The Tijuana Toads are the main characters in a series of 17 theatrical cartoons produced and released by David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng and released from 1969 to 1972. The release will include all 17 cartoons, which have been newly remastered.
Director Isadore "Friz" Freleng, one of the key figures in 20th Century animation as a result of his accomplishments at Warner Brothers working on 'Merrie Melodies' and 'Looney Tunes', and producer David H. DePatie formed DePatie-Freleng Enterprises in 1962. Their company achieved great success and industry acclaim with the creation of the Pink Panther, which led to them creating other characters for theatrical shorts that eventually transitioned to television.
'Tijuana Toads' debuted in 1969. According to Jerry Beck's commentary, it was titled “Tall in the Grass” when it went to TV and is a remake of Freleng 1952 cartoon 'Tree for Two' starring Spike the Bulldog and Chester. Using a traditional comedy-pair model, El Toro (voiced by Don Diamond, who 'F-Troop' fans will remember as Crazy Cat) is fat and Pancho (voiced by Tom Holland) is skinny. They are hungry, a frequent condition for them over these 17 cartoons, and try to catch a grasshopper. But this one is rather tough (he literally slaps Toro's mouth off his face) and talks like John Wayne (voiced by John Byner).
In 'Go for Croak', the formula is reversed and the toads are looking to be eaten by Crazylegs Crane (Larry D. Mann), the first of his six 'Tijuana Toads' appearances, and are able to outsmart him in a similar way the objects of their desire outsmart them. In 1978, Crazylegs became the star of his own set of made-for-TV cartoons, which has also been released by Kino. 'Snake in the Gracias' not only brought back Crazylegs but was also the debut of Blue Racer, a fast-traveling snake with sounds reminiscent of the Road Runner that starred in a series of theatrical shorts from 1972-74.
When 'Tijuana Toads' aired on television, there was a concern about racial sensitivity. The title was changed to 'Texas Toads' and the characters became Fatso and Banjo with Southern voices and unfortunately, a laugh track was added. I am not sure the need because there was never any jokes or insults directed at Toro and Pancho just for being Mexican. That's not to say there wasn't there wasn't material that should have been altered or cut.
In 'The Froggy Froggy Duo', a hotel chef is after the toads to make a meal for a French ambassador. There's a crazed mustachioed bandito named is El Puma Tequila Tabasco of Tacos that is a bit over the top as a stereotype. In a familiar cartoon storyline, he wants peace and quiet, but there's not much payoff when the Chef fails, like in Tex Avery's 'Rock-A-Bye Bear' (1952). 'Hop and Chop' offers an even more uncomfortable and offensive character in a Japanese blue beetle that looks and sounds like Mickey Rooney from 'Breakfast from Tiffany's' with big glasses, squinty eyes, buck teeth, black belt in karate, and in inability to pronounce L's.
The "eat or be eaten" concept wasn't the only storyline the toads dealt with. In "Mud Squad", they had to watch a baby alligator and in "The Egg and Ai-Yi-Yi!", they raise a young Crazylegs, though how that's possible isn't made clear. Toro has to lose weight because a lady frog thinks he's fat in "Frog Jog". Pancho steals the girl and then things get meta when Toro asks the animator to reduce him.
'Tijuana Toads' is a fun collection of shorts that feature slapstick and cartoon violence. The characters have a relationship similar to the comedy team of Abbott & Costello where they have each other's back against whomever comes at them but would hesitate to take advantage of the other to benefit themselves. This set delivers a lot of laughs.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber Animation releases 'Tijuana Toads’ on a 25GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase with reversible cover art featuring a sketch of the characters. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.33:1. Aside from infrequent specks of white and black and a hair that appears in a few frames as they fall off cliff in 'A Pair of Greenbacks', the source looks clean and appears free of digital artifacts.
Colors are impressive, from the strong hues that help foreground objects stand out to the lighter shades of items in the background. The house style for DePatie-Freleng used watercolors for backgrounds and objects there had less delineation than those of the foreground. The presentation is so sharp that in some scenes the brush strokes can be seen in the sky.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The dialogue is clear and understandable in all the shorts, even with the different accents used. Composer Doug Goodwin's score is presented with a satisfying clarity. The dynamic range is frequently narrow, the frequent crashes and explosions make use of the loud end. A balanced mix of the different sound elements is achieved. Bass is limited and some of the episodes exhibit a slight hiss.
I don't remember having seen either version of the Toads cartoons when I was growing up, so I am glad Kino has made them available. The high-definition video showcases the animation and the extras offer good insight into their making.