Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 4, 2003)
Over the last few years, Disney released scores of their classic cartoons on DVD via their “Walt Disney Treasures” series. All the while, Warner Bros. remained mute. Occasionally, we got one of the Looney Tunes shorts attached to other movies; for example, recent titles like 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood and 1948’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre both included vintage cartoons. However, no extended compilations of those films existed.
Until now, that is. With the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, fans will find four DVDs of wacky goodness. These shorts span a range of 19 years. The earliest – “Elmer’s Candid Camera” – comes from 1940, while the latest – “Broken Leghorn” – emanates from 1959.
For each short, I’ll offer the following information: the year in which it was produced, the director, and what kind of extra audio track if offers (if any). A “C” designates an audio commentary, while an “M” notes an isolated music track. I’ll also provide a quick synopsis of the cartoon plus my number grade for each one done on a scale of 1 to 10.
DVD ONE – Best of Bugs Bunny (total 103 minutes, 38seconds):
Baseball Bugs (1945, I. Freleng): When the Gas-house Gorillas obliterate the hometown Tea Totallers on the diamond and Bugs heckles them, the monsters force him to play them on his own. 9/10.
Rabbit Seasoning (1951, C. Jones - C, M): It’s rabbit season, and Daffy Duck aims to have the hunters aim at Bugs. Elmer heads out to bag the Bunny, which sets up a battle of wits among the three – no prizes if you figure out who wins. 10/10.
Long-Haired Hare (1948, C. Jones - C): Bugs’ folksy crooning disrupts the rehearsals of a haughty opera singer named Giovanni Jones. Bugs absorbs more abuse than usual but continues to seek his revenge on his oppressor. 8/10.
High Diving Hare (1948, I. Freleng - C): Bugs hawks a stunt show that entices Yosemite Sam to see high-diver Fearless Freep. When Freep can’t make it, Bugs has to take over to keep Sam from lynching him. 10/10.
Bully For Bugs (1952, C. Jones - C): When Bugs gets lost on the way to the carrot festival, he winds up in the middle of a bullfight ring. The bull provokes him and the two do battle. 6/10.
What’s Up Doc? (1949, R. McKimson - C, M): Movie-star Bugs gets a request for his life story. He tells this tale as we watch flashbacks to his childhood and career on his path to stardom. 7/10.
Rabbit’s Kin (1951, R. McKimson - C, M): Pete Puma chases a cute little bunny who takes refuge in Bugs’ hole. Bugs saves him and wards off the attacks from the hungry feline. 4/10.
Water, Water Every Hare (1950, C. Jones): Rain floods Bugs’ hole, and this sends him downstream to the castle of a mad scientist. That evil genius requires a living brain to power his huge robot, and he tries to use Bugs’. The scientist sends Rudolph the red-furred monster to get him. 8/10.
Big House Bunny (1948, I. Freleng): Under attack during rabbit season, Bugs takes refuge inside a prison. Jailer (Yosemite) Sam Schulz makes him an inmate, so Bugs needs to trick him into setting him free. 9/10.
Big Top Bunny (1950, R. McKimson - C): Bruno the acrobatic bear feels threatened when Bugs joins his circus act. Bruno tries his best to dispose of the wily rabbit with the usual results. 8/10.
My Bunny Lies Over the Sea (1948, C. Jones): Lost again, Bugs winds up in Scotland. He runs afoul of a local named MacCroary, who tries to shoot him. The pair battle in some unusual ways, including a golf match. 9/10.
Wabbit Twouble (1941, R. Clampett - C): Elmer Fudd (in a primitive incarnation) goes for a vacation in Jellostone National Park to get some rest and relaxation. Bugs has other ideas. 9/10.
Ballot Box Bunny (1950, I. Freleng): Yosemite Sam runs for mayor on an anti-rabbit platform. Not surprisingly, Bugs decides to oppose this move as he starts his own campaign. 10/10.
Rabbit of Seville (1949, C. Jones): On the run from a gun-toting Elmer Fudd, Bugs ends up as part of an opera production. Bugs performs and lures Elmer into the piece as well. 8/10.
DVD TWO – Best of Daffy and Porky (total 100 minutes, three seconds):
Duck Amuck (1951, C. Jones - C, M): Worlds collide as the animators mess with Daffy. They send him to random locations, alter his voice, and perform other cruel experiments on the Duck. 9/10.
Dough for the Do-Do (1948, I. Freleng): Porky Pig travels the world to hunt the do-do bird. His quest takes him to the African nation of Wackyland, a terribly surreal place. 8/10.
Drip-Along Daffy (1950, C. Jones - C, M): Daffy takes the role of western hero, with Porky as his sidekick. They go to the lawless community of Snake-bite Center and try to bring order to it. 6/10.
Scaredy Cat (1947, C. Jones): Porky and Sylvester move into a spooky new home. The pig takes it in stride, but the cat freaks, especially when he sees a scary execution squad of mice. Sylvester works to save Porky from these attacks, but his owner misinterprets the feline’s motives. 7/10.
The Ducksters (1949, C. Jones): Daffy hosts a radio game show called Truth or (Scream!!!!). Porky suffers through the sadistic consequences for wrong answers. 8/10.
The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1948, C. Jones - C, M): Daffy tires of being typecast as a comedic actor. He touts himself as the lead in the action flick “The Scarlet Pumpernickel”. 7/10.
Yankee Doodle Daffy (1943, I. Freleng): Porky Pig runs a production company and he gets cornered by Daffy. The Duck wants the Pig to hear his young client, Sleepy Lagoon. 10/10.
Porky Chops (1947, A. Davis): A squirrel from Brooklyn takes a vacation in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, lumberjack Porky tries to chop down the tree in which the squirrel takes his rest. Conflicts ensue. 5/10.
Wearing of the Grin (1950, C. Jones - C): Stuck in an Irish downpour, Porky Pig seeks refuge in a spooky castle. There he finds himself tormented by leprechauns. 4/10.
Deduce, You Say (1956, C. Jones): Daffy takes on the role of Dorlock Holmes as he solves “The Case of the Shropshire Slasher”. Porky acts as his sidekick Watkins. 7/10.
Boobs in the Woods (1948, R. McKimson): Porky goes back to nature to do some painting. Daffy teases and taunts the Pig. 10/10.
Golden Yeggs (1949, I. Freleng): Porky runs a chicken ranch and discovers that one of them laid a golden egg. The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg wants no part of this deal, so he pins it on Daffy. The Duck becomes famous and inspires involvement from shady mobsters. 7/10.
Rabbit Fire (1950, C. Jones - M): Elmer Fudd hunts rabbits, and Daffy Duck does his best to lead the little guy to Bugs’ door. The Bunny fends off the attacks and tries to send Fudd to bag Daffy instead. 9/10.
Duck Dodgers In the 24 1/2th Century (1952, C. Jones - C): Daffy appears as space hero Duck Dodgers and gets the assignment to find the last location of the shaving cream atom. When he arrives on Planet X, he must compete with Marvin the Martian for local supremacy. 8/10.
DVD THREE – Looney Tunes All Stars (total 102 minutes, 57 seconds):
Elmer’s Candid Camera (1940, C. Jones): Elmer Fudd decides to take up wildlife photography. Along the way he runs into troubles with a rabbit who looks and acts – but doesn’t sound – like a certain legendary Bunny. 9/10.
Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears (1944, C.Jones - C): The Three Bears lack for food, but they plan to trap – and apparently eat – Goldilocks. With only carrots as bait, they instead lure Bugs. He then needs to evade their attempts to bag him. 10/10.
Fast and Furry-ous (1948, C. Jones - C): Wile E. Coyote tries to trap the Road Runner so he can eat him. Violence ensues. 5/10.
Hair-Raising Hare (1945, C. Jones - C): An evil scientist tries to lure Bugs to his lair so his horrible monster can eat the rabbit. Naturally, Bugs prefers to avoid this fate. 10/10.
The Awful Orphan (1947, C. Jones): A stray dog tries to find a home. Porky Pig wants a canary, but this pooch tries to horn his way into Porky’s abode. 9/10.
Haredevil Hare (1947, C. Jones - C): As scientists send a rocket into space, they recruit Bugs to man it against his will – until he sees the mass of carrots stocked in it, that is. He soon lands on the moon, where he attempts to stop a mission by Marvin the Martian to destroy the Earth. 10/10.
For Scent-imental Reasons (1948, C. Jones - C): The owner of Parisian perfumery finds a skunk in his store. He sends a cat to try to remove Pepe le Pew from the premises, but the amorous skunk takes the feline for another of his species and attempts to romance her. 6/10.
Frigid Hare (1948, C. Jones): On the way to Miami Beach, Bugs takes a wrong turn and ends up at the South Pole. Before he heads back, he helps a tiny penguin survive the pursuit of an Eskimo. 7/10.
The Hypo-Condri-Cat (1949, C. Jones): A pair of mice named Bert and Hubie sneak into a home filled with cheese. Unfortunately for them, a cat resides there who attempts to evict them. Fortunately for them, he’s a hypochondriac, so they torture him to get their own way. 6/10.
Baton Bunny (1958, C. Jones and Abe Levitow - M): Bugs conducts the Warner Bros. Symphony Orchestra in a performance of “Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna” by Franz von Suppe. Silliness ensues. 4/10.
Feed the Kitty (1951, C. Jones - C): A kitten charms a tough dog named Marc Anthony. However, his owner warns him not to bring anything more into the home, so he needs to hide his new friend, a task that becomes difficult due to the kitty’s innocent mischief. 8/10.
Don’t Give Up the Sheep (1951, C. Jones): Apparently tired of his constant humiliation at the hands of the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote attempts to steal and eat sheep. Ralph the sheepdog tries to stop him. 6/10.
Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid (1942, R. Clampett - C): A mama vulture sounds out her kids to fetch some eats. Slow-witted Killer resists but she forces him to at least bag a little rabbit. He attempts to sic Bugs, with the usual results. 9/10.
Tortoise Wins By a Hare (1943, R. Clampett): Bugs races Cecil Turtle and loses for the umpteenth time. He tires of this trend and decides to investigate the trick behind Cecil’s constant victories. With some new knowledge in hand, Bugs tries again. 10/10.
DVD FOUR – Looney Tunes All Stars (99 minutes, 15 seconds):
Canary Row (1949, I. Freleng - C): Sylvester the Cat spies the caged Tweety Bird living in a hotel across the way. He concocts increasingly complex plans to catch and eat Tweety. He fails. 5/10.
Bunker Hill Bunny (1949, I. Freleng): Set in the 18th century, Bugs defends American soil against Hessian (Yosemite) Sam von Schmamm. Battles ensue. 8/10.
Kit for Cat (1947, I. Freleng): On a cold night, Sylvester finagles his way into the warm home of Elmer Fudd. However, a cute stray kitten does so as well. When Elmer declares he can only keep one of them, Sylvester schemes to get Fudd to evict the youngster. 8/10.
Putty Tat Trouble (1950, I. Freleng - M): When Sylvester attempts to nab Tweety from his nest, the cat discovers competition. Another feline desires to chow on Tweety too, so the pair do battle for the tasty morsel. 6/10.
Bugs and Thugs (1953, I. Freleng): Bugs inadvertently ends up in the getaway car for two bankrobbers. He needs to outwit them to escape their clutches. 7/10.
Canned Feud (1949, I. Freleng - C): Sylvester’s family goes on vacation and leaves him home alone with cans of tuna for survival but no can opener. The house mouse has one, so Sylvester connives to get it from him. 6/10.
Lumber Jerks (1954, I. Freleng): As the Goofy Gophers attempt to move into their new tree, a logging company chops down their home. They attempt to reclaim their property. 7/10.
Speedy Gonzales (1955, I. Freleng - C, M): Sylvester patrols the border and keeps Mexican mice away from American cheese. They recruit Speedy Gonzales to zip past the pussy and nab some illicit tidbits. 4/10.
Tweety’s SOS (1950, I. Freleng - C): Desperate for food, Sylvester spies Tweety on board an ocean liner. He attempts to grab and eat the bird. 7/10.
The Foghorn Leghorn (1947, R. McKimson - C): Henry the Hawk’s dad won’t let the kid go with him to hunt for chickens, so the little guy strikes out on his own. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know what a chicken looks like. He mistakes the dog for a chicken and doesn’t believe Foghorn Leghorn when he claims to be a part of the fowl breed. 9/10.
Daffy Duck Hunt (1947, R. McKimson): Porky Pig goes on a duck hunt. Daffy allows Porky’s hunting dog to catch him as a favor and then needs to escape the Pig abode. 9/10.
Early to Bet (1950, R. McKimson): The Gambling Bug takes a vacation and visits the country. However, when he sees a cat resist a challenge to play cards with a dog, the Bug bites him and inspires gambling mania in the feline. 7/10.
Broken Leghorn (1959, R. McKimson - M): Prissy the chicken finds herself unable to lay an egg. Foghorn Leghorn connives to help her out to shut up the nasty biddies. This backfires when the egg hatches and a rooster appears, as the youngster will compete for Foghorn’s job. 7/10.
Devil May Hare (1953, R. McKimson - C): The Tasmanian Devil comes to Bugs’ neighborhood and attempts to eat the Bunny. However, Bugs uses his wits to trick Taz into going down other paths. 8/10.
When we look at my unscientific assessments of the various shorts, DVD One ends up as the clear winner of the four. Those cartoons averaged a number grade of 8.22, which was almost half a point higher than the second-best set, DVD Three; it received an average score of 7.86. DVD Two ended up in third with a 7.5, while DVD Four was clearly the weakest of the batch with a 7.00.
Of course, your mileage will vary, as my scores showed some of my character biases. Bugs remains my favorite Looney Tunes personality, so it came as no surprise that I most enjoyed the disc devoted to him. I also tended to favor older cartoons, as I prefer the more rough and tumble feel of the early Forties Looney Tunes to the stylized slickness of Fifties shorts.
Nonetheless, the quality remains pretty high throughout all four discs. Nine shorts earned my highest rating of a “10”: “Rabbit Seasoning”, “High-Diving Hare”, “Ballot Box Bunny”, “Yankee Doodle Daffy”, “Boobs in the Woods”, “Tortoise Wins By a Hare”, “Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears”, “Hair-Raising Hare”, and “Haredevil Hare”. Not surprisingly, most star my favorite character, Bugs Bunny. The only one that doesn’t involve Bugs features an early – and more manic – Daffy.
Another seven got grades of five or below: “Speedy Gonzales”, “Fast and Furry-ous”, “Canary Row”, “Porky Chops”, “Wearing of the Grin”, “Rabbit’s Kin”, and “Baton Bunny”. The last two come as the biggest surprise since they star Bugs. I disliked “Rabbit’s Kin” mainly because of the annoying new character Pete Puma. The personality really got on my nerves, and the cartoon seemed like nothing special in any other ways. “Baton Bunny” was a little forced and not a very entertaining visual/musical escapade. Porky appears in a pair as well, and he shows little personality in those two. The others feature Speedy Gonzales, the Road Runner, and Tweety, who aren’t characters I particularly like.
Despite these occasional – and moderate – misfires, the majority of the cartoons seem quite entertaining. Granted, I don’t know if I’d espouse watching them the way I did. I took in all 56 shorts over a two-day period, which is a bit much. Too many of the similarities between shorts pop up when seen in such a short span, and that robs some of them of their impact. I still enjoyed the cartoons, but the shorts start to lose some of their vitality when watched so close together. The absolute highs still worked well, but the lows probably came across as more disappointing via such direct comparison.
Nonetheless, these issues fall into the category of minor gripes. Overall, the shorts of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection seem winning. They lack the visual fluidity and polish of the Disney cartoons, but they possess a life and energy largely absent from Walt’s gang. We admire the Disney shorts, but we don’t always – or even often – laugh at them. On the other hand, the Looney Tunes fail to display animation at its highest level, but they produce some solid laughs. The Golden Collection provides a nice set of cartoons that should please a wide variety of fans.