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MOVIE & TV SERIES REVIEWS
By TOM SOTER
from VIDEO MAGAZINE, 1991-1996
THE GOLDEN AGE OF LOONEY TUNES: 70 COMPLETE UNCUT CARTOONS
1931-1948. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig; dir. various. Digital mono. (NR). 8 hours, 51 minutes (5 two-sided discs). MGM/UA.
Elmer Fudd and that "scwewy wabbit" are falling off a cliff. They've almost hit bottom when Bugs Bunny pulls out a bottle of "Hare Tonic." He drinks it, stopping his descent in mid-air. The bottle's label makes clear why: "Guaranteed to stop falling hares."
Outrageous puns, zany action, and cwazy characters - yes, it's Looney Tunes time. And if anyone doesn't know Bugs and Daffy and their patented brand of controlled chaos, take a peek at this gloriously reproduced, five-disc collection of visually absurd and verbally rich masterpieces of anarchy. Each disc is arranged by topic, starting with an early musical from 1931 when Warners was simply interested in keeping up with the Disneys (Bosko, the charmless lead, is Mickey Mouse with pointed ears). Watching the Warners style evolve is revelatory, as the directors experiment with parodies ("Corny Concerto" mocks Fantasia), heart-warmers ("Sniffles Takes a Trip"), and fractured fairy tales ("Cinderella Meets Fella").
Although the discs could have included more early monochrome material (such as "Porky's Hare Hunt," featuring an embryonic Bugs Bunny known as Happy Rabbit) and better annotation, collectors should not pass them up. After all, where else can you find a duck and pig discussing phrenology? "Tell the future by the bumps on your head!" cries Daffy. "But I don't have any bumps!"‘ stutters Porky. This being Warners, you know the rest. Or should. That's all, folks! 1992
LOONEY TUNES: CURTAIN CALLS
LOONEY TUNES: AFTER DARK
LOONEY TUNES: ASSORTED NUTS
1993 comps. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Tweety Bird; dir. Chuck Jones, Fritz Freleng, Robert McKimson. Digital mono. CLV. $34.98 ea. Warner.
Hot on the heels of MGM/UA's three-volume, 15-disc Golden Age of Looney Tunes, come Warners' entries in the great cartoon cash-in. Underappreciated in the '60s when Warners closed its animation department, the residents of Toon Town are now big business – if not high art – as baby boomers revel anew in the scwewball antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd, the man who constantly warns us, "Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm hunting wabbits."
Hunts are what the frantic, anything goes Warners shorts are full of – as well as chases, literate gags, puns (an axe-wielding villain says to Bugs that he insists on "splitting hares"), and slapstick violence. The six-minute cartoons were an ode to anarchy that competitors often imitated but rarely equalled. These three discs, part of a new collection of six, come mostly from the '50s and '60s (with a pair of 1980s revival pieces), and they are mostly terrific, with a wit that is as sharp as the colors.
After Dark, Assorted Nuts (showcasing such lesser characters as the daydreaming Ralph Phillips and bulldog Marc‘ Antony) have their moments, but the standouts are all on Curtain Calls, usually featuring Bugs Bunny, the smart aleck funny rabbit who was the studios' biggest star, a master at puncturing pomposity. Among the best are the brilliant parodies, "The Rabbit of Seville" and "What's Opera, Doc?" in which Elmer and Bugs replay their endless struggle as characters from Wagner's The Ring (Elmer sings "Kill the Wabbit" to the Valkyries' theme).
The disc also includes the wonderful "Three Little Bops," a jazz version of the "Three Little Pigs," with music by Shorty Rogers and singing narration by Stan Freberg; and the parable, "One Froggy Evening," which some consider the perfect cartoon. It's a Twilight Zone-style tale about a singing frog whose timing is all wrong – something you could never say about any of the looney toons who lived at Warners. Tha–tha–that's all folks! 1993
1940. Animated; voices of: Dick Jones, Christian Rub, Cliff Edwards; supervising dir. Ben Sharpstein, Hamilton Luske. Digital sound, 88 min. Walt Disney Home Video.
Video collectors who picked up Pinocchio on its last release in 1986 may feel a little cheated when they see the new, restored version of the Walt Disney classic. Thanks to a frame-by-frame restoration, the colors are richer and the sound (now in a stereo soundalike process) crisper. But the story – about the wooden puppet who wants to be a boy – is just as charming as ever.
Pinocchio, Disney's feature film follow-up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was based on the tales of Carlo Collodi. Besides winning two Academy Awards (for the lyrical score and the song that became a Disney trademark, "When You Wish Upon A Star") the cartoon served as the inspiration for such later efforts as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. The picture is a remarkable technical feat, involving more than 750 artists, 80 musicians, 1500 shades of color, and one million drawings. And the restoration highlights those efforts beautifully: whereas the original video version seems washed out, the new one is vibrant and alive, with a richness of hue and a clarity of sound that make the cartoon characters seem as real as people.
The picaresque saga – about what it means to be human – is also helped by Cliff Edwards' delightful turn as Jiminy Cricket,‘ some bouncy tunes ("Hi Diddle Dee" and "I've Got No Strings"), and a truly terrifying sequence on Pleasure Island, when a bad boy gets his just desserts. Most kids will love it, although the heavy-handed moralizing may leave some adults longing for the loony anarchy of Donald Duck or Bugs Bunny. That aside, collectors should consider replacing their old Pinocchio with this sleeker version. Without a doubt, the video, like the puppet, has finally come alive. 1993
MICKEY MOUSE: THE BLACK-AND-WHITE YEARS
1993 comp. B&W/Color. Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto; dir. var. Digital mono. (NR) 244 min. CAV, 10 sides. Walt Disney.
Fans of Mickey Mouse will delight in this package, a treasure trove of material from the mouse's formative years: 33 black-and-white cartoons, a recently discovered color short produced for the 1932 Academy Awards, the original animated pencil test sequence for "The Mail Pilot" (1933), and over 1,000 story sketches which offer a before and after look at the work of the Walt Disney Studios animators.
Much of the footage in the lavishly produced collection is fascinating, especially in the earliest shorts, in which Mickey is less mouse and more rat: smoking, drinking, and cutting up like any wild youngster as he pulls nasty stunts on cats who try to repress him. Mickey is irrepressible, however: constantly dancing, skipping, and playing a mean piano. It's no wonder the relentlessly cheerful mouse was a big hit in the Depression. His buoyant optimism – he plays a harmonica while working on a chain gang – is infectious.
The shorts are presented chronologically, starting with the first, "Steamboat Willie" in 1928 and concluding with "Mickey's Service Station" in 1935. Most feature the thinnest of plots – "Mickey's Follies" and "Mickey's Revue" are simply excuses for characters to sing and dance – and the majority emphasize music and slapstick over storyline and lack the kind of verbal artistry that later Warner Brothers cartoons would make their trademark.
Still, the animation is delightful and remarkably fluid, and the pictures have been lovingly restored throughout (not a lot could be done with many of the scratchy soundtracks). Marred only slightly by Disney's typical tendency to horde (MGM/UA's similar Golden Age of Looney Tunes features over 70 shorts), Mickey Mouse: The Black-and-White Years is an almost perfect package, ideal for kids and collectors of all ages. 1993