This four-disc DVD collection is a dream come true for any fan (and really, who isn't one?) of the 1940s, '50s and early '60s Warner Bros. cartoons, which represent the miraculously sustained pinnacle of the animated-comedy art form.
Not only is it a collection of 56 of the funniest, smartest, silliest and wildly inventive shorts in the Looney Tunes library -- all remastered and restored to their original 7-minute lengths (not as they were abbreviated on Saturday morning) -- but it's also absolutely bursting at the seams with bonus features to make any aficionado salivate like Wile E. Coyote.
Almost half the cartoons have available commentary tracks by directors, voice actors or fanatic historians (who, strangely enough, never seem to laugh at the on-screen zaniness). Another dozen or so have music-only audio tracks, which provide amazing insight into just how vital the screwball orchestrations (and sound effects) were to the cartoons they accompanied.
But commentaries are the least of the hours and hours of features, all accessible from the relevant 'toons. You want to know more about the music? There's a documentary for you all about Carl Stalling and his 90-piece orchestra. Interested in the origins and evolution of the characters? Watch "Bugs: A Rabbit for All Seasonings" or "Short-Fuse Shootout: the Small Tale of Yosemite Sam" (who we're told, in no uncertain terms, was based directly on director Friz Freling). Sound effects featurette? Check. Pencil tests? Check.
Features on Mel Blanc and his voice characterizations? Check and check! There are two of them, and they even address the fact that Blanc was not the only voice actor -- although he was the only one who received on-screen credit.
These features include archival interviews and new chats with any surviving animators, the children of those who have passed on, and other unabashed fans from various show-biz walks of life (producer of "The Lion King," film critic Leonard Maltin, Joe Dante, director of "Looney Tunes: Back In Action").
Better yet, two longer documentaries delve into the behind-the-scenes history and influence of the Looney Tunes -- one of which is a superb 1970s special from a news program called "Camera Three," which devoted two episodes to "The Boys from Termite Terrace" (which was the nickname of the shoddy building on the Warner Bros. lot where the cartoonists first worked). This great doc gives credit where it's due (to Tex Avery) for many of the Looney Tunes style trademarks and behaviors, and gives DVD owners a complete appreciation of the restored prints in this collection by letting us see how worn-out the same cartoons were at the time this special was aired.
My only real beef with the extras in this near-perfect DVD effort is that this is the only place Avery is truly given the recognition he deserves for taking the Looney Tunes in the wacky direction that set them apart from the innocuousness of Disney. None of his WB shorts is featured in this collection. I would also like to have gotten a little background on some of the recurring jokes ("I'm only 3 1/2 years old!"), the pop-culture references that aren't recognizable to today's audiences, and the inspiration behind the surrealism that was a large part of many of Warner Bros.' best shorts. But there is a Volume 2 of this collection coming in November, so WB certainly saved some goodies for that box set.
Also included is a Cartoon Network special entitled "Tune Heads: The Lost Cartoons," including behind-the-scenes footage from the Termite Terrace days and featuring rare shorts like "Bosko the Talk-ink Kid" (the short that lead to the creation of the Looney Tunes franchise), an episode of "Private Snafu" (a cartoon series co-created by Dr. Seuss for the military), and some other cartoons not shown in 70 years.
And there are at least half a dozen other goodies I haven't mentioned.
But what about the cartoons themselves? The Golden Collection is a great sampling of favorite cartoons ("Feed the Kitty," in which a bulldog adopts a precious, cuddly kitten), weirdest cartoons ("Duck Amuck," in which Daffy is picked on by the animator), old cartoons ("Elmer's Candid Camera," an early Bugs-and-Elmer) and later cartoons ("Speedy Gonzales"). But it's clearly not a "best of" because it's missing so many notable top-notch episodes, which are sure to follow in later volumes. This collection is also disproportionately from director Chuck Jones -- but then, Jones was far and away the biggest influence on the Looney Tunes style after Tex Avery, who left for MGM early on.
The four discs are categorized by character, and with a few exceptions ("Rabbit's Kin" with lame antagonist Pete Puma) every cartoon in this collection is a sidesplitting gem.
Disc One is all Bugs Bunny, including "Baseball Bugs" (the wabbit takes on an entire ball team of thugs single-handedly), "High Diving Hare" (vs. Yosemite Sam), "Water, Water Every Hare" (with the hairy red monster in high-tops) and the opera parody "The Rabbit of Seville."
Disc Two is dedicated to Daffy and Porky, with highlights like "Drip-Along Daffy" (a Western featuring both characters and glass-chewing outlaw Nasty Canasta) and, of course, "Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century."
Discs Three and Four are a smattering of Bugs, Sylvester (and Tweety), Pepe LePew, Foghorn Leghorn, and Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner -- but unfortunately no talking Coyote episodes ("Super-Genius!").
(NOTE: WB also offers a less comprehensive, 2-disc "Premiere Collection," which consists of the cartoons from discs 3 and 4 of this collection, but does not include any bonus features. It's also out of whack -- the 'toons are not in the order they appear either on the box or in the liner notes.)
So well-thought-out is this collection that it's even a dream to navigate, offering pictorial references for each short (oh yeah, it's that one!) and access to the commentaries, music-only tracks and featurettes from the menu of shorts. Alternatively, you can access those bonus features through their own Features menu.
SOUND & PICTURE
The prints have been cleaned up nicely, but the imperfections in the ink themselves are still there in all their charm, and thankfully the sound hasn't been remastered, so the cartoons are still in glorious mono.
DUBS: French (you can watch Pepe LePew in his native language!)
SUBS: English, French, Spanish
OVERALL RATING: ***1/2
-- By Rob Blackwelder