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Looney Tunes:
Golden Collection v.3

A stern warning appears in small print on the back cover. "Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 3 is intended for the adult collector and may not be suitable for children." Considering that the men at Termite Terrace made these shorts to amuse adults in the first place, that may not be so off-base.

But in the years since Warner Brothers' heyday of the 40s and 50s, children saw these cartoons in endless reruns and took them to heart. As Chuck Jones comments in an included documentary, the result, of course, was the raising of a nation of psychopaths.

For the best of the Looney Tunes are ridiculously subversive. They're also ridiculously fun. This third DVD collection from Warner Brothers' comprehensive attempt to preserve them all has a lot of the fun stuff. The parts for the adult collector may not be so much unsuitable as perplexing for children.

Each disc begins with a cautionary message from Whoopi Goldberg, trying to put the cartoons in an historical context. Political correctness never did sit well with the Looney Tunes, and Goldberg's message is important. Particularly in the oldest cartoons in the collection, casual racism sweeps by almost as fast as …well, Speedy Gonzalez, a character that troubles some.

That's history, and Warner Brothers has wisely chosen not to cover it up. Some of the most historical and possibly offensive cartoons have been placed separately in each disc, requiring some hunting on the menu, as being "From the Vault." These include a series of "Private Snafu" shorts, wartime efforts featuring all kinds of stereotyping that was perfectly acceptable toward the enemy.

Also include in the Vault are the very earliest cartoons, set apart for being simply too nonsensical, plotless and looking too much like just about every other cartoon from 1930. In a new mini-documentary, experts agree that early characters like Bosko and Buddy had no real personality, nor did Warner Brothers see these cartoons as anything other than a way to sell sheet music (hence "Merry Melodies" and "Looney Tunes"). The fact that they look almost identical to what Disney was doing is acknowledged, but to be fair, everybody was doing it that way.

When characters like Porky appeared, then the evolution began. All four discs do a good job of tracing that development without sacrificing entertainment. Apparently, so have the earlier collections, yet every major character manages to make a prototypical appearance here.

Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig make the lions' share of appearances, though Daffy Duck cameos in several of their cartoons. In truth, he makes a better foil for them than a solo character, and some of all of their best shorts are here.

For genre fans, the collection includes "Super-Rabbit" and "Snafuperman," which begs the question as to why Warner Brothers hasn't taken those public domain Fleischer Superman shorts and given them the same beautiful treatment these Looney Tunes have gotten.

And it is beautiful treatment. Mini-documentaries go far to explaining the exhaustive restoration process, and also possibly answered my own question in going over this set: what's the rhyme or reason to these releases?

It may just be that they gather them up and release them as they finish restoration on a block. The first disc celebrates the so-called "Wabbit Season Trilogy" in a feature that includes comments from Paul Dini and Billy West (sometime voice of Bugs). But only one episode of the trilogy makes it onto the disc, "Duck, Rabbit! Duck!"

Maybe the gold is better spread out across collections, so you don't quite notice the gags that repeat. These were, after all, made at a time when nobody could envision these masterpieces being seen over and over again. They were, as Goldberg intones, of their time and made for their time.

That comes apparent in the second disc, "Hollywood Caricatures and Parodies." While "The Honey-Mousers" still strikes a chord thanks to endless reruns of its source material and The Flintstones, "The Mouse That Jack Built" may leave kids wondering who the actual human is at the end of the short. The earliest films on the disc still have gags that work, but they also clearly reference Hollywood stars that have faded from public consciousness. I think Ronald Colman makes a couple of appearances, but mentioning that may have utterly lost you.

To bring it back, and this one goes for the kids, the extras feature a lot of love letters to the men of Termite Terrace. Of course, Chuck Jones has been feted over and over, but a BBC documentary from 1989 does a really good job of showing the man at work. Hearing his philosophizing on animation is comforting and inspiring, and if you have any kids interested in animation as an art form, they need to watch this.

(A nice companion piece for the kids is a Warner-approved book from Chronicle released a couple of months ago. Draw the Looney Tunes: The Warner Bros. Character Design Manual, though featuring many, many WB characters, is actually specifically about how to draw Bugs Bunny, but a sharp budding artist will take the lessons and apply them to other characters. It's a thoroughly illustrated text that really delineates all the elements of good cartoon design - here endeth an overdue side plug for a must-have book.)

Jones isn't the only animator given the spotlight, and rightfully so. The set also includes a documentary on the underrated Frank Tashlin, who shepherded Porky Pig to stardom. All throughout the extras, however, historians and Jones himself gives credit to many unsung heroes of the Looney Tunes, such as layout designer Maurice Noble.

The team also gets acknowledged even after they left Warner Brothers for a while. (That crafty conglomerate has managed to get the rights to a lot of their other work.) In a Vault on Disc Three, "The Bear That Wasn't" is a Looney Tune that isn't, because it was actually done at MGM.

Of further historical Fanboy interest, Disc Four has a failed television pilot, Philbert, a sitcom mixing live-action with one lone animated cartoon character. Check the genealogy: animation by Friz Freleng (who later gave us the Pink Panther) but actually directed by a young upstart named Richard Donner. Yes, the same Richard Donner who directed Superman and hopefully a restored Superman II, who later mentored Geoff Johns and gave his blessing to Bryan Singer for Superman Returns. Thankfully, these falling dominoes are entertaining.

In the end, though, the collection stands or falls on the cartoons, and each disc has at least a handful that will bring back fond memories of your childhood. Which is kind of weird; it's always disconcerting to realize that your childhood was meant for adults.

Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume Three

Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume Two

Looney Tunes - Golden Collection

Derek McCaw


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