Monday, January 11, 2010

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Four

The Golden Collection in my opinion is a fascinating series of DVD's spotlighting the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies series of cartoons. I personally own almost all of the volumes that were released. I still need to grab the later volumes and I shall do that one of these days. One of the things that I liked about the series was the extra's. I think I've played and re-played and re-re-played several of those "Behind The Tunes" segments. The history that's presented and the comments from those who were there or those who are part of the cartoon world today are captivating.

Volume Four contains 4 discs.

The critically maligned Bugs Bunny Superstar documentary, from 1975, is broken into two parts on Disc 1 and Disc 2. I happen to like the documentary, if for the only reason, is that I love seeing the clips of the directors/animators from a point in time where their cartoons, although airing on TV for kids, hadn't really experienced the fame and glory that was to come as younger people became more and more fascinated with the whole body of Warner Brothers cartoons and the directors became, in the minds of fans, almost God-like. Orson Welles narrates the documentary. It contains footage of Bob Clampett speaking, often at length, about the characters. Historians and his contemporaries often pointed out that Clampett assumed credit for creating characters that he factually had no creative input on, other than animating or directing the characters. He did create characters. Tweety, for example, was a significant contribution, but the character was redesigned and toned down by Friz Freleng several years later and Tweety became synonymous with Freleng ever since. Freleng teamed Tweety with Sylvester, a character created by Freleng, and a star duo was born.  

Each cartoon director that went through the studio and had any considerable time-span has their 'followers' even today. There's the fans of the wild, zany cartoons epitomized in the works of Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Norm McCabe, and Robert McKimson. Frank Tashlin's cartoons have a live-action flavor. I was not familiar with his cartoons due to how they rarely, if ever, played on TV and so I learned quite a lot about him in this Volume...he has a disc all to himself. Later, after I purchased the previous release, Volume 3, I found out even more thanks to the documentary called Tish Tash: The Animated World of Frank Tashlin.

It should be pointed out that I didn't purchase these Golden Collections in numerical order.

Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones are the two directors from the studio that garner the most acclaim and attention and they, too, have their followers. It should also be noted that Freleng's cartoons won the most Academy Awards for Warner Brothers, a total of 4: Tweetie Pie, Speedy Gonzales, Knighty Knight Bugs, and Birds Anonymous.

Friz Freleng gets spotlighted on a documentary called Friz on Film and he, too, has a fan base that prefer cartoons that have razor-sharp timing and music ties. It's a wonderfully done salute to arguably the best director from the Golden Age of Warner Brothers Animation in terms of stats, accolades, and total body of work. Freleng directed just about all the Warner cartoon characters at some point or another with a large percentage of his work concerning Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety and Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, and Speedy Gonzales. Speedy was created by Robert McKimson (who directed the character's debut and some later cartoons of the late '50s and early '60s) but Freleng directed the ones considered by historians to be the most popular. In this documentary, as well as in other extra features that elaborate on Freleng, the creation of Yosemite Sam is almost always discussed. His peers and colleagues routinely state that the character is a complete duplication of the real-life Friz Freleng. His daughter remarks that Friz had red hair in his younger days and that he had a temper and several animators affectionately recall Friz being impatient, fuming, pacing a lot, and anxious during the animation process. Friz himself, in archive footage, laughs about his tyrannical reputation during the production of the cartoons but remarks that he obtained that reputation due to his perfectionism and insisting that the cartoons come across exactly as he envisioned. The character of Sam, by the way, was created as a replacement for Elmer Fudd.  

Chuck Jones, in addition to his many contributions to Warner Brothers cartoons, did a lot of mostly seasonal animation projects and specials away from Warner Brothers from the early '60s through the early '70s that often play on cable television annually to this day and that's probably a big reason why his name is much more recognizable by those outside the audiences of Warner cartoons. He did critically acclaimed work for MGM. The crowning achievement away from Warner Brothers, in hindsight, would be his adaptation of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, a story from Dr. Seuss, that plays every year. Jones returned to Warner Brothers in the late '70s and remained a pivotal figure in keeping the the public remembering the Warner Brothers characters as well as providing newer animation projects utilizing the classic characters.

Characters created and, or, associated with Chuck Jones at Warner Brothers are Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, The Road Runner and Coyote, Pepe LePew, Porky Pig, Marvin Martian, Charlie Dog, Witch Hazel, and Sylvester. Jones' depiction of Bugs Bunny is in sharp contrast to the depictions from the other directors. Friz Freleng stayed with the wiseguy, Brooklyn-Bronx mannerisms brought out by Tex Avery's A Wild Hare. Jones depicted Bugs as a calm, minding his own business kind of character who only became a wiseguy or became aggressive once provoked.

Jones introduced the world to the Duck Season/Rabbit Season routine and changed the personality of Daffy from being a free-for-all, zany, looney character into a gigantic egomaniac forever jealous of the popularity enjoyed by Bugs Bunny. The fans who love this depiction have Chuck Jones to thank.

The funny thing is that this characterization of Daffy remained constant...being picked up by the other directors...and today Daffy is known as a greedy, vain, egotistical braggart. In his memorable role as Duck Dodgers, Daffy plays the part of the know-it-all hero scolding and blaming his associates for his own incompetence. This is not the Daffy that intrigued movie audiences of the '30s and '40s...but it's a comical stroke of genius all the same.  

Jones directed three cartoons that are in the National Film Registry: Duck Amuck, One Froggy Evening, and What's Opera, Doc?. Ironically, those three cartoons didn't win any awards during their original releases, but decades of showings on television and the viewer response to those three in particular elevated them above the other cartoons. Three of his theatrical cartoons did win Academy Awards: For Scent-imental Reasons, So Much For So Little, and The Dot and the Line. Jones won an Honorary Academy Award in 1996 for career/lifetime achievement.

One of the things about these Golden Collections is that the work of the directors are on full display and you're able to enjoy the various styles and characterizations associated with specific animators and directors. Until these collections started being released it was next to impossible to see cartoons from Frank Tashlin, for example, or see Norm McCabe's work for the studio. I think the collections certainly have the capability to spotlight the lesser known work that wasn't seen on TV on a constant basis and maybe spawn followings for those directors. Time will tell, though!

The four disc's consist of theme-oriented cartoons:

1. Bugs Bunny Favorites
2. A Dash of Tashlin
3. Speedy Gonzales in a Flash
4. Kitty Korner

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