It was from about 1949 to 1954, when I was between five and ten years old, that my dad and I went to the movies every Saturday morning and saw probably every cartoon that had ever made up until that time. Or at least that's the way I recall it. Then, by the mid 50s I believed myself too old for short animated subjects, and, besides, like most other families my parents had gotten a newfangled television that showed cartoons at home for free. An era of my life had ended.
Most of the cartoons I remember were made either by Disney or by Warner Brothers. Oh, there were the occasional Walter Lantz Woody Woodpeckers, Max Fleischer Popeyes, or MGM Happy Harmonies, but mainly it was Disney's Silly Symphonies and Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, and WB's Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies with Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Elmer, and the gang. At the time, I preferred the Looney Tunes; today I prefer the Silly Symphonies. But since Disney has already come out with DVDs of their Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Silly Symphonies and now Warner Brothers have produced this four-disc set of their Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, we can have the best of both worlds. And what a pleasure it is.
Of course, there was always a distinct difference between Disney's Silly Symphonies and Warners' Looney Tunes. The Disney creations were sweeter, gentler, more moralistic, more lavishly animated, and a lot less violent. That has always been the Disney way. The Looney Tunes were a reaction against the Disney product, faster paced, filled with "cartoon violence," and more simply animated. This didn't make them any the less appealing, just different. Indeed, the added action and comedy violence made them even more appealing to youngsters, who, like me, grew up on the stuff.
The Warner animation factory produced more cartoons, well over a thousand of them from the early thirties to the mid sixties, than any other studio in Hollywood. Little did I know at the time that during my cartoon-watching childhood I was right in the middle of the golden age of short animated subjects. The forties, especially, were a time when a cartoon always accompanied a main feature, along with a couple of trailers, a newsreel, and maybe even a second film, a B-movie. In today's commercial world we're lucky to find the main feature squeezed in between advertisements. In any case, Warner Bros. have gathered together fifty-six of their all-time favorite cartoons, along with a multitude of bonus items, to fill out this deluxe Golden Collection of hits.
The four discs are divided into convenient, if general, categories, with disc one concentrating on Bugs, disc two on Daffy, and discs three and four on miscellaneous other celebrated WB cartoon characters. Each disc contains fourteen cartoons, plus extras. It's interesting and enlightening to watch these golden oldies, most of them dating from the very time I was watching them as a kid, the late forties and early fifties. Warners' primary animation directors are well represented, and it's fascinating to see how these men--Friz Freleng, Robert McKinnon, Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones--approached their subject matter with differing methods and styles. It was said, for instance, that Yosemite Sam was patterned after Freleng himself, his short stature, red hair, and fiery temper. McKinnon loved constant motion in his pictures; Clampett loved variety; Tex Avery, who is represented here only indirectly, loved daffiness, contributing, no doubt, to his creation of Daffy Duck; and Jones loved everything.
Disc one is devoted to possibly the most popular cartoon character of all time, Bugs Bunny. Yes, you'll get some argument from Mouse fans, especially when the Mouse's popularity increased with the opening of Disneyland and the "Disneyland" television show, but Mickey never had the loyal support of movie fans that Bugs had (and still has). Bugs was forever the cunning smart aleck who almost always stood by while others were getting smashed on the head, blown up, or shot to pieces. He was the wiseacre we all admired and maybe even envied. Of the fourteen Bugs' cartoons on disc one, I appreciated "Long-Haired Hare" and "The Rabbit of Seville," both directed by Chuck Jones, most of all, perhaps because of my love for classical music. In both cases, Bugs battles with pompous opera singers and a maestro parodied after Leopold Stokowski. The latter may have been a subtle dig at Disney, because Stokowski had conducted Disney's "Fantasia" a few years before. "High Diving Hare" with Bugs endlessly besting Yosemite Sam is also quite funny; and, as usual, Mel Blanc does most of the voice characterizations. Look for several variations of Bugs's famous line "Of course, you know this means war," sometimes rendered as "Of course, you realize this means war!"
Disc two is given over to Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. Among my favorites here are the parodies, particularly "Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century," where Daffy and Porky spoof sci-fi flicks (look for some gags here that predate "Star Trek" and "ID4"); "Drip-Along Daffy," with Porky as a comic sidekick to Sheriff Daffy in a Western spoof; "Deduce, You Say," with Daffy in Sherlock Holmes guise and Porky as Watson; and "The Scarlet Pumpernickel," starring Daffy as the daring highwayman and co-starring Porky and Sylvester. Most of these shorts were directed by Chuck Jones. "Dough for the Do-Do" is cute, placing Porky in a surrealistic Daliesque landscape looking for the elusive do-do bird, and "Duck Amuck" is a clever exchange between Daffy and his animators, with Bugs making a surprise appearance at the end. "Ain't I a stinker?"
Disc three, "Looney Tunes All Stars," is my favorite because it contains some of my best childhood memories. "Fast and Furry-ous" features Road-Runner and Wile E. Coyote from 1948, probably the definitive kids' cartoon, involving every move that today we accept as cliché. Watch it again and again and then wonder why this collection didn't include more of the famous duo. Because there is no dialogue in them, the Road Runner cartoons broke the language barrier; their antics could be enjoyed by everyone everywhere. Then there's "Hare-Raising Hare," a horror-movie parody with Bugs and a caricature of Peter Lorre; "Baton Bunny," another classical music send-up with Bugs leading the orchestra; "Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid," where a dumb little vulture goes after Bugs; and "Tortoise Wins By a Hare," a spoof of the old fable; and, and, and.... Well, just buy this thing and enjoy it for yourself. One interesting note: In at least two of these cartoons, there are drawings of naked women on the wall; not naked animal women, but actual naked human women. None of the commentaries mention them. I did.
The final disc is likewise devoted to "Looney Tunes All Stars," this time featuring Tweety and Sylvester ("Canary Row," "Putty Tat Trouble," and "Tweety's SOS"); Foghorn Leghorn ("The Foghorn Leghorn" and "A Broken Leghorn"); Daffy and Porky ("Daffy Duck Hunt"); Bugs again ("Bunker Hill Bunny" with Yosemite Sam and "Bugs and Thugs"); and the Tasmanian Devil ("Devil May Hare," with Bugs). Many of these shorts were directed by Friz Freleng, and he put his name in conspicuous spots around the films, usually in ad signs like "Drink Friz" and "Friz, America's Favorite Gelatin Dessert," (posted upside-down).
Because most of the cartoons in this set date from forty to sixty years ago, their picture quality varies slightly from so-so to excellent. Even cleaned up and remastered, a few of the older toons look a bit faded and rough. Still, there are no scratches or age spots to speak of on any of them, and when they're good, which is most of the time, they're very good, indeed. The Technicolor is generally bright and vivid, definition is sharp, and grain and moiré effects are almost nonexistent.
Reproduced in Dolby Digital monaural, the sound is about what you'd expect it to be and more. The mono is limited in bass and dynamics, naturally, but it still packs a punch. When things explode, which is often, the wallop comes across with plenty of force. Mainly, though, the audio has to reproduce dialogue accurately, especially dialects, and here it is quite effective, clear and quiet.
Each disc holds a series of bonus items, and there are quite a few of them. All the discs have select commentaries by film historians Michael Barrier and Jerry Beck, filmmaker Greg Ford, and actor Stan Freberg; select music-only tracks; spoken languages in English and French; and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Following is a basic rundown of the extras specific to each DVD.
The first disc contains a "Greeting from Chuck Jones"; a brief series of "Behind the Tunes" looks at Bugs, Yosemite Sam, and Elmer Fudd; two excerpts in which Bugs appears in longer, live-action comedies, "My Dream Is Yours" and "Two Guys from Texas"; portions of early television's "Bugs Bunny Show"; the first half hour of a 1975 documentary on WB cartoons called "The Boys from Termite Terrace"; a "51 ½ Anniversary Show"; and various trailers and still photos.
Disc two contains three "Behind the Tunes" featurettes on Daffy Duck and Porky; Part Two of "The Boys from Termite Terrace"; and a stills gallery. Disc three contains "Behind-the-Tunes" segments on Road-Runner and Wile E. Coyote, Mel Blanc and his amazing vocal talents, and Carl Stalling and his cartoon music. Plus we get "Toonheads: The Lost Cartoons," a forty-five minute compilation of rare WB short subjects, many of which were thought lost, others not having been seen since their first showing; plus a stills gallery. Lastly on disc three, "From the Vault" presents the "Scheme-Matics" or storyboards for two shorts, "Hair-Raising Hare" and "The Hypo-Chondri-Cat." Disc four concludes the extras with the best of the lot, a newly made, fifty-minute documentary on the history of Warner Bros. cartoons called "Irreverent Imagination: The Golden Age of Looney Tunes." It's narrated by Stan Freberg, who helped out with the few voices that weren't done by Mel Blanc, and it includes reminiscences by artists, producers, and directors from then and now. We also get two shorts from the vault, "Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid," the cartoon that started it all for WB, and some Virgil Ross Pencil Tests; and there's yet another stills gallery. In all, Warners have produced a great collection of extras, although I think I would have preferred having all of them together on one final disc, with the cartoons spread out over the first three.
For cartoon lovers, this set and Disney's set of Silly Symphonies are absolute musts. With something like 170 Bugs Bunny theatrical releases alone, for WB to have narrowed down that number to the relative few on these four discs was a major undertaking. The only thing I seriously missed from the collection (besides more Road-Runners) was "What's Up Opera?" with Elmer Fudd singing "Kill Da Wabbit" to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." It's an odd omission, considering its popularity (and that it's mentioned in at least two of the documentaries). Aside from that, the people at Warners did a pretty good job in their selections. In fact, I believe I recognized every short subject in the bunch, even though I hadn't seen them in maybe fifty years. I suppose that in itself is a tribute to their enduring quality.
Incidentally, this four-disc Looney Tunes Golden Collection includes all of the short subjects contained on WB's two-disc Première Collection. But why go for two discs when for a few dollars more you can have it all? As they say, "Go for the gold."
And I guess that just about sums it up. So, "that's all folks."