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STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME: 414 Minutes
• Commentaries and Featurettes with Animators, Historians, and Voice Artists Profiling Specific Cartoons, Characters, and Creators
• Music- and Music-and-Effects-Only Tracks on Selected Shorts
• Theatrical Feature Bugs Bunny Superstar
• New Documentary Friz on Film
• The Bugs Bunny Show: Bridging Sequences and Audio Recording Sessions
• Bonus Rarities from the Vaults, Including Wartime and Armed Forces Shorts
“Come on down as Warner Bros parcels out yet another 414 minutes of your childhood!”
Mel Blanc, Stan Freberg, June Foray, Arthur Q. Bryan, Billy Bletcher, John T. Smith (II), Daws Butler
During the Golden Age of Cartooning, Walt Disney and his team of animators were at the forefront of animation. They turned simple children’s entertainments into art, marrying unparalleled craft in animation with technological innovations in picture and sound, and they wrapped it all in a great big commercially-successful bow. Disney and Co. revolutionized what cartoons were and, most importantly, what they could be.
And then there was the Warner Bros crew at Termite Terrace.
Guys like Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, Friz Freleng, and Chuck Jones. Their cartoons were far less polished, even crude when compared to Disney’s work, with strikingly minimalist and abstract artwork. And whereas Disney cartoons frequently had a gentle undercurrent, the Warner Crew produced cynical, satirical, anarchic, and often violent shorts. The difference between the two was like the differences between chamber music and punk rock. I say, God Save the Punk Rockers. In my mind, the Warner Bros cartoons stand heads and tails over the Disney ones, many just as funny and entertaining now as they were back then (if not more so). Hell, even the not-so-great ones are better than 99.99% of what passes for animation these days. And now, Warner Bros has released their fourth Golden Collection set (that’s 60 cartoons for you guys in the cheap seats) of classic cartoons. How does it stack up to the other three? Inquiring minds want to know!
"Calm down, Big Daddy. It’s just a group grope."
Out of the four Looney Tunes Golden Collections now available on DVD, this most recent set is somewhat of an anomaly. Why, you might ask? Well, it’s the best and the worst set released so far. All the Golden Collections are special; I think the variety of restored cartoons presented and the sheer amount of special features piled on top of those make them worthwhile, even if a few cartoons here and there are stinkers. These sets constitute an invaluable section of animation history, and I think they even exceed the quality of the metal-tinned-my-shit-don’t-stink-limited-edition Walt Disney Treasures sets. And this Golden Collection is no exception. When the cartoons included are good, they’re phenomenal, and about ¾ worth fall under that good-to-phenomenal heading. Let’s look at those first.
Disc One- Bugs Bunny Favorites
Includes: Roman Legion-Hare, The Grey Hounded Hare, Rabbit Hood, Operation: RABBIT, Knight-mare Hare, Southern Fried Rabbit, Mississippi Hare, Hurdy-Gurdy Hare, Forward March Hare, Sahara Hare, Barbary-Coast Bunny, To Hare is Human, 8 Ball Bunny, Knighty Knight Bugs, Rabbit Romeo
I love Bugs Bunny. I know, who doesn’t, right, but there’s a reason that Bugs is so beloved: he’s just fucking awesome. As someone says on the documentary Bugs Bunny Superstar, Bugs has no inhibitions. He does whatever he wants to do, says whatever he wants to say, and nine times out of ten he comes up on top of everyone else (pun intended). Anyone who doesn’t look at a guy like him and say, “Lucky…” is full of crap or seriously deluded. Plus, Bugs looked damn good in women’s clothing, and how many of us guys wish we could say the same about ourselves in such a getup?
Nobody but me? Shit.
With the exception of the oft-played 8 Ball Bunny and the Academy-Award Winning Knighty Knight Bugs, I hadn’t seen many of these in a while, which was a real treat. Most dealt with putting Bugs in a foreign land and letting him loose, which is about as guaranteed a laugh formula as a Crotch-Bat in the same room with Big Balls McGee. Rabbit Hood, Knight-mare Hare, and Knighty Knight Bugs all find Bugs in medieval times, while the sword-and-sandal settings of Roman Legion-Hare, Sahara Hare, and Barbary-Coast Bunny have Bugs, well, sword-and-sandaling it up. I think the best “Strange Bugs in a Strange Land” cartoon prizes have to go to Southern Fried Rabbit and Mississippi Hare, though; in these two, Bugs is in what could best be described as Mark Twain’s American South, and all the gloriously florid Southern accents and misplaced gallantry that comes with that vision.
The centerpiece of this disc? Operation: Rabbit, by a mile. This is Bugs against Wile E. Coyote, and as great as Bugs can be, Wile steals the show from him. Because, you see, Wile can talk here, and he comes off less as his usual bewildered fool than as the greatest Bond villain that never was. He talks like Alan Rickman in Die Hard, he monologues like it’s the greatest thing since studded condoms, and he blows up spectacularly. This version of Wile was used sparingly, but he’s always a treat to see, and a reminder of how ahead of their time the Looney Tunes crew could be.
Disc Two- A Dash of Tashlin
Includes: The Case of the Stuttering Pig, Little Pancho Vanilla, Little Beau Porky, Now that Summer is Gone, Porky in the North Woods, You’re an Education, Porky’s Railroad, Plane Daffy, Porky the Fireman, Cracked Ice, Puss n’ Booty, I Got Plenty of Mutton, Booby Hatched, Unruly Hare, The Stupid Cupid
Well, color me impressed! Before this set, I only knew of Frank Tashlin the live-action filmmaker. He did some truly enjoyable pictures with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and he was the mastermind behind the wonderful The Girl Can’t Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? When I found out he started out in cartoons, I was jazzed; I expected good things. And I got “good,” if not “great.” Tashlin worked in cartoons for years, surviving the transition from black and white to color, and as a result he’s got a very distinctive style, utilizing a lot of round shapes and extreme close-ups. It makes for an interesting contrast between his work and the far more precise and angular work of a McKimson or a Freleng cartoon. But a lot of these cartoons are too sweet for their own good. Cartoons like Cracked Ice or Now that Summer is Gone have a gentleness that’s slightly incongruous with the other cartoons in the set. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still fun, but they almost feel more akin to a Silly Symphony or a Disney morality cartoon.
Yet the differences from the rest of the set make this disc an interesting and worthwhile curio, if not as polished as the rest. Plus, it’s got two of the best Daffy Duck cartoons ever made, Plane Daffy and The Stupid Cupid. These show Daffy at his most ridiculous and crazy, before he was Bugs’ exasperated foil, and that alone is cause for celebration.
A clip from the once-lost classic, "The Erotic Adventures of Beetle Bailey."
Disc Four- Kitty Korner
Includes: The Night Watchman, Conrad the Sailor, The Sour Puss, The Aristo-Cat, Dough Ray Me-ow, Pizzicato Pussycat, Kiss Me Cat, Cat Feud, The Unexpected Pest, Go Fly a Kit, Kiddin’ the Kitten, A Peck o’ Trouble, Mouse and Garden, Porky’s Poor Fish, Swallow the Leader
I’ll admit, I was looking forward to this section the least. I figured it would be a painful amount of Sylvester and Tweety cartoons. I like them in small doses, but 90 min. worth? That grates on my soul worse than seeing Ralph Fiennes in Maid in Manhattan. As it turns out, not only were that stuttering cat and his tweeting bird combo nowhere to be found, but this disc might actually be my favorite. For the most part, the tried and true formula of the evil cat menacing the wiseacre mice was nary to be found, and if it was, it was being cleverly subverted.
I submit The Night Watchman, The Aristo-cat, and Cat Feud for your consideration. In all of these, the basic plot is familiar: cats vs. mice. But none of them played to my expectations. We’re actually made to sympathize with the cat in The Night Watchman; he’s a sweet, honest little guy who’s pushed too far by the mice until he (rightly) explodes on them, Bruce Banner-style. In The Aristo-cat, the cat’s a spoiled-rotten priss whose servant deserts him, leaving him completely alone and wholly incapable of taking care of himself (including catching mice, who terrify him). And while the cats in Cat Feud do menace a mouse, the emphasis is placed on their Bugs-and-Daffy-esque feud with one another. These little subversions are found all over this disc, and they lend a freshness and verve to the cartoons that might otherwise be lacking.
Other standouts include Pizzicato Pussycat, Kiss Me, Cat, and The Sour Puss. Pizzicato Pussycat owes more than a little of its plot to One Froggy Evening, but it’s still a charming, funny piece. And if you’re gonna rip off anything, then why not rip off the best? And Kiss Me, Cat stars one of the most under-appreciated characters in all the Looney Tunes Canon: Marc Anthony. He’s the hulking, fearsome-looking dog that holds a serious soft-spot for his kitten Pussyfoot and is willing to defend the cat with his own life. Here, he’s forced to make Pussyfoot (I can’t believe this is actually a serious name) look tough, and the results are predictable and adorable, and that’s a good thing. Finally, The Sour Puss is easily one of the most batshit-insane cartoons I have ever seen. Ostensibly it concerns Porky and his cat going fishing, but it’s really just an excuse for damn near every character to prance around like they’re tweaked out on crystal meth. You’ve got to see this one to believe it.
But really every cartoon here is a gem, and they’re all worth your time.
Disc Three- Speedy Gonzales in a Flash
Includes: Cat-Tails for Two, Tabasco Road, Tortilla Flaps, Mexicali Shmoes, Here Today, Gone Tamale, West of the Pesos, Cannery Woe, The Pied Piper of Guadalupe, Mexican Boarders, Chili Weather, A Message to Gracias, Nuts and Volts, Pancho’s Hideaway, The Wild Chase, A-Haunting We Will Go
Remember how I said that this set was both the best and the worst Golden Collection released? Well, here’s the worst part. I know putting disc three here is out-of-order, but I thought I’d save the worst for last. Here’s my bias; I hate Speedy Gonzales. I think he’s irritating, I think the overall tone of his cartoons is racist and offensive, and I think the cartoons themselves are just boring. I mean, they all follow the same exact three-part formula:
1) Speedy’s friends are in trouble, whether it’s because a cat’s trying to eat them or because they’re starving and need cheese.
2) Speedy arrives to save them.
3) Speedy saves them after a series of tired pratfalls and explosions.
One could make a case that most Looney Tunes cartoons follow that formula, but the difference is character. Bugs and Daffy in the same situations, for example, totally work because they’re funny and interesting enough to sustain the formula over and over again. But Speedy’s just…bleh. He’s got no real personality to speak over, save that he talks like Jeffery Wright in Shaft, and he’s fast. Big whoop. Only one of the cartoons did anything for me (The Wild Chase), and that’s only because it allowed for a Speedy Gonzales/Road-Runner crossover. I may hate Speedy, but I love that Road-Runner.
As a result, this was a pretty excruciating DVD to get through, and I have to dock the set points as a result. Still, I guess as a cultural document, the Speedy cartoons have some relevance. The offhand racism and stereotypes seen in the Mexican characters is staggering, and it makes one realize how these racist caricatures helped pave the way for such modern beloved racist caricatures like Jar Jar Binks. All Mexican characters, cats and mice alike, are lazy, stupid, and near-unintelligible. Even Speedy, who manages to outwit cat and mouse equally, starts out as a gold-toothed bandito straight out of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I got the sense that even the animators eventually realized how bad things looked and tried to change them; Speedy’s appearance grows less offensive, a non-stereotyped Sylvester replaces the Mexican cat villains, and Speedy’s friend, Slowpoke Rodriguez, gets extra brains to compensate for his slow speed, but by that point it was too little, too late.
One thing, though. In the earlier Speedy cartoons, Speedy is always lured to the mice’s aid with the promise of sex with one of the mice’s whorish little sisters. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. This plays as ridiculous as it sounds, and it almost makes watching some of these appealing. Almost.
Who-wee, this racism’s tearing me apart inside!
The cartoons themselves all look and sound thoroughly cleaned-up and remastered. Some of the older ones suffer from a bit more grain and hiss, but given their age, I think it’s remarkable how good they look and sound. You can even see the cel-shadings at times, the restoration is so good. But why do studios think this overlapping DVD storage crap is a good idea? It’s not. Having to take out one DVD just to get to the one below it is not time-saving, nor is it particularly good for the DVDs. It’s a shame, too, because the package itself is very glossy and attractive; the DVD casing is sturdy and functional, and the box art perfectly captures the spirit of the cartoons.
As for the special features, hold on to your butts, ‘cause this section is loaded. These Looney Tunes Collections are loaded with special features, and with a few exceptions, it’s all good, solid, meaty footage.
Bugs Bunny Superstar- This documentary is almost two hours long and is split up over discs 1 and 2. It’s got its fair share of problems; the self-important Orson Welles narration is ridiculous, the picture and sound quality are obviously unremastered, and animator Bob Clampett looks like the disturbing love-child of Robert Ridgely and Phil Spector, but on the whole this two-hour documentary is an informative look at Termite Terrace’s biggest star. It really gives you a good feel for the atmosphere that created some of the most memorable Warner Bros cartoons, even if some of the documentary footage reeks of forced wackiness.
I tried to come up with a funny caption, but Jesus, just look at this guy.
Twilight in Tunes: The Music of Raymond Scott and Powerhouse in Pictures- Twilight’s a short but interesting piece on Raymond Scott, the man behind some of these cartoons most memorable melodies (Christ, I sound like an EPK shill). I thought that composer Carl Stalling was responsible for the music, but this featurette shows that Stalling mostly just took pre-existing pieces by swing-band-leader Scott and worked them into the cartoons. Composing gods Mark Mothersbaugh and John Williams offer their two cents on Scott, as do voice talents Tom Kenny and Billy West (if you don’t know these two, then shame shame). Powerhouse is simply a montage of the uses of Scott’s piece Powerhouse throughout the many Looney Tunes.
The Bugs Bunny Show Vaults: Ballpoint Puns Bridging Sequences, Foreign Legion Leghorn Audio Recording Sessions- This section is found on every Golden Collection. I find it hard to get too excited about it. Basically, it’s the new material created for an episode of The Bugs Bunny Show, and though I respect that guys like Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng created much of it, this particular piece about two wacky pens is sub-par at best. The audio recording sessions are the real standouts; you get to hear Mel Blanc switch from voice to voice instantaneously, and it’s a great example of the man’s skill as a voice artist.
This disc concludes with a fun but ultimately useless montage of Bugs Bunny highlights (Fifty Years of Bugs Bunny in 3 and ½ minutes), and a completely redundant trailer for Bugs Bunny’s Cartoon Carnival.
Porky and Daffy in the William Tell Overture (New 2006 Short) – What a waste! This barely clocks in at two minutes, and the best gags are just lifted from classic cartoons. Also, the animation is markedly worse than any of the older cartoons, seeming more like simple Flash Animation. A waste of disc space.
Frank Tashlin’s Storybooks: Little Chic’s Wonderful Mother and Tony and Clarence- These two unfinished Tashlin works, about (respectively) a black chick grown in an incubator and the relationship between an organ-grinder and his monkey, suffer from rough sketchwork and distracting cut-and-paste animations, but it’s interesting how much of Tashlin’s style comes through regardless. Plus, Tony the Organ Grinder has a great thick and “authentic” Italian accent and mustache accessory.
From the Vault: The Goldbrick, The Home Front, and Censored- These are three really interesting wartime cartoons. The Goldbrick is easily the most entertaining, mostly for its histrionics concerning cowardice in wartime. Essentially, the View Askew Clown convinces an army private to cut corners and slack off. Then the private gets crushed by a tank and dies. Then the Clown turns out to be Tojo in disguise. Methinks this cartoon doth exaggerate too much, but it’s a fucking riot nonetheless. The Home Front’s the weakest, as Private Snafu learns how hard those back home are supporting the war effort and blah blah blah, since it’s unapologetically and annoyingly preachy (like Sally Forth). Censored has many of those irritating qualities; here Snafu learns about why Army censors save lives, but the cartoon has one thing none of the others have: titties. Full-on, exposed, pink-nippled (in glorious black and white) titties. Somehow, this was my favorite cartoon in the whole set…
This image brought to you by the very sensitive, progressive-thinking folks at Warner Bros.
Friz on Film: This hour-long retrospective on Friz Freleng is too reverential and celebratory in detailing his life and career, but there’s still much to be learned here. For instance, did you know that certain animators were chosen for certain types of cartoons (a dance cartoon vs. a parody one)? Or that Yosemite Sam grew out of the Warner Bros animators’ hate for Elmer Fudd and their desire to give Bugs a more comically formidable antagonist? You did? Fuck you.
From the Vault: 90 Day Wondering and Drafty, Isn’t It- Chuck Jones directed these two wartime spots starring all-American Ralph, and they’re probably the best quality cartoons in the “Vault” sections. In the first, Ralph’s been honorably discharged, and an Angel tries to get him to re-up, while a Devil tries to convince him otherwise. You get no points for guessing who wins, but it’s a lively, well-animated short that’s far less preachy than any of the other wartime pieces. Drafty, Isn’t It finds Ralph having nightmares about joining the army, leaving it to the Angel to soothe his soul with the “real” facts about joining up. This piece is obvious as all get-up, but the animation’s good, so I guess it’s okay.
Behind the Tunes Featurettes: One-Hit Wonders, Sing-a-Song of Looney Tunes, Art of the Gag, Wild Lines: The Art of Voice Acting, and A Cast of Thousands- This multi-part documentary makes the whole set. It’s a modern perspective on the Looney Tunes, and it’s as comprehensive and varied a look at the history of the Looney Tunes as I’ve ever seen. Yes, it’s mostly a talking heads piece, but the talking heads in question are so good and so informative that I did not mind. We’re talking Paul Dini, Eric Goldberg, June Foray, Tom Kenny, Billy West, Hank Azaria, Nancy Cartwright, and Brad Bird (!), among others, and they all add great insight. I found One Hit Wonders and Cast of Thousands to be the most enjoyable, followed closely by Wild Lines; the first two spotlighted a lot of great characters who don’t usually get that much attention (holla at Pete Puma and Gossamer!), and Wild Lines looks at the voice talent involved in the cartoons. As great as Mel Blanc is, it was nice to see some credit go to Stan Freberg, Arthur Q. Bryan, and Billy Bletcher. If this set only had the cartoons and this documentary, it would be a must buy.
From the Vault: Breakdowns of 1939 and storyboards for Sahara Hare and Porky’s Poor Fish- Breakdowns is actually a pre-Pixar animated gag reel, and if you’ve ever wanted to hear Porky say “Son of a Bitch,” then you’re in the right place. The two storyboards are incomplete and have a good deal of pre-existing animated footage filling the gaps, but it’s striking how well the spirit of the cartoons comes through them.
Top it all off with twenty-five commentary tracks over the sixty cartoons from guys like Dini, Goldberg, as well as archival audio from Freleng, Tashlin, and Jones, and you’ve got one of the best DVD sets of the year. Now if it wasn’t for that fucking Speedy Gonzales…
"I still don’t see why wearing one of those pads would help–No, wait, now I do."