Friday, May 24, 2013

Bugs Bunny: Superstar

I've been aware of this documentary for more than 20 years now. I first saw it on television at some point in the early '90s on TBS or TNT. It had previously been issued on home video and years later it became available on DVD as a bonus feature on Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Four. It was split in two parts, on two separate discs...much like other documentaries that appear on the other Golden Collection releases. This time it's presented by itself. The program is narrated by Orson Welles and it begins rather dramatic as he tells of various landmarks throughout the world that have made an impact in some way on mankind. He then, in a rather mystified and questionable tone of voice, submits Termite Terrace among the landmarks worthy of adoration. Welles narrates and introduces all involved...the interview clips often begin with the interview already in progress and we are let in on the conversation. Bob Clampett receives the bulk of the airtime. Within the documentary you will see 9 cartoons in their entirety. As others have mentioned, most documentaries only show bits and pieces of cartoons or stills of characters whereas this one airs 9 cartoons in their entirety. In an audio commentary, a bonus feature, you will discover the story of why the special was put together and why Bob Clampett received much of the focus (even though all of the other famed Looney Tune directors, except Frank Tashlin, were still among the living at the time of filming).

This is a must-have documentary in my opinion. If this will be your first time seeing this documentary, but you've seen the various Behind the Tunes features on the Golden Collection series, then this 1975 Superstar documentary will perhaps perplex or confuse most of you. Why? It's because of a lot of the information from Clampett in the Superstar documentary has either been dismissed or shown to be partly true.

Now, of course, armed with a lot more knowledge of the cartoons and the behind the scenes information that we have access to today, it may make watching the Superstar documentary cringe-worthy to some but if you simply want to see a few of the legendary cartoon directors speak of their cartoons as well as see 9 full length cartoons...in addition to hearing the audio from the film maker, Larry Jackson...plus hear Orson Welles narrate...this DVD will not disappoint!

Although it's been almost 4 decades since this special first aired, it nonetheless aired numerous times on cable TV throughout the 1980's and most of 1990's, usually in overnight and early morning time slots or during times of the day with younger audiences. Given that kind of exposure, a lot of the information in the film continued to be accepted as fact. I, too, blindly accepted a lot of the things I was hearing in this special as fact but it wasn't until the Golden Collection series came along and the increase in animation web-sites (with a lot more credible information) that I was able to see that there was a lot of credit hogging taking place amongst many (especially the creation of Bugs Bunny).

You can look up various websites that offer one side of the story verses another when it comes to character creation and see all the multiple accounts and second hand information, etc. etc. Clampett certainly played a vital role in the studio's success, no doubt about it, and his cartoons are hilariously funny in my opinion. This doesn't mean that I don't love the subtlety of the Chuck Jones cartoons or the razor sharp timing and musical prowess of the Friz Freleng cartoons. I don't have any one director, in particular, that stands above the rest and receives exclusive admiration and adoration...there are cartoons from all of the major directors at the cartoon studio that I like for various reasons. Some people actually believe that if you like Clampett's work then you can't possibly like anything from Chuck Jones, for example. There are those who think that if you gravitate toward Friz Freleng then there's no possible way that you could enjoy something from Robert McKimson, Norm McCabe, or Art Davis.

All of that aside, Bugs Bunny Superstar provides a look into the golden age of animation and it continues to remain a must-have in that it includes actual footage of all involved.

There is another documentary that I'd love to see get a DVD release by itself. As of now it's only available on Vol. 1 of the Golden Collection and it's John Canemaker's 'Boys From Termite Terrace'. That documentary along with this Bugs Bunny Superstar DVD are must-have's simply for the video footage of several of the directors speaking in detail about their cartoons.

It's a shame Robert McKimson wasn't as active in either of those documentaries. He died, suddenly, in 1977 at age 66. I love his cartoon parodies of TV shows and the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons he did. I also like how he didn't follow the formula for a lot of the established characters and for humor's sake would place Bugs Bunny, for example, as an overly aggressive character out to prove his worth in "Rebel Rabbit"; then there was "Easter Yeggs" where Bugs, at first, is tormented by a sorrowful rabbit as well as Elmer Fudd and a nameless juvenile delinquent forever wanting an Easter egg; there's "The Windblown Hare" that spoofs The Three Little Pigs story by having the pigs as conniving schemers who pull a fast one on Bugs and then there's the Wolf who mostly remains clueless to anything that doesn't follow along with the fairy tale he's reading; there's "Hillbilly Hare", "French Rarebit", "Rabbits Kin" introduced the animation world to Pete Puma; there's "The Grey Hounded Hare", as well as many others. I hadn't even mentioned the various popular cartoons he did with the Tasmanian Devil. His cartoons included their share of catch-phrases and scenes that are just as memorable as the other directors.

McKimson was just as great as his peers but his tendency to shy from attention, adoration and publicity in a manner in which his contemporaries didn't caused his work to be greatly under appreciated. You can read about him and his two brothers, Charles and Tom, in a book that Robert McKimson, Jr. wrote titled "I Say...I Say...Son!".

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