DVD Review: The New Three Stooges (Complete Cartoon Collection)

When Columbia sent the Three Stooges packing in 1959, things looked bleak for the slapstick legends. They had been making two reel shorts for 25 years at the studio. They had sacrificed their bodies for laughs. Now they were being tossed on the ash heap since movie theaters had stopped making shorts, cartoons and newsreels part of their nightly programming. Moe Howard and Larry Fine got even worse news when Joe Besser (The Abbott and Costello Show) had to quit because of health reasons. They were now lacking a third stooge (a slot previously held by Moe’s brothers Curly and Shemp). But then Stooge salvation happened. Columbia sold a package of their shorts to TV stations across the country. The kids and adult kids became glued to the TV screen to enjoy the mayhem at home. The Stooges were cool again. The duo joined forces with Curly Joe DeRita and made several feature length films that found success as matinees around the country. But after a while their advanced age made doing stunts a bit of a problem. Moe and Larry should have been nursing their wounds in retirement. But they weren’t ready to sit on the back porch and make latch hook rugs. They needed a new way to express their explosive comedy without getting more bruises. The trio allowed themselves to be embraced by TV once more by going animated in 1965. Paint doesn’t sting. The New Three Stooges: Complete Cartoon Collection has all 156 cartoons that extended the reign of Moe, Larry and Curly Joe.

The Three Stooges did more than merely sit around a microphone while a sound effects guy recreated their body blows by hitting watermelons with a sledgehammer. They wisely created live action openings and endings for the cartoons that harken back to their old routines. These wrap around reminded the audience that this was really Larry and Moe involved in the show and not merely some young voice actor pretending to be them. This was not The Beatles cartoon. This was the real Stooges. The wrap around bits weren’t quite as involving or physical their classic shorts. When Curly Joe messes up and forgets to gas up their jalopy, Moe doesn’t slap his face or poke him in the eyes. He does force Curly to push the car. This lack of violence seems appropriate since the Stooges were now directly appealing to children. Parents couldn’t protest the show with their usual horrific fear that kids would copy hitting each other with pipes, wrenches and hammers. They weren’t scared of covering each other with paint. The live action wraparound took up nearly half of the running time so they’re not the quickie introductions that greeted other cartoons starring Mr. T and Chuck Norris. The Stooges weren’t there to relate the moral lesson of the day. They were still up to no good and causing chaos. They also shot the new sequences in color which might have been a bit of a shock to kids who only thought the Three Stooges exist in a black and white universe.

The cartoons are rather simple adventures using the most limited of animation techniques. Luckily the Stooges are so iconic that they make easy cartoon characters. Larry shows off his bushy balding hair. Curly has his bald dome shining. Moe’s moptop cleans up the screen. This makes them look natural in an animated form. The plots aren’t too complicated. There’s an easy set up that eventually leads to heads being slightly bonked. The animated portions are barely three and a half minutes long so there’s no need to make them too complicated. While they made 156 cartoons, there’s only 40 live action wraparounds. That means the average wraparound was used 4 times over the course of the series. Fans of the Three Stooges are used to enjoying repeats so it’s not that frustrating.

The New Three Stooges was a smart move for all involved. It allowed Moe and Larry to take advantage of their new television fame. There were a few channels that enjoyed mixing the cartoons with the shorts back in the ’70s. If you’re a devoted Stooge-a-holic, the cartoons are relaxing viewing. It’s not merely one last chance to see Larry and Moe get to go wild. Now you can see them behaving badly in full color.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are fine. The color isn’t quite so bright. But the low budget nature of the animation hints that they never looked that sharp. The audio is mono. You’ll hear all the booms and bangs clearly. Some cartoons do sound better than others.

Bonus CD contains 12 sing-a-long songs and 11 Christmas songs from the Stooges. This is the perfect thing to play for a bellyful of holiday cheer.

The New Three Stooges: Complete Cartoon Collection brings back the joys of the Stooges with a show that’s a mix of animation and live action. Larry, Moe and Curly Joe get one last chance to repeat their favorite slapstick routines in color.

Image/Madacy Entertainment presents The New Three Stooges: Complete Cartoon Collection. Starring: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Joe DeRita and Emil Sitka. Boxset Contents: 156 cartoons on 4 DVDs. Released: October 15, 2013.

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