“Special Editions” and “Collector’s Editions” are bandied about all the time in the DVD world, and it’s easy to take them as genuinely bland terms that have no meaning nowadays: some studios seem to think that you can plop in a fluff piece, a commentary, some other stuff, spread it over two-discs, and call it a “Special Edition”. Rare is that DVD that not only lives up to the label “Special Edition”, but is such a spectacular, breathtaking achievement that it deserves to be in everybody’s DVD collection.
The Looney Tunes Golden Collection is not just a candidate for best “animation” DVD of the Year. I’d go so far as to say that this is a candidate for DVD of the Year, period. It not only lives up to the hype, but surpasses it; it is made with the genuine love, care, and expertise that these shorts absolutely deserve.
Let’s start with the shorts themselves. The selection has drawn complaints from some, most notably the omission of “What’s Opera, Doc?” and “One Froggy Evening”. Even though these are good shorts, the other selections on the set more than make up from it. From old standbys such as “Duck Dodgers in the 24th and 1/2 Century” and “Fast and Furry-Ous”, to those that are slightly less well-known such as “Baseball Bugs”, to dark horse selections “Canned Feud” and “Early to Bet,” each cartoon has SOMETHING to recommend it. You won’t find yourself grievously missing any that have been left out once you actually watch the set.
Instead, you’ll be too busy gazing at the images. The image quality is nothing short of stunning. All these years, what we have been seeing on television are prints of varying quality, with the Turner-owned pre-1948 cartoons in by far the worst condition. To see the former Turner cartoons that have been remastered for this set is like watching them for the first time — vivid, watercolor-like backgrounds that never stood out before, colors that pop out of the screen, a sharpness that has always been lacking. For the first time, we are actually seeing the real cartoons. Even the Warner-owned post-1948 cartoons, which have never been in bad shape, look beautiful. “Fast and Furry-Ous” is a notable example; what once was a rather drab, dark-looking desert has been revealed as an oasis of color. These cartoons are now truly in Technicolor.
Audio doesn’t take advantage of DVD’s features, such as 5.1 sound or higher fidelity, but it’s the same Carl Stalling scores we know and love. It’s a wise choice by the producers of the disc, because this music is so perfect, so beautiful, that any attempt to alter it in any way would have ruined it. But these are restored to get rid of any tape hiss or effects of age, so even these sound better than they have in years.
And the extras: There is a lot here; you will not be able to watch all this in a day. But none of the extras is filler, nor is there anything here that repeats itself or becomes a chore to wade through. Everything here is worth experiencing.
It’s an impossible task to catalogue all of these extras, but here are the best of them:
Audio Commentaries: Jerry Beck, Michael Barrier, Stan Freberg, and Greg Ford all host audio commentary tracks on 26 of the cartoons in this collection. Barrier has most of them, and his are unfortunately the most disappointing: there is a wealth of information about the cartoons culled from extensive audio interviews with the crew, but that eliminates any spontaniety and doesn’t make it seem like he’s watching it with us, like the best audio commentaries. Beck, Freberg, and Ford all communicate this spontaneity, and by far theirs are the best commentaries on the disc.
Behind the Tunes: Short little documentaries on characters and other important aspects of the Warner cartoons. While they are a little sparse on information — they’re only three minutes on average — they don’t reek of fluff like other short documentaries of this type do and are surprisingly informative for newbies.
Documentaries: Not one, not two, but three documentaries are on this disc. The best one is the newest, “Irreverent Imagination: The Golden Age of Looney Tunes”, which can be found on disc 4. Animators, sons and daughters of those involved, and historians, most notably Beck, chime in with commentary on the major directors and characters, and there is a lot of information here. Also of note is “The Boys from Termite Terrace”, hosted by a very young John Canemaker. It was made in 1975 for the arts series “Camera Three”, and is also the driest of the three documentaries, but it features extensive interviews with Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Mel Blanc. Rounding out the three is the made-for-Cartoon Network special “Toon Heads: The Lost Cartoons”. A survey of the lost animation produced by the WB studio, it is aimed more towards newbies, although the veteran will get a kick out of it.
Miscellaneous: Clips of live action/animated sequences from various WB films featuring Bugs Bunny can be found on Disc 1, as well as a reconstruction of an episode of The Bugs Bunny Show from the 1960s using available elements. Also of interest is the 1991 short “Blooper Bunny”. It is the closest that anyone has come to the classic versions of the characters since the golden days of WB animation, and it is ingeniously funny to boot.
And that’s just scratching the surface; there’s much more that I haven’t covered! It’s list price is around $65, but most places will have it for $45 or $50. It is worth that price, but not just for everything you get.
In the end, what it comes down to is the shorts themselves. And they are as inventive, as funny, and as great as they were in our youth. While watching the shorts in this set, I kept laughing my butt off, often at things I have memorized by heart. And while The Simpsons DVD sets are made for freeze-framing, I encourage all of you to watch a cartoon and then throw it into slo-mo or freeze frame. Each expression, movement, and drawing is as alive as the next, even when NOT in motion.
That’s why these characters and shorts are so beloved: at least for seven minute stretches, they ARE alive, they ARE performers.
And that’s why this set deserves a home in your DVD collection as soon as possible.