My DVD collection isn’t particularly expansive. Generally, I try and limit physical media to things that I know the kids and I are going to watch regularly and/or that aren’t readily available through Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. Over the past couple of years I’ve laboriously culled the herd down to only these necessities. Recently, however, I’ve added two new massive cartoon box sets from the fine folks at Shout Factory.
The first (and most recent) addition is 70s childhood throwback Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: The Complete Series. This 15 DVD collection – boasting all 110 episodes – includes the entirety of the show’s run, from the original Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids to its renamed 1979 iteration The New Fat Albert Show, and even its wordier (and weightier) mid-80s title, The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
This takes the nostalgic viewer through the earliest days of the Junkyard Gang, not to mention those of a pre-Cosby Show Bill, with all the music and fun promised by its opening introduction. Along the way Fat Albert, Weird Harold, Mushmouth, Dumb Donald and Cosby’s own young analog recount life in Philadelphia’s inner city, teaching important lessons along the way.
From basic hygiene and cleanliness to personal responsibility and honesty, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was an experiment in animated education that, though it feels dated, still holds up. In fact, episodes dealing with racism (“The Rainbow”), gun violence (“Gang Wars”) and child abuse (“Spare the Rod”) are, unfortunately, still quite relevant.
Of course this is a Filmation production – a company whose constant reuse of frames is practically a hallmark of its style – so the product is ultimately far from perfect. Colors, especially the deep black of characters hair, intermittently come through muddy and imprecise, and there is noticeable artifacting in a number of episodes. Also, many of the gags are recycled as often as the visuals, particularly Russell’s “no class” jabs at Rudy. And this only plays into the sometimes impenetrable layer of decade-specific slang that lingers throughout the series.
But all these faults, like the Brown Hornet’s stilted delivery and Bill’s on perfectly Cosby-cool asides, only serve to enhance the overall experience. The Cosby Kids are forever in their North Philly junkyard, cranking out funky, autobiographical jams to help drive their lessons home – just as they should be.
Beautifully packaged in color-coded clamshell cases, and ably supplemented by retrospective writings and the special Hey, Hey, Hey… It’s the True Story of Fat Albert documentary, this collection is a worthy blast from the past.
If Fat Albert represents the edutainment era of the 70s and 80s, then surely no property channels the splendidly shallow weirdness leading up to the alternative cultural boom of the 1990s quite like the Beetlejuice animated series. Gloriously devoid of all but the barest of moral or substance, this Beetlejuice retains only the slightest hints of the celluloid boogieman of the same name.
Tim Burton had a role as executive producer and Danny Elfman’s amazing theme arrived on the small screen with only minor alterations. The characters, on the other hand, changed considerably. These animated adventures center on the titular supernatural practical joker and junior goth chick Lydia Deetz – who are, in stark contrast to the film version, fast friends.
Rather than simply terrifying the living, this Beetlejuice instead spends most of his time attempting to prank and/or swindle his fellow denizens of the monster-filled Neitherworld. Silly, sarcastic and positively packed with Sandworms, this 12-disc, 94 episode box set is only available from Amazon.
While certainly not as acclaimed as Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Beetlejuice: The Complete Series has a charm all its own that should engage fans old and new alike. Sure, there’s no Winona Ryder or Michael Keaton, but there are plenty of arcane chants and fourth-wall-breaking asides to keep everyone entertained. And while the picture quality pales in comparison to modern hi-def ‘toons, the visual style is undeniable.
Once again, Shout Factory’s packaging and overall presentation is spectacular, and the contents themselves represent a fine but often forgotten property. Spooky but never overly so, and full of enough bug-eating to delight any child – well, my kids, at least – it’s another solid (if surreal) hit.
Review material provided by: Shout Factory