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Warner Archive Revives Spirit of Saturday Morning Cartoons

5 Apr, 2013 By: John Latchem

ANAHEIM, Calif. — One of the missions of the Warner Archive Collection is to restore many of the cartoons some people grew up with as kids that would otherwise be forgotten if not for the manufacture-on-demand service.

Speaking March 31 at WonderCon at the Anaheim Convention Center, animation historian Jerry Beck joined members of the Warner Archive Collection Podcast — George Feltenstein, Matthew Patterson and D.W. Ferranti — to preview some upcoming releases and discuss the challenges of bringing the shows to disc.

“The old masters look terrible, as most of them do if we don’t remaster them,” Feltenstein said. “That’s part of our mission. We’re really dedicated to improving the quality and giving the consumer a better ownership experience.”

“The question I get all the time is, ‘I just saw it on Boomerang. Why don’t they put this out right now?’” Beck said. “There’s a reason why, because it’s got to go through this process.”

Cartoons already released include 1960s staples “Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles” and “Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor”; 1970s classics such as “The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids” (about a pop band, not the Western outlaws); and 1980s hits “Thundarr the Barbarian,” “Pac-Man,” “Dragon’s Lair” and “The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley.”

“There’s a lot of other things on Saturday morning beside Scooby-Doo,” Feltenstein said.

The panelists relayed horror stories about how some of the cartoons were cared for.

“When they’d prepared some of these cartoons for syndication, they didn’t care what they looked like,” Feltenstein said. “They’d just put them out. There was no quality control.”

“They would cut the negative and throw it away,” Beck said. “Unbelievable.”

“When we were remastering ‘Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan,’ every episode was missing 16 seconds,” Feltenstein said. “We had to go and find those 16 seconds.”

As an example of the meticulous restoration process, Feltenstein cited Warner’s Hanna-Barbera collection.

“Thankfully, when Warner Bros. became owner of Hanna-Barbera in 1997, interpositives began to be made off the camera negatives for protection,” Feltenstein said. “So it is from those interpositives from the camera negatives that we do our remastering. And before Warner Bros. became owner of Hanna-Barbera there were no protection elements on these cartoons. They were just the negatives, and if something happened to those negatives, like vinegar syndrome, we’re out of luck. So we’re really fortunate that the company’s corporate preservation system has enabled us to create new masters.”

“These were created on film in the 1970s, so there is something to go back to,” Patterson said.

One of the major releases Warner Archive is working on now is the 1960-62 TV series “Popeye the Sailor,” and Feltenstein expects to announce a release date soon.

The process to bring these cartoons to disc was a lengthy one, Feltenstein said.

“We own the Popeye cartoons that were produced for theatrical release and released through Paramount from 1933 to ’57, 228 of them I believe, and King Features Syndicate owns the underlying character,” he said. “So when they sold those cartoons, they withheld home video rights.

“I started working at MGM/UA home video a long time ago, and the first thing I did when I got there was say you have to put out ‘Popeye,’” Feltenstein continued. “And I found out that King Features had a clamp on the character that would not let us release ‘Popeye.’ So for 18 years I fought the battle to make a deal with King Features that would allow us to release the Popeye cartoons that we do own.

“And we finally did come to an agreement in about 2005 or so. And as part of that agreement we have distribution rights to the first King Features-owned Popeye content … 200-plus cartoons that were made for King Features by five or six different animation houses. Popeye was the most popular cartoon character in early television syndication — more than Looney Tunes, more than ‘The Mickey Mouse Club.’ Popeye was huge. And King Features wasn’t benefiting from this hugeness except in merchandising. So they decided to make their own Popeye cartoons to compete against the classic ones. And what happened was every station that had the rights to the old ones bought the new ones too, so it got very confusing.”

“They hired the studio that originally did Popeye, Paramount studio,” Beck said. “It’s a very interesting collection. They aren’t that different from the Popeyes created just a few years earlier for theaters, and even used the same voices.”

“Our collection will be the complete Paramount Cartoon Studio-produced Popeye cartoons, plus eight or so that were made by another company,” Feltenstein said.

Other titles being prepped for future release, Feltenstein said, include “Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels,” slated for later this year; more “Flintstones” spinoff shows; “Roman Holidays,” a “Flintstones”-like show set in ancient Rome; and “Marine Boy,” an early anime from the 1960s.

Feltenstein said Warner Archive, a division of Warner Digital under the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, works with Warner Home Video to decide who gets to release which title.

“If they decide they’re not going to do it, we get it,” Feltenstein said.

According to Feltenstein, since it began in 2009 Warner Archive has released more than 1,500 titles — about 1,200 films and 300 television shows. The DVD-R service has grown from a small segment of the Warner website to shipping titles through nearly every online retailer, including Amazon. Recently, Warner Archive began offering Blu-ray titles, produced in limited quantities (not burned on demand), while never skimping on image or audio quality, Feltenstein said.

More information is available at WarnerArchive.com and the team’s weekly iTunes podcast.

(L-R): The Warner Archive Podcast team of George Feltenstein, D.W. Ferranti and Matthew Patterson joined animation historian Jerry Beck at the 2013 WonderCon Anaheim to discuss the history of Saturday morning cartoons, many of which are available on DVD through Warner Archive.


About the Author: John Latchem

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