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'Woody Woodpecker' Is Out on a Shaky Limb

Television Review

May 08, 1999|CHARLES SOLOMON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The current mania for recycling pop culture has hit television animation with a vengeance. The Cartoon Channel airs endless reruns of old Hanna-Barbera shows; Tweety, Sylvester and Mickey Mouse are starring in Saturday morning shows; and Woody Woodpecker returns to TV in a new series premiering on Fox Kids today at 11 a.m. Unfortunately, the new version of Woody is even less amusing than the original, who wasn't all that much fun to begin with.

Woody made his debut in 1940 in the short "Knock Knock," as an aggressive pest who tormented Andy Panda's dimwitted father with his pranks and brassy laugh (Ah-ha-ha-HA-ha!). Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck also began as screwballs, but the Warner Bros. artists refined them until they were more than just wise guys. Although the animators at the Walter Lantz Studio toned Woody down over the years, he never developed into the kind of dimensional characters Bugs and Daffy became.

The look of "The Woody Woodpecker Show" recalls "Yogi Bear" and other early Hanna-Barbera series, but the gags lack punch, and the story situations don't pay off. The results feel like a generic cartoon show: Any two characters could replace Woody and Wally Walrus as the owners of rival hot dog stands in "Wiener Wars" without affecting the way the cartoon plays. In "Electric Willy," Chilly Willy is pitted against a dumb Southern dog shamelessly lifted from Tex Avery's "The Three Little Pups" (1953).

The vocal cast, which includes Billy West as Woody and Mark Hamill as Wally, does a fair job of re-creating the old voices, but unless the writers and directors inject more life into the later episodes, kids are going to switch off "The Woody Woodpecker Show" and go back to their Pokemon games.

* "Woody Woodpecker" airs at 11 a.m. on Fox Kids Channel.

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