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"Looney Tunes Golden Collection" Vol. 5: What a Fan-f-f-fanta-fantas-f… Great DVD!

by on November 22, 2007

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Looney Tunes has endured for so long. Its only goal is to make the audience laugh, and thanks to its talented animators and directors, it succeeds nearly all the time. Now you can laugh even more with the fifth volume of Looney Tunes Golden Collection, starring many of (hopefully) your favorite classic cartoon characters, like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Sylvester & Tweety. How does this volume fare? Ha, like you have to ask.

Volume 5 comes with 60 cartoons on four discs. Disc 1 features Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons. Some of the top drawer cartoons on this disc include “The Stupor Salesman”, a hilarious and well-animated Daffy cartoon where Daffy the door-to-door salesman is relentless in trying to sell something to a bank robber on the run; “Bugs’ Bonnets”, an innovative cartoon wherein various hats continuously change the personalities of Bugs and Elmer; “You Were Never Duckier”, a Daffy cartoon where his quest to be the best chicken for $500 goes wrong as he’s kidnapped by Henery the chicken hawk (a rare appearance by this character outside the Foghorn Leghorn shorts); “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”, which has some great Chuck Jones expressions and Daffy lines; “Buccaneer Bunny”, a great Yosemite Sam outing with spot-on gags by Friz Freleng’s unit; and “A Pest in the House”, which has a simple premise (Daffy tries to keep the hotel quiet to appease a sleepy but ornery guest) but runs with it, especially with a lightning fast finale that has Elmer Fudd trying to stop a sound from traveling through the pipes to the guest’s room. There are a couple less-than-stellar cartoons included, but overall disc 1 is full of funny material.

Disc 2 is fairy-tale themed. It gets a little repetitive because the majority of shorts simply present new spins on fairy tales, and after a while you’ll be tired of seeing yet another take on Little Red Riding Hood. In addition, two cartoons, “The Trial of Mr. Wolf” and “The Turn-Tale Wolf”, have similar executions (i.e., normally evil character tries to paint himself as the good guy). Nevertheless, there are still many hits on this disc. Perhaps the strongest is Tex Avery’s “Little Red Walking Hood”, which has tons of fourth wall breaking jokes. My personal favorite involves two silhouettes of audience members shuffling to their seat, and the wolf stops the scene to wait for them before continuing. “Foney Fables” is essentially a string of unrelated black-out gags involving twists on fairy tales, but most of the gags work well. The same goes for “Holiday For Shoestrings”, which shows a hoard of elves producing shoes (while performing many blunders along the way) to the strains of many classical tunes. And of course, “Bewitched Bunny”, a take on Hansel & Gretel that features the first appearance of Witch Hazel, offers a surreal but funny experience.

Disc 3, much like last year’s Tashlin disc, is devoted solely to one director. This time around it’s Bob Clampett, whose directorial work for Warners spanned about a decade, during which time he inspired many trends in the way WB cartoons stood out from the crowd, especially rival Disney. About the only problem I have with some of his cartoons is his tendency to overuse the “reversal of personality”; that is, someone who looks menacing suddenly turns into a fruit or coward. After a short time these sorts of gags tend to get predictable. In spite of that, I admire his rubbery, expressive animation qualities and the fast pace in many of his shorts. His animation department was really allowed to let their pencils run free, as is evident in his shorts. Hits on this disc include “A Bacall to Arms”, which shows a wolf going ga-ga over a Lauren Bacall-style character on the big screen; “Hare Ribbin'”, a Bugs vs. dog cartoon which interestingly takes place almost entirely underwater; “Patient Porky”, a humorous black and white outing that takes place in the hospital; “The Daffy Doc”, another hospital-themed cartoon with Daffy as the goofy surgery assistant (and which includes a memorable gag involving an iron lung); and “Buckaroo Bugs”, which is a tour-de-force of wacky animation, and which offers a quasi-prototype of Yosemite Sam.

Finally, disc 4 showcases older, black-and-white cartoons, which is sure to please pre-1948 WB fans. “Scrap Happy Daffy” is my favorite here: It’s a riotous WWII cartoon from Frank Tashlin that has Daffy protecting the scrap reserve from a Nazi goat. Gags are fast and furious, with many I didn’t see coming at all (the best kind), and Daffy’s boundless energy is put to good use as he tries to out-smart the enemy. I had never seen it before until now (due to its Nazi themes, it didn’t play on TV), but I may have a new all-time favorite. Other good ones include “Porky’s Poppa”, which contains a memorable parody of the familiar “Old McDonald Had a Farm” song; “Porky’s Preview”, which shows a deliberately crudely-drawn stick figure short film Porky created (and which was no doubt the inspiration for the Tiny Toons episode “Animaniacs!” decades later); and “Porky at the Crocadero”, which contains more excellent comic timing by Tashlin and enjoyable jazz/big band tunes and music-related caricatures.

Video quality for the Golden Collections has always been above average, thanks to the painstaking efforts of the restoration team who not only cleaned up the original picture but brightened and enhanced the washed-up colors we’ve been getting on TV for years. And, thankfully, DVNR (the accidental removal of edges/character outlines in the process of removing grain from the picture) is, from what I’ve observed, absent on this volume. All the cartoons look great, but two in particular stand out: “Little Red Walking Hood”, where the cleaned-up picture makes the colored pencil backgrounds shine like never before; and “I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song”, which is almost 75 years old but looks brand new, with black and white colors and character outlines extremely well-defined.

As with any Golden Collection, special features are extensive. Volume 5 gives us the 80-minute documentary “Chuck Jones: Extremes and In-Betweens”, which (obviously) looks at Jones and much of his work. While it could’ve stood to be shorter by about 20 minutes, all the participants are able to pin-point the reasons—such as the penchant for subtle facial expressions and characterizations—that many of Jones’s cartoons are still enjoyed and remembered today. I also like that they acknowledged his beginnings as a director, when his cartoons went for the more cutesy, Disney-esque trappings than trying to be genuinely funny. Keeping with the Chuck Jones theme, we also get “Tricks of the Cartoon Trade”, which isn’t really a how-to so much as it is more Jones praising. Still, it’s worth a watch.

There are numerous Behind-the-Tunes featurettes; not surprisingly, one of them deals with the numerous fairy tale twists present in Looney Tunes shorts. The more interesting of the two on disc 2, however, chronicles animator/director Robert McKimson. Many participants on the video feel he’s underrated as a director and that the spotlight is too often placed on Jones and Freleng; I tend to agree, as McKimson’s made some of my favorites Looney Tunes, such as “Hillbilly Hare”, “Early to Bet”, “Hare We Go”, “Daffy Duck Hunt”, and many more. At his peak, I would actually place some of his cartoons above those of the oft-remembered other two.

Disc 3’s featurettes include a piece on the Private SNAFU cartoons of the ’40s and some one-shot shorts. The latter is really interesting, because there were actually quite a few non-regular characters and plots that nevertheless remained memorable due to their execution. For example, we see some clips from “Punch Trunk”, a cartoon about a miniature elephant causing widespread panic in New York. It was never meant to be more than a one-time deal, but it’s a hilarious cartoon and I hope it (and many others briefly featured in the featurette) are included on the next set.

We get two Private SNAFU bonus shorts. There are also three Hook shorts, which, like Private SNAFU, were made for the military. The best one is “Tokyo Woes”, which has some great Clampett unit animation, not to mention a breakneck pace and “so dated they’re funny” Japanese stereotypes.

Perhaps the best feature on the collection comes on disc 4, which details some of the lesser-known directors at WB, such as Jack King, Ben Hardaway, Norm McCabe, and Arthur Davis, among others. Some of these guys directed some great cartoons, and it’s good to see them get their dues. Art Davis, in particular, was an amazing director and it’s a shame he only held that position for three years before his unit shut down and he was absorbed into Freleng’s unit.

Each disc also comes with commentaries for many of the cartoons. The quality varies from short to short; some of the participants offer interesting behind-the-scenes info, while others just gush about how good something looks, which I may agree with but which doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. As with previous years, there are also Music Only/Music & Sound Effects Only audio tracks, allowing you to watch nine cartoons with just the fantastic scene-specific background music by Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn.

Speaking of Milt Franklyn, there’s a curious feature on disc 3: Brand new Merrie Melodies opening themes composed by Franklyn in the early ’60s. These were never used, mainly because Franklyn tragically died in 1962 and Bill Lava took over his position as orchestrator, so it’s great to hear these rare studio recording sessions.

“Hare Ribbin'” comes with a director’s cut, which is basically the same except for a different ending that I won’t give away. “The Bashful Buzzard”, which was one of the very few cartoons on the set to not restore original titles, at least has an extra which contains the original title card music set to a generic card. We also get storyboards for that cartoon.

As with previous sets, there are wraparounds for The Bugs Bunny Show, as well as a good ten minutes of ’60s TV ads for numerous products like Tang. It’s interesting how famous cartoon characters used to advertise products during the ad break.

Wrapping things up, volume 5 includes three made-for-TV specials (“Bugs Bunny’s Bustin’ Out All Over”, “Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Tales”, and “Bugs and Daffy’s Carnival of the Animals”) that aired during the ’70s and ’80s. While the Looney Tunes fared a bit better than many of the cartoons in this era, they are far from the best works to bear the Looney Tunes name, due to simpler characterizations, some wonky animation, and longer-than-needed running times. Plus, you can tell Mel Blanc was getting older; it really comes across in his voice overs, especially for Bugs. Still, they’re worth a watch for historical purposes; it also helps that classic directors like Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng actually worked on them.

If it isn’t already obvious, I’m very impressed with this fifth volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection and highly recommend it for old school cartoon buffs and casual fans alike. You get a good balance of older material, war-era cartoons when the Looney Tunes were arguably at their visual peak, and ’50s and ’60s shorts which were often repeated on TV. The restoration is amazing, and the special features more than justify the purchase.

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