Happy Tree Friends Volume 1: First Blood

While most cartoons can be described as wholesome family viewing, that certainly isn't true of Happy Tree Friends. Instead, expect to see cute, cuddly animals meeting their bloody demise in increasingly imaginative ways. It started out as a web cartoon (and it can still be found online at www.happytreefriends.com) and its popularity has reached such a level that 14 of the best episodes have been collected onto a DVD so fans can enjoy the carnage at any time. The cast of characters is a colourful one, with almost 20 forest animals, ranging from racoons to skunks to bears and even a very dopey moose that you really should steer clear of. They have been made to look as cute as possible, right down to having little hearts for noses, but what happens to them isn't cute at all. Think of a gorier version of Itchy & Scratchy. The actual episodes are pretty short — less than two minutes each — but that doesn't lessen the intricate nature of every single one. While the creators do take a certain amount of joy in the obvious methods of killing off their characters, they also use bait and switch tactics to keep viewers on their toes. You'll never quite know how they'll meet their demise. There's a decent amount of extra stuff also. The typical commentary track is a bit more interesting than most, thanks to the fact that it is combined with onscreen storyboard comparisons. The commentary features the creators and some of the writers, and they sound like they are having a lot of fun exchanging anecdotes about who does the best screams and some of the really, really sick ideas that didn't get used. There are also Smoochies, a sort of themed interactive episode (such as for Easter and Valentine's Day) where you can pick out one of three choices, which results in an inevitable horrible death. The other extras aren't quite so interesting, but give the history of the series, right from the very first episode. Some more extra episodes would have been better though. Extras: Commentary track and storyboard comparisons; four Smoochies; unreleased episodes; original sketches and character designs; character bios. (Mondo Media/StudioWorks, www.mondomedia.com)