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Review: Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume Two, Disk 3

Here is my assessment of Disc 3, which features mostly cartoons starring Tweety and Sylvester...

A large number of the cartoons on this disc, although expertly remastered, retain their "Blue Ribbon" re-release title cards. When these are viewed in succession it gets to be a bit confusing--since those cartoons that were originally produced as Technicolor "Looney Tunes" utilize "Merrie Melodies" title cards and yet have the "Looney Tunes" Music Cues.

That aside, the cartoons on Disc 3 have, for the most part, more vibrant colors and very few of the blemishes that have plagued earlier broadcast incarnations. This is especially true of such titles as Room And Bird (which features a rare and particularly effective music score by Carl Stalling's music copyist, Eugene Podanny) and Tweet Tweet Tweety. The Friz Freling Unit had superb layout and background artists in Hawley Pratt and Paul Julian, respectively. The layouts are clean and "read" very well; and Julian's landscape scenes are particularly impressive in these sparkling, new remasterings. I've always enjoyed his renderings of clouds and landscapes. Cartoon Historian Joe Adamson has actually compared them to the paintings of Turner.

1. Not all the cartoons on this disc are pristine. Although we finally have Bob Clampett's hilarious Baby Bottleneck with the original title cards and music cues, the title footage has obviously suffered some very slight fading. The colors are rich enough, but the overall visual quality of the entire cartoon has a mild graininess. Oddly enough, this does not seem to detract from one's enjoyment. In fact, for me it is somewhat akin to looking at a painting that has been rendered onto a canvas with a rough surface--as opposed to that with a smooth one.
2. One curious detail I noticed at the start of The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, is that the Warner Bros. Shield does not spring out from the void towards the screen. The classic electric guitar glissando can be heard on the soundtrack, nevertheless. I listened to the audio commentary by John Kricfalusi (creator of "Ren and Stimpy") to hear his appraisal of Bob Clampett's work. I followed his instructions to freeze-frame at one point while Daffy is bemoaning the theft of his own piggy bank, and I heartily agree with him that doing so should be done with one's curtains drawn. There is one point where Daffy's bill creates a suggestive image (!)
3. Old Glory has received a fabulous restoration, but does not include the original title card. The original music cue can be heard on the soundtrack, however. Production credits exist somewhere, since they are given in Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald's book "Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons". It is a joy, nevertheless, to be able to see the various-colored inks used on the outline of Uncle Sam. It is also fascinating to hear the exchanges, on the alternate commentary track, between Jerry Beck and one of the original inkers from the production. Production values on this cartoon are very high, indeed. True, there is quite a bit of rotoscoping involved, but there is also some impressive animation--for example, the unfurling American flag in the closing shot.


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4. It was a good idea to include Old Glory on the same disc with what proved to be Chuck Jones' final production, Daffy Duck for President. Jones apparently never got beyond the storyboard stage at the time of his death, and this cartoon was produced posthumously. As it turns out, this was a labor of love. As I mentioned in another post on this forum, I feel that this cartoon has successfully captured the look and feel of some of Jones' best work during the late '40's and early 50's at Warner Bros. If any complaint could be lodged against the producers of this entertaining and informative short, it would be that they chose to go with an electronically-synthesized music score--instead of hiring a full, 30-piece orchestra. The cartoon runs just under 5 minutes, so one would think that they could hire players with the money saved on animation. Speaking of which, some of the scenes of Daffy walking away from the camera look like they utilized computer animation to some degree.

5. As for the extra features on this disc, the brief documentary on the work of Bob Clampett is of special interest. John Kricfalusi spouts one superlative after another while discussing the Clampett style. It is easy to see Clampett's influence on the young director by watching any old episode of Ren and Stimpy. At the same time, however, Kricfalusi makes a rather unfair statement when he compares the expressions on the face of Homer Simpson with those of Daffy Duck or Porky Pig in any classic Clampett production. Other reviewers have stated, and rightly so, that one cannot make a comparison like that simply because The Simpsons' humor is derived more from the (at one time) clever writing and deft voice acting. The animation on the series doesn't even enter into it, since the majority of it is outsourced to South Korea. Don't get me wrong, the animation is expertly done, but the personality of the characters is more the result of the inflections of Dan Castanella and Co., rather than from any particular drawing style.

I'm certain that many will take exception to what I'm about to say; but I have never been particularly fond of the opening or end title sequences for The Porky Pig Show. In fact, I remember when I was a kid that I would often turn the volume on my TV down at the start of the show just long enough so I wouldn't have to listen to that hokey theme song. The animation is somewhat limited, having been produced by Hal Seeger productions in New York (by the time the show premiered on ABC the Warner Bros. Cartoon Studio had already been closed for some time.) The characters featured in the title sequences also seem a bit out of character. It has been pointed out elsewhere that Yeosemite Sam, in particular, looks smaller in size than usual. He also comes across as a little milksop, instead of the firebrand antagonist to whom I have been accustomed.

Of the two opening title sequences for the The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show, I prefer the second with it's clever "morphing" of one character into another.
6. I didn't care much for the Friz Freling cartoon Duck Soup To Nuts, only because Porky Pig is cast in a strongly antagonistic role. Usually when he is paired with Daffy Duck, Porky only behaves in a violent fashion after having been unduly harrassed by Daffy. In this cartoon Daffy is minding his own business, only to be constantly hunted and shot at by Porky. True, this storyline had been used before; most notably in Tex Avery's Porky's Duck Hunt as well as in other duck-hunting cartoons directed by Robert McKimson--but Porky was somewhat less aggressive in these cartoons. In general, I don't like seeing Porky being too antagonistic--it just seems out of character for him. Porky even looks different in this particular cartoon. He actually looks as if he had spent more than a couple of hours in a tanning salon. I re-ran the cartoon in an effort to determine whether or not this was done in order to achieve the illusion of early morning daylight. I don't believe this to be the case, since the coloring on Daffy's bill seems quite normal. There is one significant scene in this cartoon, however, in which Daffy is trying to demonstrate his acting ability to a dubious Porky: he launches into a tawdry love scene with Porky and attempts to seduce him a la Pepe LePew. Interestingly enough, this cartoon and the cartoon that introduced Pepe Le Pew, Odor-Able Kitty (Chuck Jones, 1945) were both written by longtime storyman Tedd Pierce. In addition, this cartoon is actually a re-working of a similar story for a Popeye cartoon that Pierce wrote while moonlighting at the Fleischer Studios: Olive's Boithday Presink.
7. We now move on to the cartoons featuring Tweety and Sylvester. When watching a number of these in straight succession, one is able to draw parallels between this series and the Tom and Jerry cartoons being produced at MGM duing the same period. Both feature an antagonistic cat who chases after a not-so-innocent prey. One difference, however, is that Sylvester chases Tweety out of the simple motivation of hunger. Tom, on the other hand, seems to relish tormenting Jerry simply for the sport of it. At one time, Tom actually did chase Jerry for food (in Sufferin' Cats ) but that premise was quickly abandoned.
Also note that in the first cartoon to pair Tweety and Sylvester, Tweetie Pie, Sylvester is originally referred to as "Thomas". In Bob Clampett's Kitty Kornered (which, by the way, looks simply gorgeous), the Sylvester character is not officially-named.
In my last review of Disc 4, I had forgotten to mention Freling's Back Alley Oproar, which features Sylvester and Elmer Fudd- and is actually a remake of an earlier Freling cartoon, Notes To You, featuring Porky Pig and a nondescript, unnamed cat. The pairing of Sylvester and Elmer, in my opinion, doesn't work well. In addition, Sylvester's character is a little too nutty here for my liking (although I did laugh heartily at his imitation of Spike Jones.) I think that Freling was wise to make him more antagonistic and cunning in later cartoons. I should add that Jones and McKimson also directed cartoons featuring Sylvester that were effective; particularly the ones pairing him with Porky Pig as a silent, frightened cat.
In his audio commentary for Ain't She Tweet (a rather curious title, since Tweety is a male canary), Greg Ford compares Freling's directorial style to that of the European-born comedy director, Ernest Lubitsch. Lubitsch had made a number of sophisticated screwball comedies for Paramount and other Hollywood studios during the 30's and 40's, among them Trouble in Paradise (with Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins) and To Be or Not To Be (starring Jack Benny). One element of his style was the use of innuendo (sexual and otherwise), by letting the audience draw its own conclusions from certain situations and dialogue. Freling, it is suggested, often derives humor from what is hidden from the audience's view. In this cartoon it is the action that takes place off camera every time Sylvester tries to enter a private yard occupied by (seemingly) hundreds of bulldogs. We don't actually see Sylvester being mauled by the dogs in these instances, we only hear the chaos ensuing from the other side of the fence. That which is unseen is ten times funnier than that which is seen.
Nowhere is this use of delicate innuendo more evident than in the opening shot from Bad Ol' Putty Tat. In the opening of this cartoon, there is a medium shot of Tweety's birdhouse; then a verical panning shot down the barbed-wire-covered pole upon which the birdhouse is sitting. At the bottom of the pole we find Sylvester, lying prostrate on the ground and covered with cuts and scratches. No real action has taken place at this point; and yet this simple, understated scene speaks volumes!
Freling got his start in silent films, which explains his deft handling of pantomime scenes. His unique use of musical effects includes the pizzicato violin figures (which he times out rhythmically for Carl Stalling) that accompany Sylvester as he tiptoes back and forth across a room. There is an interesting variation of that effect featured in All A Bir-r-r-d At one point, Sylvester can be seen sneaking about on a moving train, from one end of a boxcar to the other. All the audience sees is Sylvester crossing back and forth in front of the open sliding boxcar door, carrying various-sized boxes and crates. All of this is done silently. The only sound effects heard on the soundtrack during this scene, however, are the constant train whistle and other locomotive noises.

That's it for my assessment of Disc 3... Be sure to check back next week for the final installments in my overall review of this highly-valuable DVD set.


A review by Zavkram
First Published on November 21, 2004

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