I mentioned in my review of the first volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection that since childhood I have always liked the Warner Bros. cartoon characters a little more than I liked the Disney gang or the MGM or other big-screen animated folk. Bugs, Elmer, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, Sylvester, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, and the rest always seemed to me more energetic, more adventurous, more zany, and more daring. In contrast, Mickey and Goofy seemed rather slow. In any case, as if the first four-disc set weren't enough, this second volume presents sixty more of WB's best animated shorts, mostly from the forties and fifties, plus an assortment of additional items. Great fun.
One of my only disappointments in the first set was that it didn't contain one of my all-time favorite Warner Bros. cartoons, "What's Opera, Doc?" At the time, I could hardly believe they hadn't included it; I mean, it's among the studio's most popular animated subjects. Had they forgotten it? Of course not. They were saving it for this second volume, and I'm sure I would buy the whole new package for this one feature alone.
I was also mildly disappointed that the first Golden Collection did not feature enough of my favorite characters: Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Well, I'm happy to say that this time out the folks at WB have devoted most of an entire disc to the characters I love so much.
Everyone will have their own favorite WB cartoons, and it would be useless of me to try and rank order the sixty-odd shorts in this collection according to my own personal tastes (beyond my aforementioned preferences for "What's Opera, Doc?" and the Road Runner entries). So let me just give you an idea of what's on the discs, and you can decide for yourself if it sounds worthwhile.
The Contents and Extras:
It's pretty easy to find what you're looking for in the set because the four discs are each given over to a separate character or pair of characters: a disc for Bugs, one for Road Runner and Coyote, one for Tweety and Sylvester, and one for miscellaneous others. Moreover, each disc is identified by a picture of the character on the top: Bugs's picture is on disc one, Road Runner on disc two, etc. All four discs come in a foldout, plastic-and-cardboard case that is further housed in a laminated cardboard slipcover.
Here we get fifteen Bugs Bunny "masterpieces," as the liner notes describe them. I don't know that I would call them "masterpieces" exactly, but some of them are pretty funny. They date from 1941 through 1955, with the earliest ones not yet settling on the familiar Bugs design, the middle years bringing out the best in the animation, and the later releases done in a typical 50's simplistic, angular style. In a few cases the titles outshine the contents of the shorts, "Gorilla My Dreams," "Rabbit Transit," or "Hare Conditioned," for instance. "Slick Hare" is cute because it features animated cameos by famous movie stars of the day--Frank Sinatra, Ray Milland, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Sidney Greenstreet, Carmen Miranda. And in "Little Red Riding Rabbit" there's a wolf that looks suspiciously like Disney's Big Bad Wolf. All of the Bugs' cartoon are amusing, as are the voice characterizations by Mel Blanc and the direction alternately by Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, and Chuck Jones. Some of the shorts include audio commentaries by the filmmakers who worked on them; others include optional audio tracks, music-only, for example.
In addition to the cartoons, there is Part One of the TV special, "Bugs Bunny's Looney Tunes All-Star 50th Anniversary," made about twenty-some years ago and lasting about twenty-four minutes. Then, there's a seven-minute "Behind-the-Tunes" featurette, "A Conversation with Tex Avery." And from the old "The Bug Bunny Show" on television, there are two sequences, "Do or Diet" and "There's No Business Like Slow Business."
This disc is one of my favorites, eleven Road Runner cartoons and four "friends." The Road Runners are set up chronologically from 1951 to 1957, all directed by Chuck Jones. The hapless Coyote is continually thwarted in his often elaborate but always futile attempts to annihilate the Road Runner. It's interesting to not that as the cartoons march through the decade, you can see them getting more and more minimalist, as Warners apparently decided to spend less and less money on them.
Incidentally, the Coyote is never specifically referred to as Wile E. Coyote in these shorts. Also, "Road-Runner" is most often hyphenated in the series, but sometimes not; and sometimes the Road Runner's name is preceded by the article "the," as in "the Road Runner," and sometimes not. Sometimes it's just "Road Runner." (Both the Random House and Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionaries spell the real-life bird's name as a single word, "roadrunner.") But as far as I'm concerned, a Road Runner and a Coyote by any other name are still the same old, lovable characters. Along with the Road Runner cartoons are two Hubie-and-Bert short subjects, one Dover Boys cartoon, and one Henry, Mother, and Little Junior Bear feature.
Also on the second disc are a twenty-five minute TV pilot for "The Adventures of the Road Runner"; an eleven-minute "Behind-the-Tunes" featurette, "Crash! Bang! Boom!: The Wild Sounds of Treg Brown," providing information on the man who contributed to much of the sound in the Warner Bros. cartoons; and the famous two-minute opening sequence to television's "Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show." As before, some of the shorts include audio commentaries by the filmmakers who worked on them; others include optional audio tracks.
The third disc is given over to fifteen cartoons featuring Tweety and Sylvester and some of their friends. Nine of them feature Tweety and Sylvester, starting with "Bad Ol' Putty Tat" in 1948 and running through 1951, all directed by Friz Freleng. However, one of them is of special note, the last one, "Tweetie Pie" from 1946. It's out of chronological order because it's of some historical value. In the first place, "Tweetie" is spelled with an "ie," not a "y." Second, the authority figure is a middle-aged woman, not Granny. And, third, Sylvester's name is given several times as "Thomas." Things would change.
Then, there are six more cartoons featuring Porky Pig and Daffy Duck. Two of them merit comment. "Old Glory," from 1939, is a patriotic tribute to America's history and hardships; and "Porky in Wackyland," from 1938, is in black-and-white. All of the early Looney Tunes cartoons were in B&W, while the Merrie Melodies were in color. Later, the two series were all in color, and there was no longer any distinction between them.
Included as extras on disc three are the final twenty-three minutes of the TV special, "Bugs Bunny's Looney Tunes All-Star 50th Anniversary, Part 2"; a twenty-minute "Behind-the Tunes" featurette: "Man from Wackyland: The Art of Bob Clampett"; an all-new, four-minute bonus short, "Daffy Duck for President"; and the opening sequences for "The Porky Pig" and "The Bugs Bunny and Tweety" TV shows.
The final disc contains fifteen assorted Looney Tunes All Stars, including in the penultimate position the famous "What's Opera, Doc?" Being familiar with Richard Wagner and "Die Walkure" helps but is not necessary to appreciate the toon's send-up of nineteenth-century grand opera. "Kill da Wabbit! Kill da Wabbit!" The theme running throughout the fourth collection is one of music, with healthy doses of Wagner, Rossini, Strauss, and Liszt.
Most of disc four's cartoons are from the forties, a couple from the thirties, and only four from the fifties. They are, indeed, classics. Who can forget "A Corny Concerto" with excerpts from "The Blue Danube" ("Quack, quack!") and "Tales from the Vienna Woods" waltzes? Or "Hollywood Steps Out," with its caricatures of famous Hollywood stars of the day--Cary Grant, Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Sally Rand, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Cagney, George Raft, Buster Keaton, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Stewart, the Three Stooges, and conductor Leopold Stokowski among many others. Then there's the incomparably funny "One Froggy Evening," about the singing/dancing frog that doesn't perform in front of people. And everybody's favorite "Rhapsody Rabbit," with Bugs tearing apart a piano playing Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2." This is all great stuff, concluding with "You Ought To Be in Pictures," a black-and-white combination of live actors and animation that predated "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" by close to fifty years.
Among the extras on disc four are a nine-minute "Behind-the Tunes" featurette, "Looney Tunes Goes Hollywood"; a seven-minute featurette, "It Happened One Night: The Story Behind One Froggy Evening"; a nine-minute featurette, "Wagnerian Wabbit: The Making of 'What's Opera, Doc?'"; an early TV comedy feature, "Orange Blossoms for Violet"; and the Academy Award-winning Best Documentary/Short Subject, 1950: "So Much for So Little," made for the Federal Security Agency Public Health Service. In addition, there are the usual assortment of audio commentaries, alternative audio tracks, and vocal-only programs.
Like the first Golden Collection of Looney Tunes cartoons, most of these short features were made some forty to sixty-odd years ago, so their picture quality varies slightly from so-so to excellent. Even cleaned up and remastered, a few of the older ones continue to look slightly faded or rough. Still and all, taken as a whole they look pretty good, with very few age spots, scratches, or blemishes to diminish one's pleasure; and, in fact, when they're good, which is most of the time, they're very, very good. As with the cartoons on the first set, the Technicolor is mostly bright and vivid, definition is sharp, and grain and moiré effects are almost nonexistent.
The sound is reproduced via Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural, and it is exactly what you'd expect from it. The mono is somewhat limited in bass and frequency range, of course, but it still sounds good. When things need a little drive, which is often, the dynamics come across with plenty of punch. For the most part, however, the audio only has to reproduce dialogue clearly, and here it excels with its clarity and quietness.
For potential buyers not quite ready to pony up the bucks for a second four-disc volume of WB's best cartoons, the studio has also made available a two-disc set that contains thirty of the cartoons in the big collection. It's called "The Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection, Volume 2," and, yes, it contains "What's Opera, Doc?" plus a small batch of extras. Still, for WB cartoon fanatics like myself, the four-disc set is essential. I love this stuff.