January 10, 2007

DVD Review: Looney Tunes - Golden Collection Volume Four

Now, let me be up front and say that I am not much of an animation historian and could not tell you a Friz Freleng directed toon from a Chuck Jones directed affair. What I can tell you is that this is another feather in Warner Brothers hat. If there is one thing they have done right, and they have done a lot right, it's their collections of classic cartoons. This four disk collection may not be as flashy from start to finish as the previous releases, but it is no less impressive.

Before going on with the review, allow me to share with you the warning that is displayed at the start of each of these disks:

The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may
depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in
American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While
the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today's society, these
cartoons are being presented as they were originally created because to do
otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.

It is appropriate, considering some of the content in these old time toons. Warner Brothers has done all of us a favor by delivering all of the cartoons in their original, uncut and uncensored forms. These cartoons include sexuality, violence, suicide, and a fair share of racial stereotypes. We all know these things are wrong, but what would have been more wrong is if the cartoons were forced to face an editors blade and have these elements excised. There is something to be said about seeing them as they were originally seen and understanding that they are the product of another era when things like this were sadly tolerated. On the other hand, try not to let them interfere with laughing at the genuinely funny cartoons.

Looney Tunes have always been my preferred brand of cartoons, over the Disney shorts. While Disney has put out some fine collections, and produced some great characters and cartoons, I always preferred the slightly more crazy and wacky world of Bugs, Daffy, and the rest to Mickey and Donald.

The first disk is dedicated to Bugs, the single biggest star in the Looney Tunes stable. It includes such classics as "Roman Legion-Hare" which has Yosemite Sam as a Roman guard looking for somebunny to throw to the lions, "Rabbit Hood" which has Bugs facing off with the Sheriff of Nottingham, "Operation: Rabbit" featuring Wile E. Coyote Super Genius in a rare speaking role, and Academy Award winner "Knighty Knight Bugs" where our heroic hare must retrieve the singing sword from the black knight. These, and the rest provide the biggest laughs of the set. You can easily "play all" and not once hit a stinker. Four sets in and Warner Brothers still has plenty in the well for Bunny toons.

The second disk offers up a vastly different experience, but still an entertaining one. Rather than focus on any specific character, it focuses on director Frank Tashlin, although there is a good dose of Porky. Like I mentioned earlier, I am no historian, or even terribly familiar with all of the different names associated with creating these works, so this does not really mean a lot to me. However, as I watched all of the features here, I did notice a style that is distinctly different than what I am accustomed to with the more famous toons. There is a much stronger sense of cinema, more like watching a film than a cartoon. Now, I do not mean that in any negative way, but when you watch these you will see a different manner of directing a cartoon, it is more like live action in a way. This is best evidenced by the first one on the disk, "The Case of the Stuttering Pig." This is the only short I have seen which features Porky along with his four brothers, Peter, Patrick, Percy, and Portis. It has the stuttering pig facing off with a Jekyl and Hyde type villain. There is also the anti-gambling short "Now that Summer is Gone" with a squirrel who likes to gamble with his acorns which has a great style to it, and the clever and decidedly not PC "You're an Education" where travel catalogs come to life. One my favorites would be "Plane Daffy" where Daffy must face off with Hatta Mari, a Nazi seductress looking for secrets.

Disk three goes back to the character theme, offereing up 15 fast tales of Speedy Gonzales, who has been the center of a swirling firestorm of negative racial stereotypes. While that is definitely present, I never had much of a problem with it, but then I was a child when I first saw these, and just loved watching them. This set features Speedy's first appearance in "Cat-Tails for Two" sporting a decidedly different design from the one we know and love. These are fun, but like other shows I've watched, he is better in small doses as the generally story flow is the same pattern, making it a little repetitious. Still, they are fun and they look great.

The fourth disk takes us on another themed trip, but it isn't charcter or director driven, it is cat powered! It is a collection of shorts featuring felines in the lead, not all of them are Sylvestor, although some of them seem to be Sylvestor precursors. It seems cats were a popular animal to use in the lead. Again, they are all rather good, although I would have preferred a little more of a Sylvestor set, which, now that I think about it, was in one of the earlier sets. I need to go back and dig up the other collections, it has been awhile since I've watched them.

Audio/Video. In a word: stellar. All of the shorts in this set have been restored to the best of Warner's ability. These have not looked better since they were first projected on the big screen, and I am sure, for the toons I've seen before, that they have never looked better. The colors are bright and vibrant, and you can really get a good look at the fantastic animation that went into these sets. The audio is just as good, everything sounds excellent. Of course, these cartoons are getting up there in age, and as would be expected they are not perfect, but they are as close as we're going to get, and I am glad for that.

Extras. As if the cartoons weren't enough, this set is loaded with extras. This is not an exact list, but it will get you excited for a taste.
  • Commentaries. All of the disks have multiple commentary tracks from animators, voice talent, and historians, all of which help put the cartoons in perspective and give a little history on those who made them, as well as analyze what we are seeing. All of the ones I have listened to have been great.
  • Documentaries. Vintage footage and more recent creations, you will go inside Termite Terrace and get a look at the minds behind these beloved characters. I also learned of a man named Raymond Scott, a jazz orchestra leader whose music was used by musical director Carl Stalling for many of classic shorts, I have become determined to find CD releases of his work.
  • Music and Effects Tracks. A number of the shorts have an alternate audio track where you can just listen to the music and effects. It is amazing how well they still hold up.
  • Vault Footage. There are many shorts and other items dug out of the vaults and presented here, in some cases for the first time ever. They range from the bumpers used for the Bugs & Daffy Show to early cartoons, all of it a blessing for animation fans.
  • Note: My favorite piece of extra material is on disk four and involves Porky. It is called Porky's Breakdown. It appears to be an animated outtake reel from 1939, and it just had me in tears laughing!

Bottomline. This set is an absolute must own, especially for animation fans. The restorations look great, the shorts are great, the extra material is fantastic. I tip my hat to Warner Brothers for doing such extraordinary work on these Golden Collections. Do yourself a favor and get yourself a copy.

Highly Recommended.


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