The DePatie-Freleng animation team had a nice little section of the animation market cornered. While a film could use a creative title sequence, theaters also wanted to keep an audience entertained while they waited for the main feature to start. Similar to their previous efforts like The Inspector, Roland and Rattfink, or The Blue Racer, Sheriff Hoot Kloot which ran from 1973 through 1974 helped fill a theatrical programming gap. While some of the DePatie-Freleng creations could border on the line of being a culturally insensitive parody, Sheriff Hoot Kloot, on the other hand, skewers the wild west by satirizing all of the familiar tropes the genre has to offer.
Containing 18 episodes each with an average runtime of about six and a half minutes, the misadventures of Sheriff Hoot Kloot may feature some elements of Depatie-Freleng's traditional cultural insensitivity, only this time it feels a little finer tuned; honed to the tone of the satire of a brash yet diminutive wild west sheriff. A few of the shorts feature the scraggly Crazy Wolf as the foil of our Sheriff, but for the most part, the Sheriff Hoot Kloot shorts are without a primary villain. This is largely due to the fact that Kloot is his own worst enemy. By dialing up the standard characteristics found in your average John Wayne western focusing on steadfast courage and a commanding presence, Kloot is more of an ignoramus than anything. This isn't to say that the mockery that comes at the expense of "red Indians" isn't uncomfortable, it does help that these characters are infinitely more intelligent than our titular Sheriff.
Compared to The Blue Racer, Sheriff Hoot Kloot is filled with a great variety of characters that cause any amount of frustration for the homely Sheriff. From characters like Crazy Wolf to Billy the Kidder to Wild Bill Hiccup, the sketches and scripting feel more inspired rather than the traditional cat and mouse material of The Blue Racer shorts. "Pay Your Buffalo Bill" perhaps offers up the most searing sense of genre satire. When Crazy Wolf comes to town posing as a snake oil salesman peddling his medicine, it turns out the tonic has some questionable side effects - which leads to a not-so-thinly veiled knock on John Wayne and his classic slow drawl and sauntering stature. While most of these shorts are pretty funny, that gag is the one that put me on the floor.
While most folks got to enjoy these shorts in theaters or later when they were repackaged for television, I got to enjoy the Sheriff Hoot Kloot shorts as well as some shorts from The Inspector and Roland and Rattfink on VHS. Someone within MGM's home video department had the genius idea of putting these shorts ahead of some of their big home video releases. As such, anytime my Dad and I wanted to watch You Only Live Twice, Gold Finger, or our copies of Fistful of Dollars or For a Few Dollars More, our tapes featured a couple DePatie-Freleng animated shorts. In truth, we usually skipped past those shorts after we became familiar with them, but every now and again it was a nice introduction to the movie - even if they weren't thematically related to the main feature.
Taken as a whole, I had a pretty great time with Sheriff Hoot Kloot. Compared to The Blue Racer, the comedy felt more satirical and less mean-spirited. While there are admittedly a couple of characterizations that may raise an eyebrow or two, they're less galling and actually fit the theme of a loud and obnoxious old west sheriff. Any of the questionable cultural depictions found here are far less uncomfortable than the orange bucktoothed Japanese Beetle found in The Blue Racer shorts! This collection offers up plenty of laughs, especially if you're a fan of westerns as few genre tropes go unskewered.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Sheriff Hoot Kloot arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber Animation. Pressed onto a Region A locked BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy case and features reversible artwork. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. Each short can be accessed individually or can be played in one big 109-minute chunk.
With a 1.33:1 1080p transfer, Sheriff Hoot Kloot makes a genuinely pleasing appearance on Blu-ray. Detail levels are strong overall - there are a few soft episodes here and there, but those are relatively few. Colors are bright and bold with a wonderful primary pop. Oranges, in particular, get a lot of play to sell the Old West stylings. Hard lines and inky blacks help give these shorts a nice sense of dimension and depth against the background plates. The prints sourced for these transfers are relatively problem free. There is some slight speckling here and there, but nothing to get fussy about. All around these are bright and cheerful looking shorts and make a damn fine transition to HD.
Compared to The Blue Racer shorts, audio fidelity is an overall improvement with this English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. Dialogue is heard fine throughout, which is important to get through Kloot's penchant for gruff shouting compared to his amiable horse who speaks in lower slower tones. Scoring is a little more precise here as the music isn't intended to just set the chase tone but also fix against the genre and up the parody aspect. Sound effects are fairly flat, as there really isn't any atmosphere to experience, but the sharp clashes of gunfire, accented hoof falls work nicely for these shorts. There is some slight hiss here and there, but nothing too severe to distract from the rest of the presentation.
Sheriff Hoot Kloot comes backed with a nice assortment of bonus features. The collection of commentaries for various episodes offers up a good assortment of information about the shorts, DePatie-Freleng, and their animation machine. The Featurettes "Range Rovers" and "Art for Art's Sake" are also found on The Blue Racer collection.
"Kloot's Kounty" features filmmaker Greg Ford
"Apache on the County Seat" features cartoon writer William Hohauser
"The Shoe Must Go On" and "Gold Struck" features historian Jerry Beck
"Pay Your Buffalo Bill" and "Strange on the Range" features author Mark Arnold
"The Badge and the Beautiful" features Bob Balser
Art for Art's Sake (HD 19:47) This feature is a pretty cool look at the work of Art Leonardi within the DePatie-Freleng crew as well as the many feature film opening credits sequences he produced.
Range Rovers (HD 20:52) Featuring interviews with Art Leonardi, Jerry Beck, Mark Arnold, Will Friedwald, and Barbara Donatelli share their memories of working on The Blue Racer and Sheriff Hoot Kloot shorts. While there are a lot of clips of scenes that interrupt the flow, the group of movers and shakers provide plenty of great information and memories about working on these shorts that this featurette becomes a terrific look into the process of bringing these creations to life under tight budgets and deadlines.
Part of me really wishes that theaters still offered pregame programming like Sheriff Hoot Kloot. Anything would be better than being force-fed promotional behind-the-scenes material for a soon-to-flop television show, but that would be selling these shorts a little short. Sheriff Hoot Kloot offers up a nicely timed and sharp parody of popular western genre tropes that give you the right amount of laughs without being too culturally insensitive to be uncomfortable. I had a great time reconnecting with some of these shorts as I hadn't seen them since the VHS days. Kino Lorber Animation has done a great job bringing this set to Blu-ray with a strong A/V presentation and a decent worthwhile assortment of bonus features to pick through. If you love westerns and if you love the DePatie-Freleng style of animation, Sheriff Hoot Kloot is for you. Recommended.