The VCR has made more animation available to American audiences than ever before, and cassettes of animated films have become popular presents. Good cartoons traditionally stand up to repeated viewing better than live action: Bugs Bunny cartoons remain funny, 35 years after they were released--despite countless reruns on television.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the better cassettes currently on the market that you may want to consider for holiday gifts:
Probably the two most perfect animated features ever made, "Pinocchio" (Disney: $29.95) and "Dumbo" (Disney: $29.95), are outstanding gift choices. Disney plans to withdraw "Pinocchio" in January, so this may be the last chance to get it. The pedestrian "Robin Hood" (Disney: $29.95) will be withdrawn at the same time, but that's not much of a loss.
"Sleeping Beauty" (Disney: $29.95) may be the most lavish of the Disney features, but it's a flawed masterpiece with a weak story. Although cropping its Technirama images for the television format spoils many of the elaborate designs, science-fiction fans will delight in its opulent evocation of a medieval fantasy, including the best dragon ever put on film.
Disney's "Limited Edition Gold Series 2" is no longer being issued, but anyone who finds copies of "Disney's Best of 1931-1948" or "More of Disney's Best 1932-1946" should snap them up. These collections of "Silly Symphonies" contain many of the films that built Walt Disney's reputation.
No one made consistently funnier cartoons than the artists at Warner Bros., and Warner Video's 13-volume "Golden Jubilee 24-Karat Collection" ranks as one of the best animation bargains on the market. The films on the outstanding entries--"Bugs Bunny's Wacky Adventures," "Daffy Duck, the Nuttiness Continues" ($17.98) and the "Salutes" to Mel Blanc, Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones ($19.98 each)--are as funny as when they were made 35 years ago.
MCA has issued three cassettes of Walter Lantz's cartoons. "Man's Best Friend" ($24.95) includes the very funny "Crazy Mixed-Up Pup." Even better is the discontinued "Woody Woodpecker and His Friends," Volume 1, which features "The Legend of Rockabye Point," probably the funniest film the studio ever produced.
Parents who have reservations about children watching the slapstick humor of the Warners cartoons will enjoy "The Hubley Studio's Flights of Fancy" (Disney: $49.95), one of three collections of the award-wining films of John and Faith Hubley--a whimsical and artistic alternative to fast-paced Hollywood shorts. "Moonbird" and "The Windy Day" are sensitive evocations of children's games; "The Adventures of an *" follows a growing child as he explores his rapidly expanding world.
Children will enjoy the 10 cassettes of Bob Clampett's "Beany and Cecil" (Magic Window: $24.95) cartoons, while their parents will recall the happy hours they spent watching the show after school. The "best" choices in the series are apt to be the ones the buyer remembers most vividly, but Volume 3, with "The Monstrous Monster" and "The Capture of Thunderbolt the Wondercolt," is a sure winner.
Relatively little foreign animation has been released in the United States, and only a small portion of it has been good. The "Children's Department" of many video stores has become a dumping ground for old, redubbed Japanese features, with extremely limited animation.
Far more entertaining is Bruno Bozzetto's "Allegro Non Troppo" (RCA/Columbia: $24.95), an uneven but very funny spoof of "Fantasia." Four collections of fairy tales animated in the Soviet Union during the early '50s are available from VidAmerica. The unusual designs make the stories seem very magical and exotic; unfortunately, the tapes were made from old, dark prints with bad splices and muddy sound tracks.
Anyone interested in the history of animation will enjoy "Before Mickey: An Animated Anthology" (available from MIT Press, 28 Carleton St, Cambridge, Mass. 02142: $55), a collection of silent cartoons. Few modern films can match the elegant draftsmanship of Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo" (1911) and "Gertie the Dinosaur" (1914). Otto Messmer's "Felix the Cat Dines and Pines" (1927) and Walt Disney's "Alice Rattled by Rats" (1925) attest to the vitality of early animation.
A great deal of television animation is in the stores now, including recent Saturday morning programs, such as four volumes of "Scooby-Doo and Scrappy Doo" (WorldVision: Volume 1, $39.95; Volumes 2-4, $24.95) and three volumes of "The Archies" (Thorn-EMI/HBO: $29.95). Chuck Jones' popular specials based on stories by Dr. Seuss, "Horton Hears a Who" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," have been released (MGM/UA: $14.95, each). Ten cassettes of Art Clokey's camp favorite, Gumby, are available (Family Home Entertainment: $29.95).
In addition, cassettes of virtually all the toy characters that pander to children in the current syndicated television programs and animated features are in the stores for holiday buying. The choices range from superheroes--G.I. Joe and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe--to robots--Go-Bots and Voltron--to the icky-sweet adventures of Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite and the Care Bears.
Despite this abundance of material, some surprising gaps remain in the market. The most hysterical shorts Tex Avery made at MGM during the '40s aren't available on cassette; neither are the Fleischers' wonderfully bizarre, black-and-white Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons. Despite popular demand, "Rocky and Bullwinkle," every baby boomer's favorite TV cartoon, hasn't been issued on cassette. Maybe for next Christmas. . . .