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Warner Home Video presents
Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law: Volume One (2000-2004)

"Debbie, we're going to need some law books. With pictures this time."
- Harvey Birdman (Gary Cole)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: April 12, 2005

Stars: Gary Cole
Other Stars: Stephen Colbert, Maurice LaMarche, Phil LaMarr, Thomas Allen, Frank Welker, Peter MacNicol, Toby Huss, Grey Delisle, Chris Edgerly, Erik Richter, Thom Pinto, Wally Wingert, Neil Ross, Laraine Newman, Scott Innes, Tom Kenny, Steve Landesberg, Jeanne Mori, Tress MacNeille, Michael McKean, Joe Alaskey, John Michael Higgins
Director: J.J. Sedelmaier, Vincent Waller, Ben Jones, Robert Alvarez, Erik Richter, Richard Ferguson Hull

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (occasional mature humor)
Run Time: 02h:56m:00s
Release Date: April 12, 2005
UPC: 053939695526
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A ABB A-

DVD Review

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim is a late night bastion of more mature, more off-the-wall animated fare (such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021), and Harvey Birdman Attorney At Law has to be one of the most ambitious. This show completely warps and skewers the whole Hanna-Barbera animation universe by drawing in nearly every one of their characters—the more obscure the better—into the so-called "normal" world where their varied legal problems land them in court. The title character is a B-level entity himself, originally seen as part of the 1967 Hanna-Barbera series Birdman & The Galaxy Trio; he was sort of a stripped down version of DC Comics' Hawkman, with huge wings and the obligatory superhero mask.

In this completely off-kilter world of Harvey Birdman Attorney At Law, Birdman is now a lawyer—still with the big wings, superpowers and a faithful trained eagle named Avenger—but his battles now end up in the courtroom. He's a dim bulb, voiced with a perfect wedge of deep-voiced pomposity by Gary Cole (Dodgeball, Midnight Caller, Office Space), and his questionable legal skills are put to test in an assortment of strange cases, such as a custody battle between Jonny Quest's Race Bannon and Dr. Benton Quest, the drug bust of Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, or Fred Flintstone's secret mob boss lifestyle.

Each 12-minute episode draws on the extensive library of Hanna-Barbera characters, pulling in some really, really obscure ones (Devlin, Blue Falcon, Mighty Mightor) alongside such A-list names as Magilla Gorilla, Boo-Boo and George Jetson. The animation, which uses a mix of new and old footage, reproduces and spits out a perfect knockoff of the often schlocky (aka cheap) production style of Hanna-Barbera, something that is as warm and familiar as it is shockingly sparse.

That nostalgic homage to the somewhat distinctively stiff animation style—nostalgic if you grew with these shows, that is—with its minimal movements and reused backgrounds looks like it was plucked from 1967, were it not for a barrage of odd sexual double entendres and flowing non-sequiturs; the best of these random bits of lunacy come either from Birdman's assistant Peanut (voiced by Thom Allen), a dangerously unhinged individual based loosely on the old Birdboy character or mind-reading judge Mentok the Mindtaker (voiced by John Michael Higgins).

Unlike the traditional season sets, this two-disc collection is simply called "volume one", in part because there just haven't been that many episodes made. Those collected here span from the December 2000 pilot (the alternate lifestyle-tinged Bannon Custody Case) on through all eight installments from season one, which spans from late 2001 into March of 2003, and four season two episodes from early 2004.

Episodes on volume one:

Bannon Custody Case (Pilot)
Original Air Date: 12/30/00

Season 1
Very Personal Injury
Original Air Date: 9/23/01

Shaggy Busted
Original Air Date: 07/07/02

Death By Chocolate
Original Air Date: 07/14/02

Shoyu Weenie
Original Air Date: 07/21/02

The Dabba Don
Original Air Date: 07/28/02

Deadomutt
Original Air Date: 05/25/03

Deadomutt pt 2
Original Air Date: 06/01/03

X, The Eliminator
Original Air Date: 06/08/03

Season 2
Trio's Company
Original Air Date: 04/18/04

The Devlin Made Me Do It
Original Air Date:04/25/04

SPF
Original Air Date: 05/09/04

High Speed Buggy Chase
Original Air Date: 05/02/04

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: All 13 episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 full frame, looking every bit like they were made in the late 1960s. That intentional effect adds to the visual ambience of the show, and the transfers on this set reflect that. Colors are not overly vivid, retaining that faded by time feel to them, and it is difficult to separate actual age-related issues versus mimicry.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: An average and simple 2.0 stereo surround is provided here, all front-centric and not particularly expansive. Dialogue is clear, and that's about all one needs out of something like this. Not overdone, but suitable for the content.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
5 Deleted Scenes
4 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
6 Feature/Episode commentaries by Erik Richter, Michael Ouweleen, Melissa Warrenburg, Richard Ferguson Hull, James Bagley, Lorranie Lavender, Evan Adler
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: First of all, the packaging on this one is terrific. The slipcase is designed to look like a battered law book, while the tri-fold insides are made to like a collection legal precedents (aka the episode descriptions), decorated with what is supposed to random post-it notes from Harvey. There are doodles, reminders to meet with Auggie Dog or Shaggy, with a cover that has Harvey Birdman's name scratched out and Peanut written in its place in red marker.

Extras on disc one include a pair of audio commentaries from executive producer/directors Erik Richter, Michael Ouweleen, Melissa Warrenburg (Very Personal Injury), and then Richter and Ouweleen again (The Dabba Don). There's not much time to waste on an 11-minute short, so the participants load a lot of trivia and information in, pointing out reused vs new, and how great detail was spent to match the often low-rent animation quality of the original Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Disc 1 wraps with a series of Deadomutt deleted scenes (:37s), basically a set of quick, wacky visuals, including one of Harvey and Magilla Gorilla in prison, and even one of the Pope strangling a policeman.

Disc 2 has the remaining four commentaries, three of which feature Richter, Ouweleen, and director Richard Ferguson Hull (SPF, The Devlin Made Me Do It, Trio's Company), while producer Evan Adler teams up with Standards & Practices James Bagley and Turner Legal Department rep Lorraine Lavender to discuss keeping everything within acceptable boundaries (The Devlin Made Do It). I can't recommend these commentaries enough, and the mix of dry humor and salient information has me wondering why Richter and Ouweleen didn't do a couple more.

The other extras on thesecond disc include four pencil sketch deleted scenes from the Trio's Company episode, a live action version of the opening credits (:50s), a fictitious live-action movie trailer (01m:28s) and something called The Wind Beneath His Wings: Birdman Crew Pictures (:53s), essentially a set of behind-the-scenes photos that are unfortunately do no identify who's who. The Casting What If's section shows Stephen Colbert as Harvey Birdman (1m:10s), as well as Todd Barry as Harvey Birdman (1m:02s), offering the opportunity to hear how the show might have sounded if Gary Cole didn't get the gig. A Pencil Test and Final Animation for Shaggy Busted (:52s) is brief and self-explanatory, and Tab Can Redux with Lyrics (1m:18s) is the full version of the live action bit with Harvey Birdman frolicking with an oversized Tab pop can on the beach, culled from one of the episodes in this set.

The "Play All" option is made available, so it is possible enjoy a nonstop flow of Birdman goodness.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

This is how I like my animation: twisted, clever, strange and ridiculously funny. Harvey Birdman Attorney At Law: Volume One is a real ray of demented brilliance grafted onto remnants of classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons to create a perverse alternate universe where Boo-Boo is a mad bomber and Fred Flintstone is a mob boss.

Highly recommended.

 


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