‘The Little Rascals’: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 Blu-Ray Review – Preserving A Slice Of Comedic Film History

Whether or not you know them under the Our Gang title or as The Little Rascals (or rather improbably Hal Roach’s Rascals), there is a better-than-average chance you are aware of the group of lovable underdog kids who stole the hearts of audiences for many decades in the early twentieth century (and even a feature-length film in the 1990s that was a personal favorite). The series produced well over two-hundred shorts with over forty kids being transitioned in and out of the series over the years. Created by Hal Roach, an executive who obviously knows what makes people laugh as a key figure behind Laurel and Hardy, the series began its production in the silent era but really got cooking once it transitioned to a “talkie.” The first sound short Small Talk debuted in 1929 and the series did not look back from there as it produced memorable short after memorable short. After years of these shorts being unavailable or in dreadful quality, the good folks at ClassicFlix have spearheaded a restoration effort that brings all new life to these films. This first volume contains the first eleven Our Gang shorts produced by Roach beginning in the sound era. 

What set this series apart from other films of the era was the natural way in which Roach approached working with the children. If you grew up in the era of Kids Say The Darndest Things, you know how much emphasis was placed on the humor that would arise from kids just being kids. The Little Rascals was doing this well before that show to a certain extent. While each short obviously had scripted situations, Roach could see the value in letting each child’s nuances shine through in their performances without being slavish to the script. He was not trying to make these kids “tiny adults” but rather the simple, exuberant kids that they naturally were. The series was also notable for portraying these children from a low-income perspective. The series had a way of making the struggle very funny and relatable from a character standpoint while not critical of the impoverished. The series has gotten some criticism over its stereotypical portrayal of African Americans – which is completely justified – but it was also one of the first portrayals of black and white children interacting as equals. Perhaps two steps forward, one step back? 

For all of its dated qualities, the series is one that still manages to conjure up some major laughs even nearly a century later. This first batch of eleven shorts features the talents of Jackie Cooper, Allen “Farina” Hoskins, Mary Ann Jackson, Bobby “Wheezer” Hutchins, Joe Cobb, Harry Spear, Norman “Chubby” Chaney and many more hilarious children. The first sound short Small Talk features the children as orphans who get into some major mischief when they pay a visit to their adopted comrade. Some may even have their heartstrings pulled over seeing the separation and subsequent reunion of a brother and sister. The Rascals are also known to court danger, which is certainly the case as they narrowly escape with their lives on Railroadin’ after messing around with a locomotive. A personal favorite is Boxing Gloves in which Joe and Chubby forget the meaning of friendship when it comes to the lovely Jean. And who could forget when the Rascals tried their hand at being thespians in Shivering Shakespeare? Let’s just say it does not go well. Every one of these shorts is prime Little Rascals material, and they will still make you laugh after all of these years. 

See also
'Dad & Step-Dad' Review - No Faux Pa To Be Found In This Comedic Masterpiece

SHORTS

1929:

  • Small Talk
  • Railroadin’
  • Lazy Days
  • Boxing Gloves
  • Bouncing Babies
  • Moan & Groan, Inc.

 

1930:

  • Shivering Shakespeare
  • The First Seven Years
  • When the Wind Blows
  • Bear Shooters
  • A Tough Winter

Video Quality

The Little Rascals debuts on Blu-Ray in its original 1.38:1 thanks to ClassicFlix with a brand new 1080p master from newly scanned and restored 35mm film elements. Given the state that these shorts were in that you can see in the special features, the transfer we have here is quite incredible. As noted, some restoration efforts were more challenging than others so there is varying quality throughout these eleven films. The black-and-white photography shines in high definition with natural grain intact. Black levels are fairly deep with no overwhelming occurrence of black crush or compression artifacts, but the grain resolution can fluctuate slightly in some sequences. There is a great amount of detail present with nice textures on the clothing and within the background. The new transfer shows off a great amount of depth and enhanced detail within each film’s composition. The contrast is well defined with only brief moments where you can imagine the source material was especially damaged. Great pains have been taken to clean this material up as much as possible, and for the most part the efforts are spectacular with only a very small amount of nicks and scratches still present. ClassicFlix has done some spectacular work here to make these look as great as they possibly can. 

Audio Quality

The Blu-Ray comes with a pretty solid DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that serves these movies as well as can be considering the place in early sound recording. Dialogue and background noises are mostly represented in pleasing harmony, but there are a few instances where sound effects overtakes the dialogue. This track presents with a decent amount of age related wear and tear including some hissing and crackles that likely date back to the source elements. What little music is featured can occasionally present as a bit hollow sounding, as well. Fidelity is the most inconsistent part of this soundtrack, but once again this can be forgiven given the source elements. There are optional English SDH subtitles included for those who desire them. The good folks at ClassicFlix have done their best to provide the most stable track possible for this one. 

See also
'Bad Boys: Ride or Die' Review - Bigger, Better, Badder

Special Features

  • Restoration Comparisons: A nearly five-minute video which gives some background information on the restoration efforts undertaken by ClassicFlix and a demonstration of the material before and after being cleaned up. The difference is night and day!

 

Final Thoughts

The Little Rascals holds up even all these decades later thanks to the core performances from the children. Some of the shorts have more dated aspects than others, but when viewed in the context of the period they were created there is quite a bit to admire here. ClassicFlix has done film fans a great service with this debut volume on Blu-Ray which sports a strong A/V presentation. If you are even a bit curious about these shorts, it is worth checking them out if only to support further preservation elements such as this. Recommended 

The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: ClassicFlix has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments