Heathcliff fans of a certain age will not recall Heathcliff and Dingbat. That certain age is apparently exactly my age, as it happens, because the Heathcliff shorts I recall appeared alongside those of the Catillac Cats, and the whole affair began with one hell of a catchy theme song! Somehow, at no point until Warner Archive’s release of this 2-disc manufactured-on-demand (MOD) DVD did this original television incarnation of Heathcliff enter my consciousness. During the 1980-1981 season, the wise-cracking comic cat made his television debut in this series alongside “Dingbat and the Creeps,” all 13 episodes of which are collected in this release from the Warner Archive Collection. Again prior to his association with the Catillac Cats, Heathcliff then appeared alongside Marmaduke during the 1981-1982 season. The series I grew up with, simply titled Heathcliff, premiered in 1984 and, at long last, featured additional segments starring “The Catillac Cats.”
Sure, the spoken word title track of Heathcliff and Dingbat may not possess the same memorable qualities as the theme that opened 1984′s Heathcliff, which would be written by prolific children’s television composer Shuki Levy along with Haim Saban of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers fame. But if you, like the me of two days ago, couldn’t care less about a Heathcliff cartoon without Riff-Raff and the gang, do not let your nostalgic elitism lead you astray. Here, Heathcliff is every bit the erudite mischief-maker of the later series, and the Creeps, whilst certainly no Catillac Cats, are a consistently entertaining bunch, whose service business generally allows for greater narrative diversity than does Heathcliff’s often aimless gallivanting. Frank Welker, better known for voicing Megatron and Scooby-Doo, lends his vocals to to the titular Dingbat, a bumbling vampire dog that transforms into a sort of smaller, dog/bat-type thing. Dingbat and his fellow Creeps, Sparerib the skeleton and Nobody the jack-o-lantern-of-all-trades, operate out of Odd Jobs, Inc., and they’ll do anything for money. This, of course, finds them employed to perform one unlikely task after another. Each of these comic narratives inevitably devolves into chaos as the trio attempt to use their uniquely monstrous abilities to solve the difficulties inherent in each odd job they undertake.
If I were to cite any one problem I have with the series (aside from its lack of Catillac Cats (what am I, a broken record?)), I would say that each episode suffers from an overabundance of shorts, much to the detriment of numerous individual narratives therein. On the plus side, at about four minutes in length, those narratives reliant on Heathcliff’s single-minded pursuit of forbidden victuals seem to reach their conclusion just as they would otherwise start to get dull. However, when the writers attempt something a little different, as in the Heathcliff short, “Cat and the Beanstalk,” the four minute time frame forces them to abort a storyline prematurely. In this short, as soon as Heathcliff arrives at the Giant’s home atop the beanstalk, he falls into a cup of hot chocolate and then it’s basically over. Shorts such as “Cat and the Beanstalk” require an actual setup and resolution that take up much of the time that should have been spent exploiting the numerous comedic opportunities offered by its narrative. In this way, although such shorts as this may succeed at a conceptual level where others do not, they simply cannot live up to their promise in the time allotted.
Fortunately, such instances as that detailed above are the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, the four minute time frame serves the individual narratives quite well. The Dingbat short, “Window Washouts,” for example, finds Dingbat and the Creeps employed to wash the windows of a skyscraper. I ask you, realistically, how long could their window washing shenanigans go on before it got downright insipid? More than five minutes? I think not. Most of the stories here simply don’t offer much more than four or five minutes worth of material, and the series’ creators did well when they decided to stick to that formula.
One final note regarding the release itself: So the series looks and sounds great as collected here, especially considering the age of the material, and I thoroughly enjoyed the series. But I do have one issue with the release itself, which surfaces in the DVD authoring, not in the content. You have two options on the main menus. You can either choose to play all or select from the individual episodes. From the “Episodes” menu, you can’t actually play an episode, only shorts from individual episodes therein. Once the short ends, the disc reverts back to the “Episodes” menu. Now, I do appreciate the functionality that allows me to select the individual shorts. That’s handy. However, once a short is selected, I contend that the DVD should either play through to the end of the episode, or continue forward through all the remaining episodes as if “Play All” had been selected. Honestly, this wonky authoring almost made working my way through the last six episodes of Disc One an irksome task, which we all know watching cartoons should never be!