Lately, arriving at the movies early means being treated to trailers and commercials. In the 1970’s, the production company, Depatie-Freleng, were responsible for the theatrical release of numerous cartoon shorts. Pixar withstanding, this practice has been lost today and the most recognizable of Depatie-Freleng’s output is the Pink Panther cartoons. Thanks to Kino Lorber, more of their series are landing on DVD, including today’s subjects, The Blue Racer and Sheriff Hoot Kloot.
Hoot Kloot is the runaway favorite. Starting with the theme song and title sequence, which has saloon doors swinging on a title card where Sheriff Kloot’s eyes are the double o’s in Hoot, the series boasts a winsome pair in Kloot and his loyal horse, Fester. Fester’s an old horse and a running joke has his gallop not being what it used to be (“The Shoe Must Go On” has him misplacing his (horse) shoes). Sheriff Kloot threatens to send him to the glue factory more than once, but their regular banter always hits the spot.
Everyone will have their favorites but it’s a very consistent cartoon. If the show made any missteps it was the recurring antagonist of Crazywolf, whose Woody Woodpecker laugh and zaniness didn’t fit with the rest of the show. His appearances are mostly reserved to the show’s early episodes, but even then the episodes written around him are clever, just in need of a character replacement. Later episodes riffed on famous outlaws (Billy the Kidder, Wild Bill Hiccup) for Kloot to lay down the law with, and are highly successful.
The Blue Racer fluctuates in quality, with the cartoon going through three phases, much like an Oreo Cookie. Phase 1 is Tom and Jerry, tracking the speedy snake’s attempts to eat a Japanese Beetle, but since you can’t out-chase Tom and Jerry (except maybe Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner) you have a string of unrelated gags without a theme. It’s tough to tell these episodes apart, which is a shame because the choice to set many of these episodes in Japan shows ingenuity for a North American cartoon that never meets its potential. Japanese Beetle is the would-be victim, who repeatedly outsmarts Blue Racer. His trademarks are karate chopping and changing the words of American songs. He’s a better character than Crazywolf but, in the same breath, there’s some questionable racial stereotyping.
The series has its best run of episodes in the middle, starting with “Fowl Play,” which has a John Wayne sounding chicken wearing an eye patch like True Grit. The Blue Racer is traveling more in this section, which isn’t why the episodes are better but puts him in contact with some enjoyable side characters (leprechauns, a red-nosed bear, a Calypso singing bumblebee, etc.).
The final episodes simply start getting weak, and “Aches and Snakes” should be a Crazylegs Crane cartoon, for how little Blue Racer’s in it. There’s something to watching a cartoon experiment with what works and both DVDs are stacked with bonus features, including commentaries for select episodes from Courage the Cowardly Dog writer, William Hohauser, filmmaker, Greg Ford, and others. A documentary on Art Lombardi, who designed most of Depatie-Freleng’s title sequences, is a major draw and another, discussing the two cartoons in general, rounds out these well-packaged DVD sets.