Looney Tunes Golden Collection

Aspect ratio: 4:3. 4 discs. Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (English, French). Warner Home Video 27918. NR. $64.92.

Picture***
Sound**
Film****

The golden age of the cartoon was the mid-1930s to the early 1960s, when floods of them came pouring from most of the major movie studios. I still vividly remember those childhood Saturday afternoons at the local theater: eight cartoons and an old Western. I also remember the time the projectionist played a series of 4:3 cartoons through the projector's anamorphic lens, and how weird that looked. Thus was born a lifelong animation fan—and video critic.

Everyone had their favorite cartoons, but for sheer creativity, wit—and, yes, looney-tunes wackiness—Warner Bros. was king of the 8-minute animated short. They also had the best characters: wise-cracking Bugs Bunny, irrepressible Daffy Duck, clueless Wile E. Coyote, speech-challenged Elmer Fudd, fuss-budget Porky Pig, and a host of others. If a single theme drove 90% of the Warner cartoons, it was the foiled chase: Coyote forever doomed to not catch Road Runner, Tweetie frustrating Sylvester, Pepe Le Pew romancing that hapless cat, Yosemite Sam trying to get even with Bugs, and on and on. The scenario may have been the same; we loved them all.

The best of these releases have been used and re-used over the years. Television was the first post-theatrical recipient, including a stretch in which the TV-violence police decided that much cartoon content was too disturbing for impressionable young minds: Bugs dropping that anvil on Elmer Fudd, Road Runner flattening the Coyote with a truck, Daffy losing the perennial duck-/rabbit-season argument with Bugs—the predictably explosive consequences inevitably followed by Daffy's signature line, "You're Dethpicable!" What was left after these abominations were edited out was, well, nothing much besides Mel Blanc's priceless character voices.

Video was also a natural for the Warner cartoons, and the best of them have already been reissued on VHS and laserdisc. But now, finally, after six years of waiting, we have a choice sampling on this new 4-DVD set. Disc 1 is dedicated to Bugs Bunny, disc 2 to Daffy Duck, and the last two to a variety of other characters—though Bugs and Daffy manage to steal the show in those as well. Don't even think about the shorter, less expensive Premier Collection, which duplicates the contents of this package's discs 3 and 4. Besides, most of the best shorts here are on discs 1 and 2.

These 56 cartoons span about two decades, but the best of them come from the early to mid-1950s, when Termite Terrace—the legendary shack on the Warner Bros. lot where the animators worked—was at its creative peak. We can argue about favorites, but for my money the best of the best on this set are: Duck Amuck, an absolute side-splitter and Daffy Duck's strongest, if sadly unsuccessful, bid for a Best Actor nod (The Scarlet Pumpernickel runs a close second); and Rabbit of Seville, Duck Dodgers in the 241/2thCentury, Drip-Along Daffy, and Bully for Bugs.

All of the cartoons have been restored; they look bright, sharp, and colorful. Most have at least a little visible digital (mosquito) noise, but apart from Baseball Bugs (one of the noisiest video transfers I've ever seen—talk about leading off with a strikeout), they're all more than acceptable. In fact, I'd venture that most of you have never seen them look this good before. And though the sound is nothing to write home about—it never was on these shorts—it's clean, noise-free mono.

A load of extra features is spread out over the four discs. The best is a two-part documentary, The Boys from Termite Terrace, which includes background material on—and narration from—the most famous of the animators, many of them, like Chuck Jones, no longer with us. There are also featurettes on most of the leading characters, historical footage, stills galleries, commentaries, music- and effects-only tracks for many of the shorts, and much more. The music-only tracks greatly increased my appreciation for the contribution music director Carl Stalling made to the Warner cartoons during his long tenure at the studio.

But the main attractions here are the cartoons themselves. If I have one complaint, it's the omission of at least two of Warner's very best: What's Opera, Doc and One Froggy Evening (the latter might well be the funniest of the studio's entire output). But all that means is that there's more to come. I hope we won't have to wait another six years for the next boxed set!—TJN

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