Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment
Dennis The Menace is one of the most beloved icons in the history of American pop culture. What started out as a comic strip crafted by Hank Ketcham in March of 1951 went from there to become what is today a cultural phenomenon. That comic strip spawned a live action series starring Jay North, which ran for nearly four years from October 1959 to July 1963. It would later go on to spawn an animated series that while it ran only two seasons, remains one a favorite among audiences of all ages even today. Earlier this year, Mill Creek Entertainment finally rewarded the patience of that series’ fans with the first half of the series’ first season on DVD. The multi-disc set’s release marked the first time ever that the series had received a proper release. And it proved to be a box set well worth the wait, too. The same can be said of the new box set Lights! Camera! Menace! Lights! Camera! Menace! is essentially Dennis The Menace Volume 2. Why Mill Creek chose to give it a different title is anyone’s guess. Regardless, anyone that grew up with this standout cartoon series will appreciate and enjoy this latest collection of episodes just as much as its predecessor. The primary reason for that is that this set properly finishes off the series’ first season, despite what its title might lead one to think. Also, the continued family friendly writing makes this one of those rare gems that families can and should watch together. And last but not least is the series’ original hand-drawn animation. In an age when anime and CG-based children’s shows dominate the airwaves, this original true animation style serves as a reminder of the value of such animation. All three factors are important in their own right. Together, they make Lights! Camera! Menace! another must-have collection for any kid and kid at heart. They also collectively make this set another valid contender for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets for children and families.
Typically, the most obvious starting point for examination of any box set would be the episodes’ scripts (I.E. the writing). However, being that this box set and its predecessor mark the first time that this installment of the Dennis The Menace franchise has ever been released, the smarter starting point is the set’s episode listing. Audiences will note that Lights! Camera! Menace! finishes off the first season of this classic kids’ cartoon series. Every episode from the second half of Season One is here. The episodes are for the most part presented in the same order as they were presented in their original broadcasts. There are some slight variances in the episode listing. But those variances are so few that they can easily be brushed aside, making even more valuable the fact that every one of the episodes from the second half of Season One is present here. Again, knowing this, it is anyone’s guess why this box set wasn’t simply titled Dennis The Menace Volume 2. That’s anyone’s guess. Regardless, the fact that it is the first time that these episodes have received a proper release and that they have all been included is the central point of this set’s success. And it’s a solid central point at that.
That Lights! Camera! Menace! fully finishes off the first season of Dennis The Menace is a solid starting point for the newly released triple-disc box set. Rising from that solid foundation is the writing incorporated into each of the scripts. Dennis more than lives up to his moniker in the episodes included in this compilation. He gets both Mr. Wilson and his own dad arrested in the set’s opening short “Sounds of the Night.” They get arrested after being suspected of being a couple of robbers. Of course Mr. Wilson’s argument that it was Dennis’ fault doesn’t help at all. When Dennis’ dog Ruff accidentally runs amok on one of Mr. Wilson’s paintings, a famed art critic sees the painting and mistakes Mr. Wilson’s work for the work of someone else. Of course, Mr. Wilson can’t convince the critic in question that the painting was his. That leads to plenty of laughs. He creates plenty of laughs as he causes trouble for Mr. Wilson and others throughout these episodes. There are also just as many laughs as he goes on various adventures with his friends and even gets them into some tight situations that ultimately come out alright, too. Whether it be his troublemaking ways with Mr. Wilson, his wildly fun adventures with his friends or even stopping spies (yes, he even stops a bad guy or two in this volume), Dennis’ adventures in Lights! Camera! Menace! will take the show’s original audiences back on a wonderful trip down memory lane. They will also show today’s young audiences what real cartoons are all about.
The fact that the episodes culled for Lights! Camera! Menace! completely finish off the first season of the classic series is a solid base for this collection. It’s great to see that the first season was finished off in full instead of just having this collection be a compilation of random episodes. Its title is a wholly different issue in itself. The writing that went into each of the episodes presented here makes this collection all the more enjoyable for viewers. The writing proves that it is possible to write good, solid cartoons without relying on crass humor. It proves that among all of the teeny-bopper and tweeny-bopper live action series out there on the networks of Nickelodeon and Disney, true worthwhile children’s programming such as Dennis The Menace still has a very relevant place in today’s television spectrum. It’s still just as entertaining today as it was in its original broadcast. The last factor that makes Lights! Camera! Menace! so enjoyable is its animation. The animation style used in this series was entirely done by hand. Just as the episodes’ writing proved to be fully original, so does that hand-drawn animation style. The only shows that came close to Dennis The Menace at the time were perhaps Heathcliff and The Real Ghostbusters. Even as close as those shows might have been to Dennis The Menace in their animation, there were obvious stylistic differences between them, too. The key difference was the sharpness of detail. This series didn’t have that certain definition of the art in the other noted series. It was more raw for lack of better wording. A side-by-side comparison of the shows makes this much clearer. And in seeing that difference, as subtle as it is, audiences will see once more just why these classic episodes are so valuable. If audiences don’t appreciate the episodes’ writing or the fact that Mill Creek paid true tribute to the series by finishing off Season One in full, then this is sure to generate a certain appreciation for the series and the set among audiences.
Lights! Camera! Menace! is a wonderful presentation for audiences of all ages, as one should be able to tell by now. The episodes are literally family friendly in every sense. That’s thanks to solid writing that boasts so much heart. The full complement of Season One’s second half episodes makes the set even better. And the use of real hand-drawn animation finishes off this set. All three factors by themselves are important to the set’s success. Together, they make Lights! Camera! Menace! another impressive release from Mill Creek Entertainment, the packaging aside. They combine to make this set a valid contender at least for this critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets for children and family. Lights! Camera! Menace! is available now in stores and online. It can be ordered direct from Mill Creek Entertainment online at http://www.millcreekdirect.com/dennis-the-menace-lights-camera-menace-32-episodes.html. More information on this and other releases from Mill Creek Entertainment is available online at http://www.millcreekent.com, http://www.facebook.com/MillCreekEnt, and http://twitter.com/millcreekent. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.