Thursday, July 21, 2011

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Five...

I'm typically several years late when it comes to purchasing the Golden Collection series and this one's no exception. I purchased this a few days ago and it arrived yesterday. Thanks to the availability of Looney Tunes: Spotlight Collection, Vol. 5 I was able, several years ago, to see 30 of the cartoons that are featured in this edition of the Golden Collection. As usual the Golden Collection is more for the cartoon enthusiasts...animation historians...and die-hard fans of the Looney Tunes. The main reason for the Spotlight Collections were to aim at the general audience and aim at those who wouldn't pay more than $20.00 for a DVD collection (although the Golden Collections are well worth the higher price). A lot of the reviews of this DVD I've not read (there's too many) but those that I've skimmed through touch base on just about everything and so I'm not going to do any break downs of too many individual cartoons.

Given that the Golden Collection, this one being no exception, are filled with extra features and mini-documentaries on animators, directors, and the like I watched most of the extra features and bonus material first and that's what this review will mostly be about.

The documentary I watched right away was "Drawn To Life: The Art of Robert McKimson" which is found on disc 2. I watched this first because I wanted to, first of all, see what the animators, historians and fans of the cartoons had to say. I also watched it first because McKimson is like the unheralded giant of classic Warner Brothers cartoons...and many cartoons by McKimson played a lot on ABC-TV's Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show of the '80s and '90s and I was raised on his cartoons every bit as much as I was raised on the cartoons by Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Tex Avery.

The documentary is a celebration of McKimson's career. He's noted as being one if not the only person employed at Warner Brothers cartoons from it's beginning in the early '30s to it's eventual closing in the late '60s. McKimson and his brothers, Charles and Tom, were natural artists and obviously this enabled them to become animators...and later, as we know, Robert became a director at the studio. Within the documentary, strangely enough, there isn't any archival commentary from McKimson's peers at the studio and there's no verbal recordings of McKimson. There are pictures of him shown (of course!) and there's invaluable commentary from his son, Robert McKimson, Jr., and several others but there's no actual footage of the senior McKimson on camera discussing his career or the characters he known for (Foghorn Leghorn, Barnyard Dog, Prissy, Tasmanian Devil, Hippety Hopper, and Sylvester Junior).

While the documentary on McKimson is a celebration of his work and his talents it wouldn't have been realistic without discussing the sad but true fact that he's largely forgotten and unheralded when compared to Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Tex Avery. Several historians and cartoon enthusiasts offer their opinion on why that's the case...a lot of it has to do with the fact that McKimson passed away in 1977 before all the nostalgia and enthusiasm for cartoons really started to take off but also, according to some of the commentators, it also had to do with his low-key demeanor. It's a study in extreme ironies: McKimson was a skilled artist, animator, and director who did quite a lot of memorable cartoons but because of his low-key nature and the acclaim put on Friz, Chuck Jones, and the others through the decades it's created a scenario where a director's work is highly memorable albeit the name of the director isn't as well known by comparison. For example...say a couple of people are discussing various Bugs Bunny cartoons. One guy says "oh that was hilarious! let's see now...who directed it? it was either Chuck or Friz....hmmm, oh? it was Robert McKimson? it was a hilarious cartoon!". Other examples can also be used to describe the irony of the "oh, it was Robert McKimson? Hilarious!" realization. After awhile our mythical conversationalists recognize that McKimson directed his fair share of classic cartoons even though his name isn't as lauded as Chuck and Friz.

Another extra is "Once Upon a Looney Tune"...which airs prior to the McKimson documentary on disc 2. In this feature we see the exploration of the zany, irreverent spin on fairy tales which is what's featured on Disc 2 of the collection. There are various spoofs of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Bears in addition to other fables and fairy tales. It's interesting to note that in the "Once Upon a Looney Tune" feature they air a clip of Coal Black, a parody of Snow White. Those who are die-hard fans of the Looney Tunes know all about Coal Black but it caught me off-guard when I saw the clip pop up on the screen.

Bob Clampett gets his own disc...it's Disc 3. Along side Tex Avery and Robert McKimson, Clampett's cartoons are laugh out loud funny in my opinion. It's often been said that Friz Freleng's cartoons had superior timing and razor sharp music coordination which brought out the humor in almost every cartoon. It's been said that Chuck Jones had superior timing, too, on top of using eye blinks, facial expressions, and word play to bring out the humor in his cartoons...but pretty much everyone who's given commentary about a Looney Tunes cartoon seems to point out Bob Clampett's work as being the looniest of all. Ironically, Clampett received a mini-documentary of his life and career back in the Golden Collection, Volume Two but it took until Volume Five for him to get a disc devoted to his directorial contributions at the studio.

There have been other Clampett cartoons sprinkled throughout Volumes 1 through 4 so it isn't like his work was completely ignored. However, compared to the amount of cartoons directed by Friz and Chuck featured on Volumes 1 through 4, Clampett's contributions pale by comparison. Some say it's because Friz and Chuck were at the studio much longer and made more cartoons therefore more of their contributions are showcased...which makes sense...but then there are those who say that limiting the Clampett cartoons was did intentionally because the irreverence, satire, and all out zaniness clashed with the works of Freleng and Jones.

There are two bonus features on Disc 3...one is all about the "Wacky Warner One Shots". This feature examines quite a lot of the cartoons from Warner Brothers which didn't star any of the popular characters (like Bugs, Porky, Daffy, Sylvester, etc. etc.). The second bonus feature, "Real American Zero: The Adventures of Private SNAFU", looks at Private Snafu...the inept soldier who doesn't do anything right. The training films were designed to teach newly enlisted soldiers how NOT to behave. By watching Snafu do the wrong things and get into a lot of trouble it was teaching soldiers to learn from Snafu's mistakes. The Snafu cartoons were never shown to the general public for obvious reasons. It's fun, though, to see the regular gallery of historians and animators who've contributed to the Golden Collection series speak more R-rated, too. The mini-documentary isn't an all out barrage of cuss words but given that it's all about the Private Snafu cartoons the language is a little bit looser. There are two bonus cartoons of SNAFU adventures and there are three cartoons starring SNAFU's Navy counterpart, Mr. Hook. SNAFU cartoons were made for the U.S. Army while the HOOK cartoons were made for the U.S. Navy.

Disc 1 features cartoons starring either Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck. Of course there are several cartoons that feature Bugs and Daffy together outwitting a shared enemy. In "Ali Baba Bunny" the shared enemy is Hasan, the simple minded treasure guard who can't remember the magic phrase 'open Sesame'. The main extra feature on Disc 1 is a Chuck Jones documentary from 2000 called "Extremes and In-Betweens: A Life in Animation". This is the second documentary on Chuck...the first, "Chuck Amuck", was featured on Volume One.

Part 2 of the "Extremes and In-Betweens" documentary is on Disc 2...along with another Chuck Jones spotlight called "A Chuck Jones Tutorial: Tricks of the Cartoon Trade". This was originally a bonus feature on the DVD release of "Extremes and In-Betweens".

This Volume Five nearly completes my collection of the series...I now need to get the final volume, Six, to make it complete.

Disc 4 showcases early cartoons. A bonus extra, "Unsung Maestro's: A Directors Tribute" takes a look at various directors at Warner Brothers who contributed quite a few cartoons for the studio but were never given a lot of spotlight. A lot of the time it was because some of the directors were there prior to the arrival of future super star characters like Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny. The directors of the Looney Tunes in the earliest of years get some spotlight in this feature. One of the more notable cartoons on Disc 4 is "Scrap Happy Daffy" from 1943. It was directed by Frank Tashlin. The first cartoon directed by Tex Avery, "Gold Diggers of '49", is featured on Disc 4. It stars Beans the Cat but many historians say Porky Pig is the real star. The cartoon is also notable for injecting a lot of what would become trademarks of the Warner Brothers cartoons: visual humor, pop-culture references, and general craziness. The cartoon premiered in 1935...several years before Mel Blanc would become the voice of Porky Pig and what we have is original voice, Joe Dougherty, providing the vocals. The cartoon was animated by Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones several years before the two of them would become cartoon directors. Research shows that "Gold Diggers of '49" is the second cartoon to feature Porky Pig.

All in all this is another perfect Golden Collection...some have ripped this collection apart but I have no idea why there's anger and bitterness at all. There was bitterness felt by some about Volume 4 due to several of the disc's concentrating on lesser known characters and highlighting cartoons that lacked a lot of the trademark humor of later cartoons from the studio. One of the disc's on Volume 4 was devoted to Speedy Gonzales which infuriated some but delighted others.

This Volume 5, in my opinion, doesn't feature any cartoon that deviates too much from what Looney Tunes enthusiasts crave. You can't go wrong with a disc devoted to Bob Clampett, neither! On top of this there's the wonderful look at Robert McKimson's work that I wrote of at the top of this review...and then there's the Chuck Jones documentary...and there's three Looney Tunes specials added as extra features on Disc 4: "Bugs and Daffy's Carnival of the Animals", "Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales", and "Bugs Bunny's Bustin' Out All Over".

In the latter, from 1980, several new cartoons are added to the lengthy list of theatrical Warner Brothers releases: "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Bunny", "Soup or Sonic", and "Spaced Out Bunny". The "Soup or Sonic" short is a Coyote and Road Runner adventure.

In "Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales", from 1979, you get three newly animated adventures: "Freeze Frame" is a Coyote and Road Runner adventure while "Bugs Bunny's Christmas Carol" casts Yosemite Sam as Scrooge, Tweety as Tiny Tim, Porky as Bob Cratchit and Bugs portrays a bystander bent on showing Scrooge how to treat people with respect. The third segment of the 1979 special was titled, "The Fright Before Christmas", and it featured Bugs and the Tasmanian Devil.

The "Bugs and Daffy's Carnival of the Animals" is a 1976 prime-time special featuring all new animated segments of Bugs and Daffy competing against the other which further fuels the Bugs vs. Daffy comical feud first explored in the theatrical cartoons. The 1976 special has a bit too much live action/symphony performance for me but the animated sequences are great.

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