GAC Review: The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4
-by Matthew Hunter
The Looney Tunes Golden Collection series has quickly established itself as one of the best video anthologies of classic animation ever compiled, and the release date of each volume might as well be considered a national holiday for cartoon fans. Just when you think you've seen it all, Warner Home Video pulls out all the stops and does the impossible-releases a collection of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies that is just as good as the one before it, if not better.
It would be an understatement to say that the Looney Tunes most people are familiar with through television broadcasts (Or lack thereof in the last few years) are nowhere near an accurate representation of what these cartoons are REALLY like. Many of the cartoons presented in Volume 4 have rarely turned up on television, and even the old Saturday morning favorites never looked this good. On this set, just like the previous three volumes, every cartoon has been lovingly restored, and each is presented uncut and unspoiled.
Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 4 is probably the most daring set of the series thus far, showcasing cartoons with a remarkably adult edge. There are four discs, each with a different theme: "Bugs Bunny Favorites", "A Dash of Frank Tashlin", "Speedy Gonzales in a Flash" and "Kitty Korner".
The Bugs disc is a lot of fun, presenting timeless favorites right alongside some more obscure titles, and unlike previous sets, all are from Bugs Bunny's more formative period of the 1950's. There are also a couple of cartoons on the disc that have come under fire in recent years for "political incorrectness", Chuck Jones' classic "Mississippi Hare" and Friz Freleng's Bugs/Yosemite Sam outing "Southern Fried Rabbit". Politically correct or not, they are untouched here, and I feel no guilt for saying they are absolutely hysterical. A couple of Robert McKimson's best Bugs shorts are here, too, "The Grey Hounded Hare" and "Hurdy Gurdy Hare", both with wonderful restoration jobs. Two of Chuck Jones' Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote classics show up also, and it's about time they showed up on these sets! These two cartoons in particular, "Operation: Rabbit" and "To Hare is Human" are some of Chuck Jones' best, and I can't recommend them enough. Another Chuck Jones classic, "8 Ball Bunny", re-introduces the little penguin from "Frigid Hare", and leads Bugs Bunny on a crazy adventure halfway around the world to get the little guy home to the South Pole, but unfortunately for Bugs, there's a hilarious punchline. "Knighty Knight Bugs" is one of several Oscar winners for director Friz Freleng, but was surprisingly the only winner for Bugs. While it's a no-brainer to say that there are dozens of Bugs Bunny films by Freleng alone that are superior to this one, it's still easy to see why audiences have embraced it as a perennial favorite, because it's pretty darn funny, doc! Two other Yosemite Sam shorts appear on this disc in addition to "Knighty Knight Bugs" and "Southern Fried Rabbit": "Sahara Hare" and "Roman Legion Hare", showing two more of Sam's ridiculous disguises. Yosemite Sam may be small, but he is truly one of the meanest and loudest characters ever drawn!
There are some fun bonus features on the Bugs disc as well...We get some featurettes about Raymond Scott, composer of "Powerhouse" and several other musical themes used in Warner cartoons. There are some trailers for theatrical matinee compilations of cartoons, some material from "The Bugs Bunny Show", a promotional clip video made for Bugs' 50th birthday entitled "50 Years of Bugs Bunny in 3-1/2 Minutes", and a classic documentary, "Bugs Bunny Superstar", hosted by Bob Clampett. "Superstar" has a wealth of information, several complete cartoons, and a remarkably fair Clampett, taking a small break from the claim-jumping and credit-stealing he was notorious for. (as Thad Komorrowski pointed out to me, he still manages to embellish a little, if you look at his copy of the famous Tex Avery model sheet for Bugs!) Embellishment or not, Clampett is a fun host, and the worn copies of the cartoons within the documentary will give you a new appreciation for the restoration job Warner has done for the pre-1948 classics!
The Frank Tashlin-themed disc is a real gem, showcasing some of the directors' best black and white and color cartoons of the 1930's and 40's. Stunning restorations and great commentaries by experts make this disc a real winner. The World War II classic "Plane Daffy" is presented here uncut for the first time in years, and it has never looked so good! Some early black and white Porky Pig shorts show up as well, including an uncut "Porky the Fireman", Tashlin's first cartoon "Porky's Poultry Plant", the horror classic "The Case of the Stuttering Pig", the foreign legion themed "Little Beau Porky", and more! You will marvel at the restoration of "Booby Hatched and "I've Got Plenty of Mutton", two one-shot cartoons featuring one of the coolest looking designs for a wolf character I've ever seen. There's also Warner's last black and white cartoon, "Puss N' Booty", a cartoon that inspired the Sylvester and Tweety formula a few years later, and makes you almost wish the black and white format was still around. "Now That Summer is Gone" is a cute 1930's precautionary tale about a little squirrel with a gambling problem-but there's a twist...he never does truly learn his lesson! "You're an Education" is one of Tashlin's contributions to the "Things come to life in a bookstore" theme, and "the Stupid Cupid" shows what happens when Elmer Fudd subs in for the god of love and targets a horny Daffy Duck! In fact, even the casual viewer will notice a theme to a couple of Tashlin's cartoons here...they are very sexual. Long before Chuck Jones got the idea for Pepe Le Pew, Tashlin did the same concept with a ram chasing a wolf in sheep's clothing, and Tashlin's Daffy Duck was quite the womanizer.
The special features on this disc are a mixed bag...there is a fun look at some storybooks Tashlin wrote, there are some great commentaries, and the second part of "Bugs Bunny Superstar". We also get three classic "Private Snafu" military shorts, including the only badly handled cartoon on the whole set: "The Goldbrick", which has some awful audio problems. You will want to skip the "New 2006 Short "Porky and Daffy's William Tell Overture". This piece of trash is a weird edit from a tv special entitled "Bugs Bunny's Overtures to Disaster", and it's badly animated, garrish-looking, and only for the bravest of DVD watchers. Confidentially, it stinks!
Next up is the Speedy Gonzales disc. Some animation cynics may scoff at this character and his cartoons, but make no mistake here, folks, they never looked so good! In viewing the cartoons on this disc (Seven by Robert McKimson, eight by Friz Freleng) , I was amazed at how much I'd been missing in all the years I'd been watching them. Speedy is one of my personal favorites, so it was a real eye opener to see these cartoons so lovingly restored, and it looks like they needed it more than we knew! Speedy's first appearance, "Cat Tails for Two", shows us some amazing lighting effects that were never noticeable before. "Tabasco Road", besides being one of the funniest cartoons McKimson ever did, has stunning colors and wonderfully detailed backgrounds. McKimson's "Tortilla Flaps" is the most amazing restoration of all: the memorable villain, El Vulturo the Bandito Bird, is revealed to be steel grey/blue with bright green outlines. In the version of the film we're all used to, Vulturo is jet black. This is not a mistake on Warners' part, it has been confirmed that these are indeed the correct colors-Vulturo is not black at all! The clarity of the resoration also reveals a gag that never registered before: Vulturo crashes into a wall , and his skull literally cracks and crumbles. Now that's GOTTA hurt! "Here Today, Gone Tamale" is a Friz Freleng cartoon with Speedy raiding a cheese ship docked in a harbor, with Sylvester trying and failing to stop him. Once again, brilliantly restored. "West of the Pesos" is another McKimson entry, involving Speedy rescuing his friends from a science lab guarded by Sylvester. While a slightly unremarkable cartoon plot-wise, it has some clever gags, and some absolutely stunning backgrounds. Keep a lookout for a stylized Mexican sun in a fire orange sky. Freleng's "Pied Piper of Guadalupe" is so crisp, clear and colorful you won't believe you're watching the same cartoon. You will also notice that the title card looks a little different. Video and television prints of this cartoon had an added element to the titles: a windowbox "frame", and for some reason the color of it changed so rapidly it appeared to be flashing. That annoying element is thankfully removed here! All of the cartoons on this disc, especially those made prior to 1960, are visually amazing. The backgrounds depict meandering streets dotted with tile-roofed houses, beautiful desert vistas, beautiful skylines and lush green plants. Even in Friz Freleng's later, lower-budget cartoons with Speedy and Sylvester, The addition of a background artist named Tom O'Loughlin is worth paying attention to, and combined with Hawley Pratt's layouts, even these later entries in the Speedy series are stunning to look at. If you think you've seen Speedy Gonzales, theenk again, amigos! You may not enjoy the three post-1964 cartoons on this disc as much after seeing the brilliance that precedes them...but "The Wild Chase" and "Pancho's Hideaway" are still a lot of fun. "A Haunting we Will Go" is probably one of the least interesting of the Daffy Duck/Speedy Gonzales team-ups, complete with some heavily reused animation on Daffy and Witch Hazel from earlier Chuck Jones films. I wish they would have included a better entry from that series, but that's a minor, trivial complaint.
Another aspect of this disc you'll want to pay attention to is its chronological presentation of every pre-1964 Speedy cartoon, minus the few that can be found on earlier Golden Collections. You will see once and for all that there is little "racist" or "derogatory" content here, despite the firestorm of controversy in recent years. Speedy is far from the stereotypical Mexican, and the fractured Spanish spoken by all the characters is no worse than Pepe Le Pew's skewered French or any number of Mel Blanc's other "ethnic" voices. Even some of the more daring voices and gags are all in good fun. Speedy always triumphs, and may well be Looney Tunes' least flawed character, aside from being "In love with everybody's seester". Even Slowpoke Rodriguez, Speedy's "opposite" cousin, makes it clear he's no "slow Mexican stereotype"...he's actually packing a pretty smart "cabeza", has skills at hypnotism, and he's also packing heat besides!
Above: Before and After restoration: "Mexicali Schmoes" (1959).
The Speedy disc also boasts a wonderful documentary called "Friz on Film", following Friz Freleng's entire career. It gave me a whole new appreciation for Freleng and his work. No fan should skip this one. Also included are some remarkably disappointing commentaries, which struck me as cynical and unenthusiastic. There are some great ones on "Cat Tails for Two" (Jerry Beck and Stan Freberg) and "Mexican Boarders" (Greg Ford), but the commentaries on "Nuts and Volts" (Jerry Beck and Art Leonardi) and "The Wild Chase" (Paul Dini) are a waste of time. I wish they had commented on some of the other cartoons and made a bigger deal about the restorations, rather than picked on the limited animation of later films and ignoring the merits they have in spite of that.
Also, check out the 1950's Army promotional films by Chuck Jones, "90 Day Wondering" and " Drafty, Isn't it?" by Chuck Jones, starring a grown-up Ralph Phillips. These are extremely rare films, and have been restored nicely.
The fourth and final disc is themed around cats, and has some great cartoons. I am thrilled to see Chuck Jones' early masterwork "The Aristo-Cat" on here. Sadly, this and several pre-48 cartoons on the Tashlin disc don't have their titles restored, apparently they've been lost forever. On the bright side, Jones' first cartoon, "The Night Watchman" DOES have its original title card, and while the cartoon itself is a snore-inducer, it certainly looks nice. The cartoons on this disc range from masterpiece (Art Davis' "Dough Ray Meow", Robert McKimson's "The Unexpected Pest") to turkey (Bob Clampett's "Porky's Poor Fish"). The good ones far outnumber the bad, though, and even the ones I didn't enjoy as much are a matter of personal opinion! "Conrad the Sailor" is a great early Jones cartoon with Daffy Duck and Jones' short-live pantomime character, Conrad Cat. "The Sour Puss" is a Bob Clampett cartoon with Porky Pig and a very funny cat, though they're chasing a very irritating fish that reminds me of Daffy Duck, except not funny. "Dough Ray Meow" is an overlooked classic by Arthur Davis about a parrot named Louie who tries to kill his painfully stupid cat buddy Heathcliff for his share of their master's will.
"Pizzicato Pussycat" is one of Friz Freleng;s attempts at the 1950's UPA style, with a hilarious premise-a cat finds a piano playing mouse and fraudulently uses him to make himself famous. "Kiss Me Cat" is a hilarious cartoon with Chuck Jones' Marc Anthony and Pussyfoot that you just have to see-I won't spoil it for you! "Cat Feud" is the last Marc Anthony/Pussyfoot cartoon Jones did, but for some reason he unappealingly redesigned Marc Anthony, and his redesign of Claude Cat is even more odd looking. It's still a funny cartoon, though. "The Unexpected Pest" is a solo Sylvester cartoon by McKimson that boasts some beautiful animation and a very dark premise of Sylvester making a little mouse into his personal slave...it's one of my favorites and I am glad it was included here! "Mouse and Garden" is another Sylvester entry, this time by Freleng. Sylvester is paired with Sam, a scraggly brown cat voiced by Daws Butler in a voice that's a sort of cross between Stan Freberg's Pete Puma and Butler's later "Mister Jinks" for Hanna-Barbera. This cartoon is not only funny, it's really fun to look at...interesting layouts of a boathouse in an abandoned wharf. This disc has a bunch of fun "Behind the Tunes" mini-documentaries covering different aspects of Warner cartoons, from gags to music to minor characters, and as with the ones on previous sets, they're a lot of fun. This disc has several commentaries, and also includes the infamous Porky Pig "Son of a b-b-b-b..." blooper gag and some storyboard reels of "Porky's Poor Fish" and "Sahara Hare".
Overall, this set is just as impressive as previous volumes, and Warner Home Video should be commended for dusting off some of its lesser-known and edgier cartoons. I can find very little to complain about, but I will gripe for a moment about one aspect: The packaging. Aside from a great looking cover, the inside of the package features stiff, overused clip art of the characters, and frame grabs of cartoons that show computer colorized versions of the black and whites! The "slim" package doesn't do much for me either, with the discs overlapping. Not only is it easier for the discs to get scratched, I have to take what's on top OUT of the package just to get to the disc below it (For example, if I wanted to watch "Cats", I would have to take "Speedy" out first to get to it.) The menus on the discs themselves are terrible too, with a nice design and layout ruined by random, unrelated clip art, much of it images of characters nowhere to be found on this set (Granny and Taz, for example). But hey, you can't judge a book by its cover!
This set is, just like previous volumes, a must-have. What are you waiting for? Get to the video store. Andale! Andale!