"Looney Tunes Golden Collection" Vol. 6: Less Bugs, More Bosko
I’m not going to lie: when I first read the list of contents for the sixth Looney Tunes Golden Collection, I was a tad underwhelmed. Eventually, I got just as excited as every other year’s release (and purchased it on release day, as always), but back when news first broke, all I could think of was how disappointed I was that [insert cartoon here] didn’t make the cut. And believe me, there were a lot of them. Indeed, that’s kind of a no-win situation for WB: no matter what cartoons they put on a Golden Collection set, there will always be those who voice dissent because their personal favorites weren’t highlighted.
The major downside to this collection? There are only three Bugs Bunny cartoons: “Hare Trigger” (featuring the first appearance of Yosemite Sam), “Rabbit Rampage” (a sequel to the acclaimed “Duck Amuck” with Bugs as the harassee this time), and “Herr Meets Hare” (Hermann Goering vs. Bugs in Nazi Germany). For that matter, there aren’t many Daffy shorts, either. “Birth of a Notion,” “My Favorite Duck,” “My Little Duckaroo,” “To Duck or Not to Duck,” and “Daffy the Commando” are the only offerings here. This is pretty disappointing, though with a limited number of Bugs and Daffy cartoons left, I can see why they wanted to space them out for future sets so they don’t run out. Let’s hope that the next volume ups their counts a tad.
However, what this set lacks in arguably the two biggest Looney Tunes stars, it makes up for in variety and quantity. Unlike previous Golden Collections, which had 56-60 cartoons each, this one houses 75, thanks to the inclusion of many “Bonus Cartoons”. And this set arguably has the most one-shot cartoons of any collection yet; heck, the whole fourth disc is dedicated to them! Incidentally, it’s also my favorite disc in the set. My personal favorite on the one-shots disc is a clever little cartoon called “The Hole Idea,” directed by Robert McKimson (and animated all by himself, quite a feat!), about a scientist who invents a portable hole, which then gets stolen by a criminal and used for ill purposes. There’s also a funny short called “Wild Wife,” about a harried housewife who recounts her hectic day to her skeptical husband. Even though a domestic comedy wasn’t regular territory for the Looney Tunes, they manage to pull it off by having so many satires on life in the ’50s, but which are still relatable today. “It’s Hummer Time” is a hilarious romp where a cat who tries to catch a hummingbird keeps getting subjected to creative comic abuse by a bulldog he accidentally annoys. “Punch Trunk,” about a tiny elephant scaring the citizens of a city, is so ridiculous it’s funny, and has lots of the trademark Chuck Jones facial expressions. Unfortunately, if you bought the Academy Awards Animation Collection, you get a double dip in the form of “Now Hear This.” As much as I enjoy that surreal short, I don’t need to have it twice.
Disc 1 consists of a hodgepodge of Looney Tunes stars. Besides the aforementioned Bugs and Daffy, there are a few Porky Pig cartoons, a couple Foghorn Leghorns, a Sylvester/Tweety (in “Satan’s Waitin’,” perhaps their finest hour next to “Birds Anonymous”), a Pepe LePew, a Road Runner, the Three Bears, and the purposefully annoying but still amusing Charlie Dog. Next to disc 4, this is my second favorite disc, and there are many classics on here. There are a couple I would’ve preferred over the shorts selected; for example, I wanted the Road Runner short “Hopalong Casualty” over “Hook, Line and Stinker,” but that’s nitpicking, as there’s still a lot of good material here.
Disc 2 focuses on war shorts (mostly WWII), and are mostly spot gag cartoons; that is, a variety of jokes connected to one central theme, i.e. home life during the war, or rookies in boot camp. However, one weakness to some of these shorts is that they don’t age very well; in particular, “The Weakly Reporter” has many gags that may go over people’s heads today. There are some winners, though: “The Draft Horse” involves a hyperactive horse wanting to join the army, with the fun coming from his overeager nature and the way it annoys his superiors. “Rookie Revue” is a spot gag cartoon which hasn’t dated too much and where almost every sketch works,. “Russian Rhapsody” is worth a watch just for the always rubbery Clampett animation, as well as a plethora of caricatures of the Termite Terrace staff. “Fifth Column Mouse” offers a subtle but effective allegory for the Nazis (a cat) invading Europe (the mice). And three non-war shorts, “By Word of Mouse,” “Heir Conditioned,” and “Yankee Dood It,” are different from most Looney Tunes shorts in that they’re educational. However, the lessons don’t seem preachy or irritating as they deal with economics, a useful subject, and are presented in a way that doesn’t bore you. There’s also still enough comic mayhem to remind you that, yes, this is the Looney Tunes.
Then we come to disc 3, which contains early shorts featuring characters like Bosko, Buddy, and Foxy. Some fans, myself included, were annoyed that an entire disc was being given to cartoons that had historical importance, but weren’t funny for the most part and could’ve been used for many of the favorites I wanted to see on the collection instead. However, the disc was not the painful affair I was dreading. Part of this is thanks to the music; each of these cartoons has wonderful and upbeat swing melodies that play throughout (most based off popular songs of the day), so even if the attempts at comedy are pretty primitive and it’s clear they hadn’t gotten the WB “style” down yet, at least one can enjoy the tunes and visual creativity. And to be fair, Bosko is a harmless, cute protagonist. That said, it’s best not to view these shorts as laugh riots (because they won’t be), but as humble beginnings and stepping stones to the good stuff later.
As with previous releases, the video quality is top notch, with prints that look better and crisper than we’ve seen them for years. The black and white shorts, in particular, look brand new — no easy feat for the restoration team. And I didn’t recall any DVNR (accidental erasing of picture), which was present on some cartoons on volume 2. Unfortunately, the majority of the bonus cartoons aren’t restored, which means interlaced picture and faded colors. Two shorts really suffer, though for audio instead: “Sniffles Takes a Trip,” whose audio sounds like it’s coming out of a tin can; and “Hop and Go,” which for some reason has unrelated music playing over some of the scenes, resulting in hard to hear dialog.
Since the bonus cartoons take up most of the disc space, there aren’t quite as many special features this time around. There are still nine cartoons with optional music only audio tracks, and we get a handful of commentaries on each disc from Jerry Beck, Mark Kausler, and Greg Ford. But the “Behind the Tunes” featurettes are gone. In a sense, their absence isn’t that horrible, as we already got featurettes on the one shots and war cartoons in the previous collections, but it’s still disappointing, as I looked forward to those. However, there are two documentaries. The first isn’t really a documentary, per se, but is a thirty minute hodge podge of videos pertaining to Leon Schlesinger. “Crying For the Carolines” is essentially music set to random footage. It’s… long. We also get the opening for “Haunted Gold,” which Termite Terrace animated. Things pick up quite a bit when the Schlesinger Christmas Party comes on: It’s about ten minutes of quick gags starring the Termite Terrace staff, filmed in 1939 and 1940. Make sure to watch this part with the optional commentary, as they name those who appear on camera, quite a useful feature for those who want to know what various crew members looked like.
The second documentary runs about an hour and concerns legendary voice actor Mel Blanc, who provided the vast majority of voices in the WB cartoons, as well as for other studios. It chronicles his entire life and features tons of interviews from both historians, fellow voice actors, and people who knew him personally, and includes many film clips like his appearances on the Jack Benny Show. I like the fact that they mention his car accident in 1961, which not everyone knows. It affected his performance for a couple of years, as he had to record the voices from his bed while he recovered. Overall it’s a fine documentary that successfully honors his extensive contributions.
Rounding things out are five shorts directed by Friz Freleng while he was briefly at MGM. They’re well animated, with the kind of lavish budgets found in “Tom and Jerry” cartoons, but they’re not very funny and thanks to a shortage of sound effects, they also don’t have the same oomph as a Looney Tunes short. Frankly, I can see why Friz came back to WB after only two years of this. We also get two made-for-TV specials: “Daffy Duck’s Easter Egg-Citement” and “Bugs Bunny in King Arthur’s Court”. Neither are very good and suffer from the same wonky animation from Looney Tunes specials of the time, though “Egg-Citement” contains a generally amusing 1980 short called “Daffy Flies North,” about Daffy trying to find easier ways to migrate, including hitching a ride on an unwilling horse. Just the fact that Daffy is so determined to get a horse to do his bidding, even though it will have none of that, is humorous. The duck sure is stubborn, isn’t he?
I’m going to say it right now: If you’re a casual Looney Tunes fan that just wants a plethora of Bugs and Daffy cartoons, this latest Golden Collection isn’t for you. However, if you’re a cartoon buff and/or enjoy variety, it’s worth a shot. And hey, good sales on this volume will only prompt WB to make future sets, when your favorite cartoon may finally make an appearance.