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The Looney Tunes Golden Collection

Warner Home Video

Starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig

Written and directed by Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng,
Michael Maltese, Robert Clampett, and Robert McKimson

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Review by Dawn Taylor                    

The Internet being what is it, it didn't take long for the complaints to start roiling across the bandwidth — the long-awaited Looney Tunes DVDs from Warner Home Video were too skimpy. They were missing many of the "best" cartoons. The set's weighted too heavily in favor of Chuck Jones.

Oh, blah blah freakin' blah.

A vast number of technophiles are also, it would seem, cartoon junkies. For years their semi-constant refrain has gone something like this: MGM offered a five multi-platter Laserdisc sets of over 300 classic Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies shorts, and Warner Bros. managed to release about 150 of 'em as a twelve-LD series … so where the hell are the DVDs? Well, now the DVDs have started to arrive. And, naturally, it's just not good enough. Mutter, bitch, whine, complain.

So let's address the complaints right out of the gate. Yes, there are "only" 56 shorts on this collection. And yes, they are predominantly 'toons directed by Chuck Jones, with only a few of the selections predating his golden period of the late '40s-early '50s. And there are some huge favorites that are noticeably missing, while some of the featured shorts are less than the best from the vast WB catalog of cartoons.

Get over it.

If you buy, borrow, or steal The Looney Tunes Golden Collection, what you'll have is a gorgeous starter set of beautifully restored cartoons on DVD. The colors are intensely vivid and, though they certainly aren't presented without any specks or scratches (let's face it, some of these cartoons are over 60 years old and weren't stored under optimum conditions) they're wonderfully clean and framed better — all in their original 1.37:1 aspect ratio — than the versions on either the LD sets or on broadcast television, and you're getting them unedited. The monaural Dolby audio has been cleaned up to crystal clarity, with no notable pops or hisses, and with the phenomenal music tracks sounding better than ever. And they're on DVD, so you get to own them forever and watch them whenever you like. And Warner promises there will be more sets in the future.

So shut up and enjoy the cartoons, already.

*          *          *

Disc One — The Best of Bugs Bunny offers 14 shorts starring Warner Bros. leading lepus, directed by Jones, Robert McKimson, Friz Freleng, and Bob Clampett. Among the best are "Long-Haired Hare" (1949), in which Bugs takes his revenge on a blustering opera singer; "What's Up Doc?" (1950), with Bugs telling a reporter his life story; and "High Diving Hare" (1949), one of Freleng's best, with Bugs squaring off against Yosemite Sam when he takes the place of a circus high-dive act. The two highlights are "Rabbit Seasoning" (1952), the classic pairing of Bugs and Daffy Duck, who battle over whether it's rabbit season or duck season ("Aha — pronoun trouble!"), and "Rabbit of Seville" (1950), Chuck Jones brilliant homage to both Rossini's opera and the conventions of his own Bugs/Elmer Fudd cartoons (this is especially welcome as Jones' Wagnerian masterpiece, "What's Opera Doc?" is notably absent from the collection). All the cartoons on this disc, except for "Wabbit Twouble" (1941), an early Clampett-directed Bugs and Elmer short, were produced between 1948 and 1953.

Disc Two — The Best of Daffy and Porky features 14 'toons starring either Daffy Duck or Porky Pig — or both — with nine of the selections directed by Chuck Jones. The disc starts off with Jones' brilliant, surreal "Duck Amuck" (1953) in which Daffy struggles at the mercy of an animator who erases his scenery, puts him in a variety of genre pictures and generally drives him mad for sheer sport; "The Scarlet Pumpernickel" (1950) with Daffy as Dumas' hero; the artistically astounding "Duck Dodgers in the 24th Century" (1953); "Deduce You Say" (1956), with Daffy and Porky stepping in as Sherlock Holmes and Watson; "Rabbit Fire" (1951), an earlier (but not as funny) cartoon using the same "duck season/rabbit season" gag as Disc One's "Rabbit Seasoning"; and "Wearing of the Grin," (1951) with a clueless Porky falling prey to a pair of leprechauns, resulting in Porky's being chased through a Dali-eque landscape by a pair of magical green shoes. The disc also features a lesser-seen cartoon, "Yankee Doodle Daffy" (1943), with Daffy playing a persistent agent trying to sell Porky on his client, a lollipop-licking duck named Sleepy Lagoon — in the process Daffy does hilarious imitations of Al Jolson and Carmen Miranda. Some of the very best Daffy cartoons are MIA here, however, including "Robin Hood Daffy," "Beanstalk Bunny" and "Ali Baba Bunny." One can only hope they'll be on the next release.

Discs Three and Four are devoted to "Looney Tunes All-Stars," a catch-all phrase meaning "other characters besides Bugs, Porky and Daffy." The three top characters appear on these discs, too, but there's also a sampling of Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester and Tweety, and one paltry selection each starring the Road Runner and Pepe le Pew. Highlights of the Jones-heavy Disc Three include "Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears" (1944), featuring the voice of Stan Freberg, with Bugs happening on the home of Henry, Mama and Junior Bear (their first appearance in a Warners cartoon); "Baton Bunny," (1959), the classic short with Bugs as "Leopold," conducting Franz von Suppe's Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna; "The Hypo-Chondri-Cat" (1950), wherein streetwise mice Hubie and Bert torture poor, hysterical Claude the Cat; and the marvelous "Feed the Kitty" (1952), with bruiser dog Marc Anthony taking a shine to a big-eyed kitten. Only two of Disc Three's shorts are non-Jones selections, and several are less than the best of their type. "Fast and Furry-ous" (1949), while notable as the first Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon, is hardly the best of the bunch and the only one offered in this set. Likewise, the one Pepe le Pew selection, "For Scent-imental Reasons" (1950) won an Oscar for Best Short Subject (Cartoon) but there are better Pepe shorts in the catalog, and 1953's "Don't Give Up the Sheep" is the first and the least effective of Jones' cartoons featuring Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog.

Disc Four presents a Jones-less collection, showcasing works by directors Robert McKimson and Friz Freleng produced from 1942 to 1959. It's not an impressive disc, however, and feels haphazard in its lackluster selections — 1948's "The Foghorn Leghorn" was McKimson's first outing with the blowhard rooster and the writing is pretty limp; "Speedy Gonzales" (1955) introduced that character, always one of the weakest creations in the Looney Tunes stable; and "Tweety's S.O.S." (1951), "Puddy Tat Trouble" (1951) and "Canary Row" (1950) ... well, they all feature Tweety, and one has to wonder why the most annoying Looney Tunes character gets three slots on the disc. On the other hand, there's a couple of gems here — Freleng's at the top of his game with 1951's "Canned Feud," with a home-alone Sylvester battling a mouse for a much-needed can opener; "Early to Bet" (1951) follows a card-crazy cat after he's bitten by the insidious Gambling Bug — and the hilariously cruel ways he has to pay off his canine opponent when he loses; and "Bunker Hill Bunny" (1950) is a solid Bugs/Yosemite Sam face-off.

*          *          *

There's a lot of extras offered on the Golden Collection, distributed across the four discs. Twenty-six of the cartoons offer commentary tracks by animation historians Michael Barrier and Jerry Beck, filmmaker Greg Ford or actor Stan Freberg. The commentaries are valuable, offering a wealth of background information, especially as regards the historical context of some of the more esoteric jokes. Twelve shorts are available with a music-only option, offering the opportunity to marvel at the genius of composer Carl Stalling. The new, 60-minute featurette Irreverent Imagination: The Golden Age of Looney Tunes offers sound-bites from Termite Terrace animators and family members, plus lots of clips from cartoons and photos from the era. It's a nice overview of the period, if a little shallow. Much better is the two-part, 1975 documentary The Boys from Termite Terrace, originally produced for CBS' Camera Three series. Filmed ten years after Warners had dismantled their animation unit, it offers an excellent background on the Looney Tunes creators and features interviews with both Jones and Freleng. Also on board is a 46-minute Cartoon Network featurette, Toon Heads: The Lost Cartoons, a frustrating tease that discusses many of the cartoons that should have been included on the premier Warners set — like Jones' WWII-era "Private Snafu" shorts, Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising's early 1930's Bosko cartoons, and various advertising efforts.

The rest of the extras are less impressive — 12 new featurettes are offered under the heading Behind the Tunes, each touching on a character or creator with a skimpy three or four minute, hit-and-run clip and sound bite nugget. The ones devoted to Mel Blanc and Carl Stalling are especially disappointing, offering nothing more than a nod to their contributions without giving the viewer anything of substance (those interested in Stalling's work would do better to read the extensive liner notes provided with the two music CDs produced in the 1990s entitled The Carl Stalling Project: Music From Warner Bros. Cartoons, 1936-1958). The eight-minute Blooper Bunny: Bugs Bunny 50th Anniversary Special from 1991 is an ostensible "behind-the-scenes" look at the taping of a WB television special — it has some very funny moments, and falls completely flat in others. There's also an introduction by Chuck Jones, plus still galleries, pencil tests, cartoon schematics, a 10-minute segment from The Bugs Bunny Show, and clips of animated segments from two 1949 Jack Carson films.

— Dawn Taylor

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