real Special Features. This definitely targeted to a small and specific audience. While we love these old films and a beautiful presentation of them, we also love the story behind them. It's a shame there weren't more special features beyond a few newspaper clippings on the DVD and a small booklet with a little background information.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

Honestly, this set is everything I could hope for when I first saw it advertised. I've purchased several sets like this in the past and have always been disappointed in them. This one I was truly pleased with. My only minor gripe is a documentary about the films would have been nice. A lot of the work has already been done on the Cartoon Research website.


Cartoon Roots: Halloween Haunts is a true treat. The short films are beautifully restored. Most feature amazing, innovative techniques and original storytelling. And THREE Felix the Cat cartoons! Does it get better than that? I give it 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.



1 comment:

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Thank you so much for the kind review of this release. I'm so glad to hear you've enjoyed it!

    To answer a few of the points you bring up, I would like to note that it is an understatement when I say that my team and I operate on a shoestring budget—that's being generous. We simply don't have the time, manpower, and especially funds to create complex special features for these kinds of releases. Unfortunately, the very costly and time consuming work of simply finding the films in the first place (or multiple prints, to make the best possible composites/restorations now, which can be incredibly difficult, when so few elements survive now) is what takes precedent here, and the final product you see is often the result of an already-Herculean effort. This work is simply not very profitable, and we're not independently wealthy either. My hope is that the booklets at least help put the films into some sort of historical context, giving background info about them, as you suggest.

    However, to help solve some of this problem in general, my co-collaborator Andrew T. Smith and I will be coming out with a film called Cartoon Carnival: The Documentary, which is the first-ever full length documentary in recent decades which focuses solely on early silent-era animation (also in HD, to boot!) and I hope this will be released to general audiences in 2018. My expectation is that the documentary will hopefully be able to educate new audiences about the general history of this period in animation history, and the Cartoon Roots releases, while still targeted to a highly focused audience, can then be viewed in even more informed context as a result.

    Thank you so much, again, for your interest and generous review.

    Tommy José Stathes