The Dick Tracy Show: The Complete Animated Crime Series
Brett D. Rogers · January 8, 2006 | By the time Henry Saperstein bought UPA in the early 1960s, the studio's creative fire was fading, but not quite smothered. Saperstein's heavy push into television led to artistic sacrifices in UPA productions like Dick Tracy, but the minimalist backgrounds and bold graphic interpretation of city streetscapes and iconic freeway interchanges peppered across the show's five minute episodes are a tantalizing glimpse at the pioneering UPA of a decade earlier.

Released to tie in with the 75th anniversary of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy comic strip, this DVD box set contains every episode produced of The Dick Tracy Show—all 130 of them—on four discs. There are no extra features included on the discs themselves, but an interesting booklet containing reproductions of early Dick Tracy comic strips is inserted with the set.

Fans of the Dick Tracy character will be left scratching their heads at this show, wondering when he's going to arrive and take his place at center stage. UPA's interpretation of the comic strip leaves Tracy more or less behind a desk, doling out crime-fighting assignments to one of his wacky deputies-on-call. Comic aficionados will recognize the cast of villains, which includes memorable characters like Prune Face, BB Eyes, Flattop, Itchy and Mumbles, but Dick Tracy's crew is an entirely new concoction.

The Dick Tracy Show: The Complete Animated Crime Series
Produced by United Productions of America
Classic Media, 2006
Originally aired in the USA in 1961
645 minutes

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Tracy's deputies are a mélange of ethnic stereotypes and celebrity sound-alikes, landing the show squarely among the breed of 1960s animated television shows marked by humour that seems distasteful and celeb caricatures that seem tired by today's standards, but probably provided a laugh in their original context.

Dick Tracy's crime-fighting entourage includes the rotund cop and Andy Devine clone Heap O'Calorie, bulldog Hemlock Holmes, who sounds like Cary Grant (sort of), sombrero-topped Mexican cop Go-Go Gomez, and the diminutive martial arts expert Joe Jitsu.

At the outset of each episode, Tracy gets the lowdown from the police chief and makes a quick radio call to one of his deputies, sending one of them leaping into action. Hemlock Holmes brings along the Retouchables, a gaggle of Keystone cops, but otherwise the deputies work solo. Some of the crimes concocted by Tracy's devious arch-enemies are clever, but the resolutions are guaranteed to be filled with puns and running gags.

With all the hard work accomplished toward the end of each episode, Tracy is beckoned by wrist radio and quickly arrives on scene to make an appearance a few frames long and haul off the bad guys. Tracy's crime-fighting organization is the ultimate in delegation, making him look more like a graduate of business school than the police academy.

A hundred and thirty episodes of any show is a lot to watch, even if they are only a few minutes long. Throw in a formulaic story structure compressed into five-minute vignettes and things tend to get repetitive. That's not to say there isn't a lot to like about The Dick Tracy Show. The voiceover cast is great, featuring immense talents like Everett Sloane, Paul Frees, Mel Blanc and Benny Rubin. While the show was produced with an emphasis on cost, not quality, Dick Tracy still retains some of that cool UPA look and holds its own as a nostalgia piece and a fun look back at animation at the dawn of the 1960s.

DVD Features: 4:3 aspect ratio, English audio track; Region 1.

DVD Extras: Booklet with reproductions of early Dick Tracy strips.
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