A theatrical short series. Roland and Rattfink are exact opposites. Roland is a concerned, good-looking, clean-shaven pacifist and Rattfink is evil and mustachioed. The series of animated shorts were produced by David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng and released from 1968 to 1971.The release will include all 17 cartoons, which have been newly remastered.
Those who grew up watching cartoons are sure to recognize the unusual name "Freleng" from the opening credits. Isadore "Friz" Freleng is a legendary figure in the animation business. He worked for Walt Disney on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons in the 1920s and went on to have an impressive career at Warner Brothers working on 'Merrie Melodies' and 'Looney Tunes'. Over three decades, he directed 266 cartoons during his tenure, the most of anyone at the studio.
Leaving Warner Bros in 1962 shortly before they closed their animation department, he formed DePatie-Freleng Enterprises with producer David H. DePatie and had great success with the Pink Panther. The character first appeared in the opening sequence of Blake Edwards' 1963 film and then 'The Pink Phink', which earned an Oscar for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). DePatie-Freleng created a number of cartoon series that segued from theaters to television.
I had no memory of ever seeing "Roland and Rattfink" during all my hours of cartoon viewing. From the cover, the angelic Roland and the menacing Rattfink resemble Dudley Do-Right (which is reinforced during "Sweet and Sourdough" as Roland works for the Northwest Mounted Police) and Snidely Whiplash. In the first cartoon, "Hawks and Doves," Rattfink's skin tone is Caucasian rather than the green on the cover, but by the second cartoon, he's green for almost every appearance.
"Hawks and Doves" seems to have been a one-off before the filmmakers decided to regularly return to these characters. A nickelodeon presents the story of the battle between neighboring countries, Hawkland and Doveland, set around the time of World War I. Roland is described as a hard-hitting pacifist, and Rattfink is "the only war monger that ever drafted his mother." Lennie Weinrib voices both characters. The cartoon is wonderfully absurd. Rattfink's airplane contains a cannon that is bigger than the plane while Roland's plane has a device that places a cork into Rattfink's cannon. It ends with a funny, political twist as Roland is rewarded for his triumph but the tax collector takes his money and gives it to impoverished Rattfink.
"Hurts and Flowers" is the second cartoon. The nickelodeon opening is dropped, the story seems to be set in then-present day 1969, and the main duo doesn't speak. Roland is a crazed, peace-loving flower picker, and Rattfink despises him for no apparent reason, other than he hates flowers. It's rather bizarre and over the top in its aggressiveness.
"Flying Feet" gives the characters their voices for the main duo, and is similar to the Road Runner cartoons as every plan Rattfink has to stop Roland from winning race fails. It's funny that Rattfink tries nearly every means of travel but running. "The Deadwood Thunderball" finds the characters (voiced by John Byner and Dave Barry) at the building of Transcontinental Railroad.
The shorts start to take an odd turn moving forward, possibly in response to the limited characterizations and similar plots. "A Pair of Sneakers" is delightfully weird. The gags no longer have any logic; they just have to generate laughs. Objects appear out of nowhere, such as a 16-ton weight held by balloons hiding in a cloud damaging a jet. Fans of Mad's Spy vs. Spy should dig this one.
"Say Cheese, Please" gets a bit meta when Rattfink complains to the studio head about always playing a villain. He gets his chance to be a star with Roland playing his stunt double, yet everything goes wrong and Rattfink gets hurt. If that seems as familiar as it did to me that's because it's basically a remake of Freleng's “A Star is Bored” (1956) with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. "War and Pieces" find the men as pirates and Freleng reuses a gag involving explosives and a tiny boat from his "Captain Hareblower" (1954) starring Bugs and Yosemite Sam.
Rattfink had some personality so he got his own cartoon. In "A Taste of Money" he is yellow rather than green for no apparent reason. He marries a woman for her $5 million, but she's ugly and has a kid, but his greed forces him to stay and be on the receiving end of a lot of punishment. Money is also the main motivator in "The Foul Kin" as Rattfink hopes for the inheritance of 100-year-old Rotten Rattfink. Roland is a relation but doesn't appear in most the cartoon.
In "Great Continental Overland Cross Country Race," an inexplicable decision is made to have all the characters and vehicles be white, but there's color in the backgrounds, so what happened? Maybe a budgetary issue? Roland hardly appears and then turns villainous at the end. "Fink in the Rink" has the same color usage. "Cattle Battle," the last of the series, sees the characters killed off.
I enjoyed "Roland and Rattfink," though watching all 17 in one sitting isn't the best way to take them in. They may not elicit frequent viewing but the serious collector will be happy to own them.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber Animation releases 'Roland and Rattfink’ on a 25GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase with reversible cover art with 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. The colors come through in vivid hues. Blacks are inky and whites are bright. Many of the scenes deliver strong contrast. Occasional blemishes of blacks and whites specks appear. Otherwise, the source looks clean.
The backgrounds are done in watercolors. Some patches blend together so spots of green and blue combine in areas that are both the ground and the sky. Characters and objects that move have been drawn with thicker lines so they look sharper than other items, particularly those in the background.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The dialogue is clear and understandable in all 17 shorts. Composer Doug Goodwin's jazz scores and come through with solid clarity. The effects push the loud end of the dynamic range with the frequent crashes and explosions. The elements are combined to create a satisfactory mix. Bass is limited and imaging seemed nonexistent.
Roland and Rattfink are rather forgettable characters with their limited personalities, and the stories have been done better previously, which is probably why Freleng stole from his past work, but it's wonderful that Kino has made these cartoons available for fans to revisit and for the curious to sample. The high-definition is a bonus and helps the animators' artwork stand out.