Combustible Celluloid

Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection (2003-04)

4 Stars (out of 4)

That's Not All Folks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection Vol. 1 on DVD.

The best reason to see 60 classic Warner Brothers cartoons in the brand-new "Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection" (2003, Warner, $64.92) DVD box set is 2 words: Chuck Jones. Jones was the director of 27 of the 56 cartoons included in this first set, and it's amazing to see how noticeably superior to other Warner cartoon makers his work is in terms of quality, artwork, visual imagination, smoothness, and timing.

Here, the poor, neglected Friz Freleng, the driving force behind the "Tweety and Sylvester" films, plays Salieri to Jones's Mozart. Freleng has solid timing but lacks the striking visuals of the Jones cartoons. And the manic Fred "Tex" Avery has maintained a reputation as a genuine artist, but his films seem quaint compared to Jones's ageless works.

Jones's Fast and Furry-ous (1949) was the first of the Wile E. Coyote-Road Runner pairings, and it plays like a silent Buster Keaton comedy, full of brilliant, visual sight gags. The coyote seems to be awfully smart, buying and building gizmos out of ACME products, but Nature itself always conspires against him.

Jones's incredible talent didn't end with the stock characters. While not adding to the Bugs Bunny or Road Runner canon, he reached out for more with one-shot shorts. Feed the Kitty (1952) is the wonderful and bizarre tale of a bulldog named Marc Anthony who finds and falls in love with a kitten, but must hide it from his mistress who has forbidden him to bring anything into the house.

Also included is one of my favorites, Freleng's Rabbit's Kin (1952), which suffers from inferior animation, but survives because of an appearance by little known Bugs Bunny rival Pete Puma. Pete is awfully dim, but very funny. He punctuates every sentence with a strange wheezing laugh that cracks me up every time. This is the one where Bugs invites him to tea, indicates the sugar, and asks, "How many lumps do you want?"

Other 'toons include: Jones's masterpiece Duck Amuck (1952), which has Daffy tangling with an unseen animator; Jones's Oscar-winning For Scent-imental Reasons (1949) featuring the screen debut of Pepe Le Pew; the classic Rabbit Seasoning (1952) with its great Bugs/Daffy/Elmer feud; the beautiful Halloween short Water, Water Every Hare (1952); and Jones's superb The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950) with an egotistical Daffy Duck pitching a script idea; plus Foghorn Leghorn, Tweety & Sylvester, Speedy Gonzales, and much more.


Buy Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection Vol. 2 on DVD.

Warner Home Video has also recently released "Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection, Vol. 2" (2004), featuring classics missing from the first set. Many cartoons come with optional commentary tracks, music-only tracks, behind-the-scenes featurettes and other extras.

The set begins with fifteen gorgeously re-mastered Bugs Bunny cartoons, including four Jones works, notably the incredible Broomstick Bunny (1955). Another Halloween episode, it begins with Bugs Bunny trick-or-treating at the home of Witch Hazel and nearly becoming part of her latest brew. The witch's house is full of those great, bizarre Jones lines and angles, and the result is strikingly beautiful. The wonderful voice actress June Foray (best known as Rocky the Flying Squirrel from "The Adventures of Bullwinkle and Rocky") provides Hazel's voice, giving the film an extra boost. Foray also contributes an audio commentary track.

The set's piece de resistance, however, comes on disc four, a miscellaneous mish-mash of stuff, which contains two Jones masterpieces, What's Opera Doc? (1957) and One Froggy Evening (1954).

Perhaps the most famous and celebrated of Warner cartoons, What's Opera Doc? was the first of two Warner cartoons to be selected by the Library of Congress for the National Film Archive. Highlighting a basic Elmer Fudd/Bugs Bunny chase, it showcases Jones at his extravagant best, with astonishing backgrounds, use of light, depth and sense of movement -- as well as spectacular comic timing. What's Opera Doc? gets the royal treatment here. It comes with five audio tracks: the original soundtrack, two commentary tracks, a music-only track (with behind-the-scenes chatter) and a vocals-only track, plus a 9-minute featurette.

Another masterpiece, One Froggy Evening is a nearly silent film whose only voice comes from a singing frog. A construction worker finds the frog nestled away inside an old building that has been torn down. The frog (later known as the WB mascot Michigan J. Frog) sings "Hello my baby! Hello my darling!" for him, but no one else can hear.

One of Tex Avery's greatest works, I Love to Singa (1936), is also included. It features some early layout work by Jones as well as that great, great song, sung by a young owl ("Owl Joslon") to torment his stuffy classical music teacher father.

If that weren't enough, the set contains even more extras, plus different language tracks and subtitle options. Warner has also released a budget version, "Looney Tunes: Spotlight Collection Vol. 2" containing only 2 discs and 30 cartoons, including What's Opera Doc?

Starring: (voices) Mel Blanc, Arthur Q. Bryan, June Foray, Richard Bickenbach, Stan Freberg, Tommy Bond, Bill Roberts, Bea Benaderet
Written by: Michael Maltese, Tedd Pierce, etc.
Directed by: Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, etc.
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 400+ minutes
Date: October 29, 2004

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