Gumby Essentials

“He was once a little green slab of clay, Gumby!” Growing up in the 1970’s, I was a huge fan of the Gumby television show. The stories of the green clay boy and his pony pal Pokey were a staple of my after-school TV diet. So when I popped the Gumby Essentials DVD into the player, I was expecting to become reacquainted with a beloved childhood friend. Instead, I came to the sad realization that sometimes the things I enjoyed as a young lad were kinda crappy.

Gumby debuted in 1957 and went on to air 223 shorts, ranging in length from five to eleven minutes, in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1980’s. This collection provides five episodes from each decade, for a total of 15. I’m not sure how “essential” the group is, but it does provide a good overview of the Gumby character and show.

A claymation pioneer, the show originally focused on Gumby and his pal Pokey as they entered the books in the child’s room where he lived. This format allowed Gumby to go on many adventures in different times and settings. Most of the stories are pretty simplistic. In fact, they turned out to be downright boring. It doesn’t take much to hold my attention for ten minutes, but I was getting pretty restless as the stories drew towards their conclusion. They don’t rise above the level seen in most shows produced for low elementary school age children these days, which isn’t saying much. In the 1980’s show, Gumby was moved out of the child’s room and toured with a band, which was even worse. In the five episodes from that decade, he and Pokey are often very minor players in the stories.

I realize that the show is occasionally hailed as a “surreal classic” or the like, but I would call the look “cheap.” It’s expected that claymation from the 1950’s will look dated, but Gumby does not hold up well by any standard. Once you get past the fact that this was the first of its kind, the visuals don’t have much inventiveness. While Gumby is a likeable character, he isn’t shown doing much that would appeal to an adult, although kids may like the cool gadgets that show up as a result of Gumby’s imagination.

If you have fond memories of Gumby and his clay pals, you may not want to disturb them. The little green slab of clay doesn’t quite come across as well once you’ve left adolescence behind. There was a big outcry when Rhino released a seven-disc Gumby set which did not include the original music and voices. This disc does have the original soundtrack and the episodes have been digitally re-mastered. That’s not to say it is pristine. The episodes often look 50 years old and have the scratching and spotting common to older film. This will, however, give you a better look at the original episodes than you will get elsewhere.

The bonus features primarily consist of the two forerunners for the Gumby series. The first, “Gumbasia,” is a parody of “Fantasia” that Art Clokey came up with in 1955. A three minute short that sets moving shapes of clay to a jazz score. With no dialogue or characters, just shapes, the short evokes a feeling rather than tells a story. It’s impressive (especially considering the time it was filmed) but isn’t visually interesting enough to warrant more than one or two viewings. The other early item is the pilot for the show, called Gumby of the Moon. It doesn’t have the same whimsical attitude the show adopted early on and may be interesting to fans as a different sort of Gumby story.

The other two main extras include “bumpers” from previous incarnations of the show. Typically running about 10-15 seconds each, the bumpers feature Gumby and Pokey in a quick adventure or skit that is self-contained. There is also a video of the 1960’s theme song. This is the song most associated with Gumby and the show. It’s a short song, so the video runs about 30 seconds.

The only remaining items are static character bios and some previews. The disc lacks a historical featurette that gives an overall view of the series. For whatever reason, this show and character are cultural icons and some acknowledgement of that could have made this a more compelling disc for the fan or uninitiated. Also, some information about creator Art Clokey, who also created Davey and Goliath, would have been interesting.

I’m not going to fool myself into thinking there aren’t people who will like this simple set. It allows someone to dip their toe into the Gumby pool without shelling out for some multi-disc collector’s set. I think the whole Gumby phenomenon is overrated, but if you want to see if your kid’s will fall for Gumby the same way you did, this might be a good way to get them a taste. For the rest of you, stick to Spongebob reruns.