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|Kevin Krock, editor|
A few years ago, I remember asking a Warner Brothers representative when the classic Looney Tunes cartoons were going to arrive on DVD. His response was that they were &actively cleaning them up and they would be available some time in the future.& The following year, I asked again, and Warner's response was that they were &actively cleaning them up and they would be available some time in the future.& Last year, I gave up and figured that I would just wait until I actually heard or read something concrete. Several months ago, word started circulating around the DVD community that Warner had finally completed work on their first Looney Tunes set and it was slated for release before the 2003 holiday season.
I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when I first read that. But sure enough, here we are in Fall 2003, and the first batch of classic Looney Tunes DVDs have arrived. It is such a treat to finally see these classics of animation on DVDand based on how Warner put these sets together, it bodes well for any future volumes.
Two sets were released for this initial batch: The Golden Collection and The Premiere Collection. The first set includes 56 classic animated shorts restored and remastered to their original form, as well as a whole bunch of bonus material (described later).
The first disc features the Best of Bugs Bunny and includes several favorites, including What's Up Doc?, Bully for Bugs, and Baseball Bugs. Disc 2 presents some of the best shorts from Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, including Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century. Discs 3 and 4 cover many of the other characters under the title Looney Tunes All Stars, and feature shorts with Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, Tweety, Pepe, Speedy Gonzales, Foghorn Leghorn, and others.
Given that there are over 200 characters in over 1,300 Looney Tunes animated shorts to choose from, this is a pretty darn good start for a collection.
Here are the list of the shorts on The Golden Collection , where:
The Golden Collection
Disc 1 - Best of Bugs Bunny - 14 Cartoons (8 with commentary , 3 with music-only track):
Disc 2 - Best of Daffy & Porky - 14 Cartoons (5 with commentary, 4 with music-only track):
Disc 3 - Looney Tunes All Stars - 14 Cartoons (7 with commentary, 1 with music-only track):
Disc 4 - Looney Tunes All Stars - 14 Cartoons (6 with commentary, 3 with music-only track):
The Premiere Collection is actually a subset of The Golden Collection, and it has 28 of the 56 shorts and lacks all of the bonus material. These two discs are essentially the All Stars discs from the Golden Collection, but they are rearranged a bit. With these two configurations, Warner provides a full-blown special edition for big-time Looney Tunes fans, like myself, and there is a pretty decent option for those not interested in all the bonus stuff.
Here are the list of the shorts on The Premiere Collection , where:
Disc 1 - All Stars - 14 Cartoons:
Disc 2 - All Stars - 14 Cartoons:
Starting with the Premiere Collection, the only real bonus feature on this set is on Disc 2, and it only works on a PC with a DVD-ROM drive. Essentially, it is a Flash game lifted from the Looney Tunes Web site, and it is okay but not particularly addictive or fascinating.
Contrarily, if you are looking for cool bonus stuff, you need not look any further than The Golden Collection. As you can see from the extensive list in the sidebar, the material is spread across each of the four discs, and each disc features at least a still gallery, a documentary (or part of one), and a few Behind-the-Tunes featurettes, which include interviews with many contemporary animators and animation historians.
On top of that, many of the shorts have an optional commentary and/or a music-only audio track. The commentaries tend to be a bit dry but most of them feature interviews from Chuck Jones, Mel Blanc, and other Warner personalities, which address the particular short they are attached to.
With all of that stuff, each disc by itself is pretty darn cool, but as a collection, the amount of extra animation and documentary information is very impressive. Although, each disc contains particularly noteworthy items, so here are some of the highlights from each of the discs:
This disc probably contains the widest range of bonus material, from a greeting from Chuck Jones to eight commentary tracks to a great documentary. It is all great stuff, but I particularly enjoyed the Behind-the-Tunes featurettes that focus on Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, and Elmer Fudd. Another item of interest is a recently produced bonus cartoon called Blooper Bunny: Bugs Bunny 51st Anniverary, which shows Bugs and the gang preparing for the anniversary television special.
By far my favorite item, though, is the documentary, The Boys from Termite Terrace. Made in 1975 for the art series Camera Three and hosted by a young John Canemaker, this is the first part of a two-part documentary on Warner Brothers animation.
This rather academicbut otherwise utterly fascinatingdocumentary for animation fans features in-depth interviews with Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Mel Blanc, who discuss the origins and influences that went into making Bugs, Daffy, and other famous characters.Additionally, there is some interesting discussion about the differences between Disney's style of animation and the way that Warner took a different direction to build their stable of animated characters. If you are at all interested in animation history, this and the second half of the documentary are absolute must sees.
The definite highlight of this disc is the continuation of The Boys of Termite Terrace documentary. This second half continues the fascinating analysis of Warner Brothers' animated shorts, and features sections on the development of Mel Blanc's wide range of character voices as well as the Roadrunner and Coyote. Very cool stuff. Other interesting items of note include the Behind-the-Tunes featurettes on Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and other animal characters that have been paired with Daffy.
You might think you have seen a pretty good chunk of the old Warner animation after watching the documentary on Discs 1 and 2, but this third disc sports another absolutely fascinating documentary from the Cartoon Network called Toon Heads: The Lost Cartoons.
This cable television documentary covers a ton of old Warner Brothers animation, including very rare wartime animation, animated commercials staring Bugs, Daffy, and others, abandoned TV pilots, and the earliest Warner Brothers shorts, starring characters like Bosco and Foxy (who looks incredibly similar to Mickey Mouse). Some of the war-related material might be a bit strong for young children, but for us older animation aficionados, this is stuff you will not be able to see anywhere else. As icing on the cake, there are three featurettes on Sylvester, Carl Stalling's cartoon music, and the vocal stylings of Mel Blanc.
So, after all that you still have not had enough? Well, neither had I, and fortunately, this disc just kept pouring on great stuff. On top of the 14 animated shorts and six commentaries, there is a new 50-minute documentary made for this set called Irreverent Imagination: The Golden Age of Looney Tunes.
This contemporary retrospective starts with Friz Freleng's first foray into animation with Walt Disney, and follows the subsequent history of the Looney Tunes from Feleng's departure from Disney through the closing of the Warner Brothers animation studios in the 1960s. The documentary then concludes by showing how, in the 40-plus years after the last classic Looney Tunes short was produced, the Looney Tunes have become part of the American culture and have dramatically influenced today's animators. It is a great overview of the Warner animation history, and it perfectly ties all of the material on the other discs together.
After you have watched all this, you will probably want to watch it all over again just to make sure you caught everything. I know I am.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
Given that these shorts are over 40 years old, I was very interested to see how the Warner Brothers restoration work looked. Disney has done some remarkable work on its classic animated features and shorts, so I was hopeful that these would be of similar quality.
While there was no specific featurette that addressed the restoration effort, it was evident, after comparing the shorts to similar animation snippets from the documentaries and featurettes, that the shorts were preserved and restored quite a bit. There is still some occasional visible graininess, dust, and wear, but for the most part, all of the shorts are in pretty good shape. The color and saturation seem to vary with the age of short, and the older ones seem to be a bit washed out while the later ones look quite fresh and vibrant.
The only other thing I noticed about the video transfers was that the documentaries seem to have been compressed at a relatively low bit rate to fit all the stuff on each of the discs, and there were several occasions when I saw some digital artifacts on high contrast object. They were not very distracting, but if you know what to look for, you might notice them and then promptly shrug them off. Overall, these discs will look good on any TV or computer.
The audio was also part of the restoration, and now these mono soundtracks sound clear and well balanced between them. Like the video transfer, you do not really notice the difference in the restored tracks until you hear the muffled and distorted audio in some of the segments in the documentaries. With the limited audio spectrum, these discs will sound good on any system.
As for the interface, there is nothing fancy about it. Each disc opens with a cute animation of the Looney Tunes characters, and then there is an animated main menu with music. The rest of the screens are static with little else. The hierarchy is clear and easy to navigate, but the interface really does not play much more than an index role.
The Final Evaluation
If you are a fan of animation and animation history, there is simply no other choice than the Golden Collection. Given the awesome collection of bonus material and restored animated shorts, definitely go out and pick up this set or put it on your holiday wish list. However, if you like the Looney Tunes but are not as crazy about the bonus stuff, by all means track down the Premiere Collection. Either way, Warner has made a strong debut for their classic Looney Tunes collection, and the future of Bugs, Daffy, and the rest of the gang looks very bright.
Just a quick summary on two other recent Warner Brother releases: Looney Tunes Stranger Than Fiction and Looney Tunes Reality Check. If you are a frequent visitor to the Looney Tunes Web site, these newly created toons may look familiar. They look like they were animated with Macromedia Flash, and the voices are familiar but not quite the same. Do not look here if you are looking for classic animation. But if you enjoy the rather stilted animation of the Web animation, then these collections are for you.
The 19 toons on Stranger Than Fiction take your favorite Looney Tunes characters and put them into a series of paranormal adventures from a search for the Loch Ness Monster to an exploration of crop circles to an encounter with a vampire Tweety. The 21 toons on Reality Check take the Tunes gang and plops them into spoofs of many of today's reality shows, like Fear Factor, Iron Chef, Judge Judy, and Survivor. None of these toons really captured my interest, as they just did not seem to have the same wit as the classics, and some were not all that funny, period.
If you love the classics, stick with them and spend your money on the Golden Collection. Otherwise, check out the Web site for a couple of examples before you plunk down you money.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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