shows off classic
November 6, 2003
By Franklin Harris
There is no pleasing some people. When the "Looney Tunes Golden Collection" DVD set arrived in stores last week, most fans of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons celebrated. Here at long last were the 'toons we had grown up with, fully restored, uncut and with all sorts of goodies thrown in. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Looney Tunes characters never looked better. But some people were furious because their favorite cartoons didn't make the cut.
The Associated Press reported that some were especially upset over two notable omissions, "What's Opera, Doc?" (featuring Elmer Fudd singing "Kill the wabbit!") and "One Froggy Evening," starring on-again/off-again crooner Michigan J. Frog.
Packing 56 animated shorts onto four DVDs, the "Golden Collection" is a hefty release. But Warner Bros. produced more than 1,000 animated shorts during its Golden Era, from about 1930 to the early '60s, when Warner closed its Burbank, Calif., animation department. So, somebody's favorite cartoons had to be left out.
But, as it so happens, most of my favorites are here.
What do you get for your hard-earned money ($64.92 suggested retail)? First, you get one disk of classic Bugs Bunny cartoons, including "Rabbit Seasoning" ("Would you like to shoot him now or wait 'til you get home?"), "Bully for Bugs" and "Rabbit of Seville." Disc two features Daffy Duck and Porky Pig in, among others, "The Scarlet Pumpernickel," "Duck Amuck," "Duck Dodgers in the 24½ Century" and (my favorite) "Yankee Doodle Daffy." The remaining two discs include more of Bugs and Daffy, plus the Road Runner, Sylvester and Tweety, Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales and the Tasmanian Devil.
Scattered throughout all four discs are bonus features, including optional music-only soundtracks, behind-the-scenes footage and audio commentaries by animators and animation historians. But the highlights of the set, apart from the cartoons of course, are the documentaries. Discs one and two contain parts one and two of an early-'70s documentary on "The Boys from Termite Terrace." (For the uninitiated, "Termite Terrace" was the nickname Warner's animators gave to their run-down-shack of a studio in Hollywood, in which they worked during the '30s and '40s.) Disc three includes a Cartoon Network special on the "lost" Looney Tunes cartoons. And disc four features a brand new documentary, "Irreverent Imagination: The Golden Age of Looney Tunes." In all, it's almost four hours about the men who created the original Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts.
At first, producer Leon Schlesinger's animators copied the Disney formula, and the early Warner cartoons were mostly imitations of Mickey Mouse shorts. But with the arrival of director Tex Avery, the Looney Tunes began to develop their special brand of fast-paced comedy. Avery and fellow director Bob Clampett set the pace, and although the two eventually left for other studios (Avery would do his best work for MGM), the directors who stayed had learned well.
Throughout the '40s and '50s, directors Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson and Chuck Jones were as much masters of comedic filmmaking as were Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplain during their heyday. So, while Disney eventually put its efforts into feature films, Warner Bros. perfected the animated short.
While Warner Bros. also has released cheaper (in every sense of the term) editions of its Looney Tunes on DVD, the "Golden Collection" is the set to own. The effort put into restoring these cartoons, some of them more than 60 years old, has paid off. It's a safe bet that these cartoons will never look and sound better than they do here. The menus are easy to navigate, so you'll have no trouble going from cartoons to bonus features.
And, with nearly seven hours of cartoons, not counting the extras, the "Golden Collection" will keep you busy for some time.