One of the many ways the world of 60 years ago differs from today is that preteen boys no longer sprawl out on living room floors, watching Westerns with the sound cranked up to ear-splitting levels—which, according to old movies, TV shows, and comic books, is all that kids did with their leisure time in the ’50s. The three-disc DVD set Howdy, Kids!! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup hearkens back to those cowboy-crazy days of yore, presenting 24 episodes from series as well-known as The Lone Ranger and The Rifleman and as obscure as The Adventures Of Champion and The Adventures Of Rick O’Shay. The set reflects the diversity of the ’50s and ’60s oaters, which spread out into multiple sub-genres: quasi-superhero shows like The Range Rider, about a vigilante and his sidekick; modern-day family dramas like Fury, about an orphan and his wild horse; fictionalized versions of real-life western characters, like Annie Oakley and The Adventures Of Kit Carson; cross-cultural tales of The Cisco Kid and Sergeant Preston Of The Yukon; and even non-traditional westerns like Sky King, about a crusading Cessna pilot.
Many of the series included on the Howdy, Kids!! set were produced for syndication, so the technical quality varies, from the painted backdrops and wooden acting of Rick O’Shay to the living color of The Cisco Kid. The writing, too, ranges from thin morality tales to heartrending drama. (The shows also take disparate approaches in their depictions of American Indians and Mexicans, sometimes coming off as grossly insensitive and sometimes more nuanced.) Throughout, Howdy, Kids!! reveals television’s power to serve as a window to other places and other times. The programs here are united in their depiction of sturdy men and women living their lives outdoors, on vast ranches and in dusty mining towns. These aren’t always sophisticated folks—Kit Carson refers to his partner El Toro’s dinner of tortillas and frijoles as “flapjacks and beans,” for example—but there’s something attractive about the way the heroes fit into expansive landscapes, astride big, handsome horses. It’s no wonder the children of decades past spent so much time gazing longingly at them.
Captain Cornelius Cartoon’s Cartoon Lagoon, Vol. 1 pays homage to another long-gone TV phenomenon: the costumed host who introduces old cartoons and old movies. Or, more accurately: Captain Cornelius baldly borrows from Mystery Science Theater 3000, which was itself a wiseass spin on those local-TV time-fillers. Nevertheless, Captain Cornelius is fairly novel and frequently funny—neither of which is par for the course for MST3K rip-offs. The premise has puppets (with animated faces) exploring the ocean in a submarine, looking for lost cartoons, which they then watch and mock. The DVD contains one half-hour episode, “Unhappy Birthday” (the name borrowed from a Smiths song) in which the crew of the sub watch a Casper cartoon, a Popeye cartoon, and an episode from the mid-’70s series The Undersea Adventures Of Captain Nemo, all while dropping references to everything from Unobtanium to Internet celebrity Antoine Dodson to Takeru Kobayashi. The staff of Cartoon Lagoon Studios includes veterans of TV animation and comics, and they’ve assembled a slick show, with a nifty design and a brisk, gag-packed pace. But none of that would matter if Captain Cornelius weren’t funny, and when the puppets here spy a rampaging tree army and shout, “Run, Forrest!” it may just remind people who grew up in the ’90s what they spent hours every Saturday staring at: smart-mouthed robots who made fun of what the kids of the ’50s watched.
Key features: Nothing on Howdy, but Captain Cornelius adds 90 minutes of (un-mocked) vintage cartoons and commercials, stitched together with original animation. The disc also includes extensive behind-the-scenes material, including a commentary track by co-creator Manny Galán that deals openly and respectfully with the toon’s most obvious influences.