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Monday, November 3, 2008

Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection Volume Six DVD Review by Jack T

A companion piece to the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume Six, the sixth volume of the Spotlight Collection is geared towards general audiences rather than adult collectors. While the Spotlight Collection Volume Six consists of “child safe” shorts from the sixth volume Golden Collection, it also contains more kid-friendly fare from the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two.

Presented on two discs are 30 animated short subjects from the vaults at Warner Bros.

Disc one consists of:

Baby Buggy Bunny (Chuck Jones, 1954) has “Baby” Finster robbing a bank and accidentally dropping the loot in Bugs Bunny’s rabbit-hole. Finster tries to retrieve it with the expected results. The UPA style has already begun to creep in at this point, to the dismay of some cartoon critics.

Broom Stick Bunny (Chuck Jones, 1956) finds Bugs Bunny trick-or-treating until he falls into the clutches of the ugly Witch Hazel (Rocky and Bullwinkle’s June Foray). When Hazel realizes Bugs is a rabbit, he becomes the next ingredient on her potion’s recipe… or so she thinks.

In To Duck… or Not to Duck (Chuck Jones, 1943), Daffy Duck and Elmur Fudd (with his dog, Larrimore) duke it out in the boxing ring, complete with the collusion of the duck referee.

In Birth of a Notion (Robert McKimson, 1947), Daffy Duck convinces dumb house-dog Leopold into staying at his house, under the condition that Daffy doesn’t alert Leopold’s master, Peter Lorre, who “needs a duck’s wishbone” for his experiment. When Daffy catches on, all hell breaks loose.

Crowing Pains (Robert McKimson, 1947) finds Foghorn Leghorn convincing Henery Hawk that Sylvester the Cat is, in actuality, a chicken. A rare appearance of Sylvester with the Foghorn/Henery Hawk combo.

In Raw! Raw! Rooster (Robert McKimson, 1956), Foghorn Leghorn is terrorized by college chum and practical joker, Rhode-Island Red. Surprise! Foghorn’s attempts to rid himself of Red all backfire.

My Favorite Duck (Chuck Jones, 1942). Camper Porky Pig is tortured by Daffy Duck, who takes every opportunity to notify Porky of his $5,000 fine if he kills Daffy out of season.

A green, Jupiterian bird is the focus of Jumpin’ Jupiter (Chuck Jones, 1955), kidnapping Silvester and Porky for his own scientific purposes.

Satan’s Waitin’ (Friz Freling, 1953) is another entry in the Sylvester/Tweety battles, this time with Sylvester spending one of his nine lives and going to kitty hell, which is run by devil dogs (literally!). Needless to say, once he realizes he has eight lives left, he uses them up in no time. Some truly wonderful animation in this one, completely with exquisitely painted backgrounds.

Hook, Line and Stinker (Chuck Jones, 1958) is the thirteenth in the Wile E. Coyote and Road-Runner series. Coyote tries to capture the Roadrunner with various Acme products and consistently fails… as usual.

A Ham in the Role (Robert McKimson, 1949) is a charming one-shot with a Shakespearian dog resigning from Warner Bros. cartoons to be a house-hold ham. His plans are cut short by two gophers (who look and sound suspiciously like Chip and Dale).

Heaven Scent (Chuck Jones, 1956) features Pepe Le Pew up to his usual tricks wooing a black cat who happens to have painted a white streak down her back.

Often an Orphan (Chuck Jones, 1949), has Charlie Dog (who sounds uncannily like Bugs Bunny) trying to convince Porky that he needs to adopt him.

Dog Gone South (Chuck Jones, 1950) features another dog that sounds like Bugs Bunny. In fact, it’s the exact same short as Often an Orphan, with Porky being replaced by a southern colonel and the addition of a bull dog.

By Word of Mouse (Friz Freling, 1954) is a short obviously taking cue from the rash of UPA shorts released around the same time, one of three funded by the Alfred P. Sloane Foundation to explain economics. In this one, a German mouse goes to America , where his US counterpart explains to him the free market system while being chased by Sylvester Cat. Followed by Heir-conditioned and Yankee Dood It, shorts both available in the special features.

Special features included on disc one are four bonus shorts:

Heir-Conditioned (Friz Freling, 1955) – the second installment of the Sloane shorts, this time featuring Sylvester, Tweety and Elmur Fudd, playing out and discussing an open market. As riveting as I’m sure you’re all thinking.

Rabbit Rampage (Chuck Jones, 1955). An amusing short about Bugs Bunny arguing with an animator (off camera) about how he should be drawn.

Sniffles Takes a Trip (Chuck Jones, 1940) is an interesting vehicle for Sniffles the Mouse, a character that did about a dozen shorts at WB, but never seemed to go anywhere. This one about him getting scared in the woods is a good example of why. The style is much more reminiscent of what Disney was doing at the time (and even a few years earlier).

Yankee Dood It (Friz Freling, 1956) – the third and final entry in the Sloane shorts has Elmur Fudd as the king of the Elves, except that the Elves are industrial shoe makers. While these shorts get their message across, they’re not particularly funny or interesting, in this reviewer’s opinion.

Disc Two consists of:

Rocket-Bye Baby (Chuck Jones, 1956). A very UPAish short about a Martian-Earth baby switch-up. June Foray is the voice of the wife.

Fresh Airedale (Chuck Jones, 1945). A double-faced dog takes credit for snagging burglars when it is, in reality, the cat that chases them away. A bizarre morality tale for a cartoon.

It’s Hummer Time (Robert McKimson, 1950). Cat chases hummingbird, lands on bulldog, expected results. Again and again.

Much Ado about Nutting (Chuck Jones, 1953). A squirrel has trouble cracking open a coconut he thinks is a giant nut.

Goo Goo Goliath (Friz Freling, 1954). A play on “Jack and the Beanstalk,” with a tipsy stork delivering an over-grown baby to normal-sized parents.

The Draft Horse (Chuck Jones, 1942) finds a talking horse trying to enlist in the Army, but changes his mind when he sees what war is really about.

Lights Fantastic (Friz Freling, 1942). A wonderful tour of the lights of Times Square , seen through the WB cartoons’ eyes. Fantastic footage of Times Square in color is included. Look for a risqué pin-up near the end of the short!

Rookie Revue (Friz Freling, 1941). One shot gags on an army base. A product of its time, Rookie Revue has some fairly realistic human renderings.

The Weakly Reporter (Chuck Jones, 1944). A parody of WWII newsreels.

Wild Wife (Robert McKimson, 1954). A bossy husband gets an earful from his wife, who proceeds to tell him what she does throughout her day.

The Hole Idea (Robert McKimson, 1955). A classic. Prof. Calvin Q. Calculus invents a portable hole. Mayhem ensues!

Page Miss Glory (Leadora Congdon, 1936) is an art deco masterpiece. A rube bellhop dreams he’s the head bellboy in a great metropolitan hotel. Song is a Dubin and Warren number from a Marion Davies film from the previous year. In glorious Technicolor!

Now Hear This (Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble, 1962). While I’m not particularly a fan of the later WB cartoons, this abstract art short is quite fascinating. No description is necessary, other than it’s a totally stream of consciousness-induced short about sound.

Norman Normal (Alex Lovy, 1968). Warner Bros. cartoons go psychedelic, or so the start of the short would make you think. The short is actually a psychological view of the business and social world with Norman Normal being the “square” centerpiece. Quite possibly my favorite cartoon in the set.

A Cartoonist’s Nightmare (Jack King, 1935) — part of the short-lived “Beans” series, an animator becomes trapped by the villains of his own creation. Beans comes to the rescue. A wonderful short, the only black and white one in the set.

Special features included on disc two are four bonus shorts:

Wild Wild World (Robert McKimson, 1960) is a “television” travelogue showing an “actual film” of primitive cavemen. This particular transfer seemed to be an older one, showing some ghosting artifacts, probably from a film chain.

Punch Trunk (Chuck Jones, 1953). An elephant, five inches tall, runs amok in the city. Also seems to be an older transfer.

Bartholomew Versus the Wheel (Robert McKimson, 1964). After a traumatic experience with a tricycle, a dog steals and buries wheels of all shapes and sizes.

Sleepy Time Possum (Robert McKimson, 1951). Ma and Pa Possum can’t seem to figure out their tree-hanging son. Another older transfer.

Trailers: Three trailers are included for PEANUTS Holiday, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and Smurfs Season 1, Vol. 2.

The transfers on each of the cartoons are colorful, sharp and vibrant, with little to no noise reduction and a natural amount of grain. Birth of a Notion, Raw! Raw! Rooster, My Favorite Duck, Satan’s Waitin’, Often an Orphan, Yankee Dood It, Sniffles Takes a Trip, Fresh Airedale and Sleepy Time Possum are presented with the re-issue “Blue Ribbon” opening titles, some of them replacing the original titles.

All of the transfers are presented full-frame 1.33:1, with the opening titles being window-boxed at 1.37:1. The reviewer wondered if most of these cartoons, released after 1953, shouldn’t be shown wide-screen. In either case, either the transfers for these later shorts are zoomed in on or are not composed thusly, as matting the DVD using the KMPlayer was unsuccessful except for a few. Ironically, the DVD menus are 16x9.

As is usual with most of the studios, the short end of the stick is the audio. Compared to original optical soundtracks of the day, the new “restored” soundtracks seem flattened and without any life, a side-effect of over-processing to remove hiss and other analog anomalies. Unlike the image, which sparkles and seems to have a judicious noise reduction, if any, the sound is hurting on these classic film releases and is an aspect that studios need to be focusing more carefully towards.

Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection Volume Six comes on two discs in a cardboard sleeve with overlap case. I’m not a fan of these overlap cases, particularly if you’re running the shorts out of order—the removal of other discs are necessary and can lead to unnecessary wear of the discs or case. However, the set is a must have for any parent interested in showing their children the best of Looney Tunes with a conscious towards kid-friendly programming, and future generations of animation fans are sure to discover and enjoy these wonderful cartoons through these sets.


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