Presenting an in-depth look at the current state of Animation
1. We come now to Disc 1 of the LTGC2; the disc devoted entirely to cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny. The remastered versions of the 15 titles contained in this disc are, overall, crisp and clean in visual quality. I have read negative opinions about the visual quality of THE BIG SNOOZE--particularly about the application of DVNR during the remastering process. I have to say that I did not notice any marked distortion, save for a slight fuzziness around the edges of the multitude of rabbits that chug along like a locomotive over Elmer Fudd's bald head during the nightmare sequence. Bill Melendez (one of the animators on this cartoon who later went on to direct the "Peanuts" TV specials for Lee Mendelson Productions) offers commentary that, while interesting in and of itself, does little to shed light on creative aspects of the production.
The Big Snooze is only other Bugs Bunny short contained in the present collection to have been directed by Robert Clampett (the other being A Corny Concerto); and here he doesn't even receive directorial credit. By the time this cartoon was released, Clampett had already left the Warner Bros. Cartoon Studio. Producer Leon Schlesinger had recently sold his Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Production Studio, plus all rights to the characters and trademarks, to Warner Bros.
Up until then Warner Bros. had functioned merely as a distributor of the cartoons; despite the fact that the studio was physically located on the Warner Bros. Studio Lot. Clampett reportedly disliked the idea of working for a large motion picture studio--because he feared he would no longer have the creative freedom that he had enjoyed under his old boss. Clampett did a brief stint at the floundering cartoon studio at Columbia Pictures, but only as a writer and not as a director (where, in the opinion of Leonard Maltin, he might have made a difference.)
The one advantage to having new management at Warner Bros., was that Freling, Jones, McKimson and Davis now enjoyed being able to be referred to by the term, "director". During the Schlesinger reign, the term "supervisor" was always used.
2. Tex Avery is better represented in the present collection than he was in LTGC1. In addition to his one-shot effort, I Love to Singa, we have two of his Bugs Bunny shorts, THE HECKLING HARE and TORTOISE BEATS HARE. The former is notorious for its truncated ending that prevents us from seeing him plummet off a cliff a second time, presumably toward his death. Legend has it that Leon Schlesinger had ordered the cut because he didn't want his new star getting killed off in any cartoon. The real story is that Bugs originally had a punchline at the end, "...hold on to your hats, folks, here we go again...", that Schlesinger found to be in bad taste (he thought that the line referred to something sexual.) In any event, the incident was enough to sour relations between Avery and Schlesinger. His last Bugs Bunny cartoon before leaving for MGM was ALL THIS AND RABBIT STEW, for which he did not receive credit onscreen.
Tortoise Beats Hare was the first in a trilogy of cartoons featuring the indomitable Cecil Turtle. The other two were Clampett's outrageously funny (and, arguably, the best of the three) cartoon, TORTOISE WINS BY A HARE(included in Volume 1), and Freleng's Rabbit Transit.
I have heard some people complain that they don't enjoy seeing someone else get the upper hand over Bugs, but I personally feel that these cartoons simply highlight different aspects of Bugs' character. If I had to name an exception to this I would choose Jones' RABBIT RAMPAGE; which re-hashes the plot of the classic Daffy Duck short, DUCK AMUCK, and pits a hapless Bugs against unseen animator Elmer Fudd. In each of these tortise/rabbit shorts, it is always Bugs who is the instigator: whereas in Rabbit Rampage he is merely an unsuspecting victim. I suppose the same could be said about Clampett's FALLING HARE; although neither Bugs nor the mischievous gremlin who torments him throughout the cartoon comes to a bad end at the fade-out--they simply run out of gas before the plane they're about to crash ever touches the ground.
3. Disc 1 showcases early and late cartoons by director Friz Freleng. THE HARE-BRAINED HYPNOTIST features a delightful twist on the Bugs-Elmer relationship, which by the time this short was released had been well-established with audiences. Here, Elmer is temporarily hypnotized into thinking he is a rabbit, and then begins to torment Bugs. In a later effort that reuses the same concept, HARE BRUSH, Bugs is hypnotized into believing he is Elmer Fudd. It was a good idea that went nowhere, however, because the remainer of the cartoon relapses into a typical rabbit-hunting cartoon. HYDE AND HARE is one of three cartoons Freleng directed that parodies the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (the others are HYDE AND GO TWEET and DR. JERKYLL'S HYDE.)
The second cartoon encounter between Bugs and Yeosemite Sam, BUGS BUNNY RIDES AGAIN, reveals more visual detail--particularly in the backgrounds--thanks to the remastering. The stationary shot of the interior of the mine shaft into which Sam falls can be seen more clearly. In previous prints the contrast is too dark and the colors are dulled. I only complaint I have here is that WHV remastered the later, re-dubbed version of this cartoon. When it was first released, Sam's opening line was "...I'm the roughest, toughest hombre ever to cross the Rio Grande... and I don't mean Mahatma Ghandi!" In subsequent prints the last part of this line was changed to: "...and I ain't no namby pamby!" Details of this change may be found in the Friedwald/Beck book I mentioned in an earlier post.
Since we are on the subject of Bugs Bunny and Yeosemite Sam cartoons, it should be mentioned that Freleng's STAGE DOOR CARTOON (included on Disc 4, but discussed here) features a prototype of Sam's distinctive voice characterization. A sheriff shows up in this cartoon to throw Elmer Fudd into the hoosegow for "indecent southern exposure" He even looks a little like Sam: pint-sized, with an oversized moustache that all but obcures the rest of his face. This wasn't the first time that gruff voice was heard in a WB cartoon; Jones wartime Bugs short, SUPER-RABBIT has that distinction. The voice was used in that one for the character of Cottontail Smith ("...if thar's anythin' I hate wors'n a rabbit, it's two rabbits!)
LITTLE RED RIDING RABBIT is one of Freleng's wartime-themed shorts (note that Grandma isn't even at home when the wolf arrives; she's out working a swing shift at the Lockheed Aircraft Plant!) This cartoon exemplifies what Greg Ford mentions in his comments on Disc 3; that Freleng would often use visual devices that, on the surface, appeared to be used more as a cost-cutting measure but in reality were for heightened comedic effect. Witness the scene where Bugs leads the flabbergasted wolf on a wild goose-chase around Grandma's house; he zips from one location to the next and then is rapidly moved not through animation but through a series of sharply-timed cuts (in the parlor, pointing up to the bird cage, then under the kitchen sink.) This cartoon also features a wonderfully-over-the-top performance by Bea Benaderet as bobby-soxer Little Red Riding Hood.
4. Robert McKimson's early Bugs cartoon, GORILLA MY DREAMS features a slightly shorter and fatter version of Bugs. The McKimson unit at Warner Bros. used a model sheet designed by Jean Blanchard in all of the Bugs shorts of the late 1940's. McKimson himself, as an animator for Clampett's unit had created the definitive design for Bugs that was used throughout the war years at Warner Bros. Most of the early McKimson cartoons were animated by Rod Scribner, who had worked previously with Clampett. Scribner's animation had a distinctive "rubbery" quality that suited Clampett's cartoon vision perfectly, and imbued even the lesser McKimson efforts with a special liveliness. One hopes that [#996600]A-Lad-In His Lamp[/#996600] (featuring a wonderfully-animated genie, voiced by Jim Backus of "Mr. Magoo" fame) will be included in the next volume of the LTGC. Listen for snatches of Raymond Scott's "Dinner Music for a Hungry Pack of Cannibals" on the soundtrack!
FRENCH RAREBIT features additional voice work by Stan Freberg and a score by Eugene Podanny. The two diminutive French chefs who tangle with Bugs actually make nice-looking rabbits. It's amazing what one can do with a rubber glove and some sugar cubes!
5. Cartoons directed by Chuck Jones include HARE-CONDITIONED (featuring a department store floorwalker who is patterned after Hal Peary's title character in "The Great Gildersleeve" radio comedy program); BABY BUGGY BUNNY, in which the infant-in-disguise slightly resembles Baby Herman from WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT; and [#996600]Broom-Stick Bunny[/#996600].
On the subject of the latter, [#996600]Broom-Stick Bunny[/#996600] has an alternate audio track featuring commentary by voice artist June Foray. It was sad for me to hear how time has gradually lessened her voice. In an earlier interview she reported having had to eventually quit smoking because every female voice she did started to sound like Natasha from the ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE SHOW.
While this cartoon featuring Witch Hazel has its moments, I think a better choice for this collection would have been her debut in BEWITCHED BUNNY (classic line: "Ach, your mother rides a vacuum cleaner!") Unfortunately that cartoon ends with a very un-PC punchline that actually was the subject of litigation not long ago in Canada. It seems that a Canadian woman saw a local telecast of the cartoon and objected to the line:
"...sure, I know... but aren't they (women) all witches inside?"
The complaint never went to court, however; it went before (and was dismissed by) the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. This is an independent, non-governmental organization created by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters to administer standards established by its members, which are Canada's private broadcasters (the on-air counterpart of a press council.)
6. As for the extra features, let us turn our attention for a moment to THE LOONEY TUNES 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL, which is split between Discs 1 and 2:
First off, I felt that the celebrity interviews were mostly contrived and generally annoying. What is up with Cher's hairdo, anyway? She looks like she just came out of a methadone clinic. The repeated shots of David Bowie were also overdone. IMHO the only good parts in this special were the all-too-brief interviews with Jones and Freleng, and the clips from claasic cartoons not included in either Volumes 1 or 2. If nothing else, the clips of the cartoons that are included show just how much better the restored versions look by comparison.
7. Just as with Volume 1, viewers of Volume 2 are treated to excerpts from the original BUGS BUNNY SHOW that aired in Prime-Time on ABC from 1960-62. The show was originally telecast in black and white, but was apparently produced in full color. Jerry Beck, in both volumes of the LTGC, has reconstructed the bridging sequences for a vintage episode from that show by integrating extant color elements into the black and white footage.
The episode included in Volume 2 is entitled "Do or Diet" and features the Tasmanian Devil. It is interesting to note that the transition from the bridging sequences to the three featured cartoons in each episode is handled most naturally by means of a lap dissolve (as with BEDEVILED RABBIT), a still photograph (as in STUPORDUCK), or a close-up (as in LITTLE BOY BOO.) The brief excerpts from these cartoon titles that we see are also in black and white. I fail to understand why no attempt was made to fully-reconstruct this episode by including the full-length, uncut cartoons; and by colorizing the black and white bridging sequences to match the original color elements.
At this juncture, let me state that I normally abhor colorization that has been inflicted upon a classic black and white cartoon or feature film. While it's true that many films (especially during the 1940's and 50's) were produced in black and white simply out of economic considerations, there are others that were produced in black and white for aesthetic reasons. John Ford's How Green Was My Valley is an excellent example. When Producer Darryl F. Zanuck realized that it would be impossible to film a lush, Technicolor production in Wales because of the escalating war in England, he decided to shoot in the hills of California instead and also realized that they could be made to resemble a Welsh mining village if filmed in black and white instead of color.
In the case of the bridging sequences in episodes of THE BUGS BUNNY SHOW, which were originally produced in color but broadcast in black in white (the major networks didn't fully convert to color until the 1964-65 season), I feel that colorization would be fully-justified.
It would also have been nice if the original commercials from those telecasts had been included as well (that is, if decent prints still exist.) For good measure, the producers of this DVD set have also thrown in the opening titles for THE BUGS BUNNY/ROAD-RUNNER SHOW, which aired in one permutation after another every Saturday morning on CBS for well over a decade. Watching these brought back some happy childhood memories. For more information on both programs, interested readers should click on this link:
8. I know I had said before that I wasn't bothered by the animated graphics on the menu screens on this DVD set, but I'm willing to make an exception for Disc 1. The flying Bugs on the main menu screen is only mildly annoying, but the still image of Bugs on the Features Menu screen is positively grotesque! His face looks like he has the mumps or has suffered multiple bee-stings. Couldn't the producers have simply used frame grab images from the sctual cartoons instead?
All told, this present volume (and one hopes that more will follow) of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection has much to recommend it. Anyone new to the Warner Bros. canon will not be disappointed when purchasing this set. Both sets together comprise a more or less basic primer on the art of Warner Bros. Classic Animation. To be sure, not every cartoon is an instant classic, some are pretty much run-of the-mill. Someone once said that even the bad WB cartoons aren't a total loss, while the good ones are masterpieces. I am inclined to agree. There is not one cartoon in either set, IMHO, that is unwatchable on either technical or aesthetic grounds. Having said that, let me qualify that statment by saying that the present volume, as good as it is, could have been better.
If I had to use one word to best describe the overall quality of the restorations and digital remastering, that word would be "inconsistant". The producers' claim, as printed on the packaging, that all the cartoons contained therein have been fully restored and remastered is not entirely true. I have already mentioned those cartoons that still retain their "Blue Ribbon" trappings in my previous posts, so there is no need to reiterate them here. In addition, there are some cartoons in the set that are not as clean as they could be, visually speaking.
Still, within the larger context these are minor complaints. The sound quality is consistantly excellent for the age of the films, and I have no complaints whatsoever in this regard.
The packaging is attractive, but just a tad cumbersome when one attempts to fold the cardboard case together again. It is also necessary to lay the case onto a flat, hard surface in order to extract each individual disc from its plastic tray. The center spindle buttons don't always pop the disc up the first time around when pressed.
To sum up, here are my overall scores for this DVD set. I have rethought my rating system that I used in my review of the Tom and Jerry DVD set earlier this fall. At that time I was using a system of three stars to rate each aspect of the set. I've decided that a four-star system may work better:
A parenthesis ( ) around a star or stars means that I have some reservations about the overall rating.
Overall Package Design/Ease of Use: ***(*)
Visual Quality (Digital Remastering): ***(*)
Visual Quality (Restoration): ***
Audio Quality: ****
Extra Features: **(*) (primarily because of the omission of Sinkin' in the Bathtub, but also because of the waywardness of some of the spoken commentary and the bizzare menu graphics on Disc 1)
Value for the Money **** (even when purchased at the full retail price of $65.00; I got mine for $45.00 on Amazon)
A Review by zavkram
First Published on December 23, 2004
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