Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Animated Shows on DVD - How Some Companies Just Don't Give A Damn

Not a review and not a list, but I felt like typing an observation (or a rant, but it's a well-informed rant with lots of pictures, so at least I know what the hell I'm talking about) that's been eating away at my brain for years now, just festering in my brainmeats like some sort of tumor that just needs to be cured with some sort of chemotherapy.

Namely, how some companies totally rip you off when they release their animated show on DVD.

Well, there goes my rent money.
Collecting DVD box sets of animated shows is a relatively recent thing that sort of needed the invention of DVDs in order to properly work. Whereas before you had to have like 20 VHSes on standby in order to collect your favorite episodes of Tiny Toons, now, you can just go out and buy the show. We live in a glorious, disc-filled age where, if you feel particularly fond of a certain show, there's an 80% chance that you can run out and get the DVDs and everything will be hunky-dory. Companies like Shout Factory! (and yes the punctuation is required) thrive on the business that is nerds having to own physical copies of a certain show because sometimes the Internet access will go down, you're too inept to work a decent torrent, or the only existing video files of a certain show are blurry videos on Rutube with Russian subtitles.

And, as you might expect from someone who owns a blog like this, I own a lot of shows on DVD. Like, a frightening amount. And, like everything, from video games to books and replacement hips, no DVD is the same in terms of quality.

But today, I'm going to talk about how sometimes even a great show beloved by all can be completely and utterly screwed over by a weak DVD package. This is the tale of one such show, a pretty popular show by all accounts, one that should be familiar to fans of cartoons, and the struggles it faces as its parent company seems to believe that fans of the show will just buy whatever they deal out to them regardless of quality.

First things first, though. What's the level of quality one expects from these things?

I have quite a few DVDs (I'm purposely avoiding photographing my entire collection in fear that people on the Internet will judge me for wasting money) so I've notice that you tend to see one of three different qualities from the companies.

Very rarely, you'll get DVDs like The Simpsons and the Futurama DVDs, which have audio commentary on every single episode and so many deleted scenes on each disk that you can splice them together and make a whole new episode. The Simpsons and the Futurama DVDs are downright amazing, and might be one of the few cartoon box sets you can find in blu-ray. Cartoons everywhere should aspire to be as great as The Simpsons DVDs. In a perfect world, every show would have audio commentary, because I want Lou Scheimer to, in his words, describe what he was thinking when he wrote Rollerghoster because what the hell, man.
If there was a set this nice for The Mask: The Animated Series, I can die happy.
Most of the time, however, your basic show DVD will be like the Animaniacs DVDs. All of the episodes, some features, just your regular run-of-the-mill set. The show may be slightly remastered, or it still might contain some grain. Either way, it's there, it's presentable, the menus are barebones but at least fit the show, and it will have an extra or two just to justify paying twenty dollars for what you can most assuredly find on Youtube if you look hard enough (although lately a lot of shows have been cracking down on this just to make sure you buy the DVDs, so there you go.)
I'm mostly uploading this photo to show that, even though I do like Creepy Crawlers,
I still have SOME taste in cartoons.
However, some companies don't seem to realize that, when you release a show on DVD, you need to take some care into packaging the whole deal. And I'm going to talk about one of the biggest offenders of not giving a crap about their shows; Disney.

And I'm going to be talking about one show's DVD release in particular, the Darkwing Duck DVDs.

Before anyone gets offended, I love the crap out of Disney. A lot of their shows are amazing, they've produced some of the best animation you could ever find, and I can probably recite the entire Hellfire song in my sleep if I wanted to. In French. But even I, an owner of a Disneyland Season's Pass and owner of a framed poster of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, knows crap when I see it, and that's exactly what the Disney Afternoon DVDs are.

But first some backstory. Basically around the year 2006, Disney realized that there were pasty dorks on the Internet that still cared for their 90's shows about ducks and, dollar signs in their eyes, basically rushed out as many DVD sets as they possibly could in a short span of time in order to dip into that untapped market.

...and then, around 2007, completely ditched the idea, leaving all of the shows unfinished (Darkwing Duck has a whole third of the show still not on DVD) and leaving many more shows without DVDs (hello, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command and The Wuzzles...), basically leaving every Disney fan pissed off with their lord and master.

Now, that alone would make these DVDs seem like a shoddy job, but this is Nothing But Cartoons, the land where I spend way too much time talking about the littlest of details. I need to be as subtle as a hydrogen bomb here, so not only am I going to rant about these DVDs, I'm going to humilate them. Just to drive this point home of not-giving-a-crappiness (and that's a word, auto-correct. I don't care what you say!), I'm going to compare Darkwing Duck's DVDs to Bravestarr's DVDs, because this is where it gets really ridiculous and really shows how much Disney cares about things that aren't marketable Disney movies like Beauty and the Beast or any of the Pixar films.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional photographer.
Disclaimer 2: Yes, I own Bravestarr DVDs. I'm ashamed too.
Why am I comparing these two sets? Well, Bravestarr is not a show most people remember. It was a Filmation show that didn't do as well as He-Man, lasted only one year, had a toy line that bombed, and had a limited theatrical release. I've only managed to find two whole fansites of Bravestarr on the entire Internet, and both of them were defunct and had to be accessed through archive.org. It's pretty much one of the most obscure shows that has a box set release. I'm honestly surprised that this show has a box set release, because I've seriously found more people who remember Street Sharks than Bravestarr.

Darkwing Duck, on the other hand, has a huge cult following. The fandom has been active for a very long time, there are more Darkwing Duck fansites and fanart and fanfic than you can even imagine, the show got its own comic book series, and is considered one of the most beloved 90's shows of all time.

Hell, all you need to know about how much more popular Darkwing Duck is to Bravestarr can be answered with one simple Deviantart search.

I also searched for Street Sharks just to hammer the point in.
So here's my question. Why the hell are the Bravestarr DVDs so much better than the Darkwing Duck DVDs?

Look at all those special features for a show no one watched.
The other reason I'm comparing the two shows when it comes to DVD releases is that the Bravestarr DVDs are frighteningly good. I mean REALLY good. We're talking "these things have image galleries, series bibles, scripts, and professional concept art" good. As in, the worst feature in the set is the audio commentaries, and most shows don't even have audio commentaries in their sets.


But you're not here to listen to me gush about how facemeltingly amazing these DVDs are (no seriously, run out and buy the Best of Bravestarr set if you even remotely like Bravestarr) so now, I'm going to check off all the many things the Bravestarr DVDs do that the Darkwing Duck DVDs can't seem to do correctly.

1. The entire show is on DVD.

This is the biggest thing for me, and the one thing that so many fans of Darkwing Duck complain about. Where the hell is Season 3?
Wikipedia says "TBA" which is brutally optimistic here.
Bravestarr has 65 episodes and a feature length film, all of them accounted for. Darkwing Duck has 91 episodes and currently, 37 episodes aren't on DVD. You can find them on Youtube, yes, but suppose you want to watch Darkwing Duck on your high-definition TV or without the network bugs or in just all-around better, sharper quality?

Then unfortunately, you're like fans of Jungle Cubs, The Wuzzles, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, and Bonkers. You're up the creek without a paddle because Disney ain't helping ya.

I certainly don't see any problems with this video quality! Nosiree!
2. The episodes are uncut.

Hey, Disney. You know your movie "Darkly Dawns the Duck"? It's got scenes missing. You kind of sort of put the Toon Disney run on the DVD when the whole point of having the DVD is to have the entire footage and that's a real dickish move. Now, if you want to see the entire movie completely uncut, you have to buy the VHS version off of eBay and that just sucks.

Meanwhile, nothing's uncut from Bravestarr, which means I can watch a young teen slowly die from a drug overdose and a scary dragon demon made out of smoke and nightmares with acidic blood get stabbed in the chest without worrying that certain scenes would be cut for violence or time. Because if I'm paying for DVDs, I want the full package. Glowing spit included.

Although if you tried to make cuts to Bravestarr, you'd end up with like two minutes of footage.
Yeah, why do I get the feeling this show would not run unaltered today? Scuzz alone would probably get so many soccer moms on a channel's ass...

3. The menu interfaces are way better.

Here's the menus for the Bravestarr DVDs. Animated, colorful, and capture the spirit of the show.

And yep, each episode has actual chapters, something a lot of box sets neglect.
Now here are the menus for the Darkwing Duck DVDs. Lots of grey is used. Instead of going with something that'd be pleasing to the eye, Disney tries to narrate a story where Gosalyn is on a daring safari when her foot gets stuck in a giant snot monster while Darkwing Duck and Launchpad watch in horror.

Wow, I certainly can tell what's in store for each episode by the small thumbnails!
Do I really need to say anything? I mean, look what they chose to represent the cartoon!

Again, one of these DVDs was made by a company that has the fraction of the budget that Disney has.

Oh, and these DVDs were released within a year of each other so there's really no excuse.

4. There's actual bonus material and special features.

Bravestarr's DVD releases has special interviews, promotional art, commentary, scripts. Think of the Bravestarr DVDs as the grandma in your family that just spoils the hell out of you and buys you candy and ice cream and tickets to Knott's Berry Farm without a second thought. And you just adore it, because man, you weren't expecting such treats but you totally enjoy them nonetheless.

Darkwing Duck...has closed captioning.


5. The artwork on the packaging is incredibly nice.

Look at the DVDs for the Bravestarr box set. They come with episode guides and trivia aplenty, because the makers of this DVD set care and want to make sure you leave your movie-watching experience happy and refreshed.

Now look at this artwork on the Darkwing Duck DVD. Remember, this is the company that has some of the most beloved artists in the world on their payroll and are renowned for making some of the best animation artwork of all time. The people who made "The Old Mill", a short dedicated purely to art and beauty, also made this DVD box set. Look at this artwork while keeping that in mind.

Commissioned by someone's five year old niece.
...I think I'm done here.

But mostly, the biggest punch to the gut is that Disney can and has done way better DVDs than this.

So why the lack of care for their TV shows?

I'm not saying the Darkwing Duck boxsets need so many features, but the least they could do was add something. A good example would be the Batman: The Animated Series DVDs. They don't have audio commentary on all of their episodes, but they had a couple. I mean, Bravestarr just had audio commentary on their movie and on "Eye of the Beholder" but that was enough to be satisfying, and they threw in things like scripts, interviews, and an image gallery! Is it really that hard to throw in some turnarounds for Darkwing Duck in there just as a bonus to justify the 29.99 suggested retail price? Is it really hard to pay a little more TLC to the packaging or the menus? I wanna see some development sketches of my favorite characters. Better menus! Anything!

So basically, what I'm saying here is that a studio with a lot less manpower and a lot less funding could shell out way better DVDs than a giant mega-company that owns ESPN and ABC Family, and it certainly makes Disney look pretty bad.

...oh, and this post was basically one giant advertisement to the Bravestarr DVDs, which are fantastic and awesome in so many different ways for DVDs about a show that I'm positive no one watched.

Thank you obscure Filmation show for inexplicably having the best animation DVDs I've ever seen.