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Thursday, January 13, 2011

LOONEY TUNES SUPER STARS: FOGHORN LEGHORN & FRIENDS -- DVD review by porfle


One of my favorite Warner Brothers cartoon characters of all time, the blustery Southern-fried rooster Foghorn Leghorn, gets the spotlight in LOONEY TUNES SUPER STARS: FOGHORN LEGHORN & FRIENDS.  This set contains nine of his most raucous comedies along with six cartoons featuring other characters both well-known and obscure.

All but two of these shorts are directed by creator Robert McKimson, a Warner Brothers regular who was a master of comic timing and the staging of complex, rapid-fire gags.  Another master of his craft, voice legend Mel Blanc, performs the role of Foghorn in addition to several others.  Based mainly on a Southern politician character named "Senator Claghorn" from the old Fred Allen radio show, the oversized rooster is known for familiar lines such as "That's a joke, son" and "What--I say, what's goin' on here?", along with variations of the song "Camptown Ladies."

While Foghorn's screen appearances spanned a period from 1946-64, this set consists mainly of shorts from the 50s.  This was a time in which the Warner Brothers cartoons maintained much of the quality and creativity of their earlier output (which finally fizzled out in the 60s) while beginning to experiment with more stylized backgrounds. 

In 1959's "Crockett-Doodle-Do", probably the most extreme example, the modern-art influence is particularly apparent in the angular, almost abstract settings, although character design remains much the same.  Farther on into the early 60s, however, the artists seem to have reined in this look in favor of a more familiar style.
 

The first cartoon in the set, "All Fowled Up" (1955), introduces us to the hilarious ongoing feud between Foghorn and Barnyard Dawg, whose job is to guard the chickens from predators.  Foghorn struts casually up to the doghouse singing his familiar "doo-dah, doo-dah" song, lifts the sleeping dog out of his house by the tail, and gives him several swift whacks on the rear with a board.  The enraged dog then chases him until the rope on his collar snaps taut and jerks him off his feet.  The war now fully under way again, both characters engage in increasingly complex tit-for-tat attacks with Foghorn's efforts usually backfiring in the end. 

Often various predatory animals will get into the act, prompting the two adversaries to either join forces or use the new character against each other.  In "Fox Terror" we meet a chicken-stealing fox whose wily methods are eventually adopted by Foghorn and Dawg to drive him away.  Both "All Fowled Up" and 1961's "Strangled Eggs" feature the scrappy little chicken hawk Henry, who is determined to eat a chicken even if it's ten times bigger than he is. 

"Weasel Stop" (1956) and "Weasel While You Work" (1958) are showcases for a manic, poultry-starved weasel known for his breathy catchphrase "yeah-yeah-yeah!"  The final Foghorn Leghorn cartoon, 1963's "Banty Raids", introduces an amorous beatnik rooster who moves in on Foghorn's territory and ends with a punchline straight out of Billy Wilder's SOME LIKE IT HOT.

Other plots revolve around Foghorn's attempts to woo the widow Miss Prissy and move into her cozy coop.  In "Little Boy Boo" (1954) and "Crockett-Doodle-Do", this is complicated by the presence of Miss Prissy's bookworm son Egghead, Jr., probably the funniest recurring guest character in the entire series.  Foghorn's efforts to teach the studious little chicken things like sports and woodcraft invariably end up with him getting clobbered by a baseball bat, blown up by chemicals mixed in the boy's chemistry set, or zapped by lighting when Egghead, Jr. nonchalantly uses some dry ice and a paper airplane to create a thundercloud over Foghorn's head.
 

The remaining shorts in the set are a mixed bag.  "Gopher Broke" (1958) stars those effeminate English dandies the Goofy Gophers in an amusing tale which pits them against Barnyard Dawg as they try to reclaim their vegetables from the barn after they've been harvested.  Along with "Weasel While You Work", this short suffers from a bad library score due to (according to Wikipedia) a musicians' strike in 1958, but the artwork and gags are good.

"A Mutt in a Rut" (1960) stars Elmer Fudd and his dog, who mistakenly believes that his master is taking him hunting in order to kill him because he's getting old.  "Mouse-Placed Kitten" (1959), one of my favorite WB one-shot cartoons, is about a mouse couple who suddenly find themselves the foster parents of a new kitten.  "Cheese It, the Cat!" (1957) features "The Honey-Mousers" in a spoof of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney's famous comedy characters, reimagined as mice trying to outwit a wary housecat.

The final two cartoons in the set, "Two Crows from Tacos" and "Crows' Feat" (guest-starring Elmer Fudd), are the main reason for the heavy-handed, politically-correct disclaimer which appears at the beginning of the disc (and automatically makes me feel guilty for watching it).  Warner Brothers, anxious to distance themselves from these depictions of two crows as stereotypical Mexican peasants, take care in this foreword to stress that they're presenting these cartoons for their historical value and "because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming that these prejudices never existed...these depictions were wrong then and are wrong today." 

Anyway, I didn't consider them all that offensive myself, but I did find these two Friz Freling-directed shorts to be uninspired, unfunny, and rather pointless.  Freling's work here lacks the wit and style of McKimson, with stories that meander aimlessly without any comic drive.

The DVD gives the viewer a choice to watch Foghorn and friends in full screen or matted widescreen, with Dolby Digital sound and subtitles in English and French.  Musical scores for most shorts are by either the great Carl Stalling or the almost-as-good Milt Franklyn, while those done by William Lava and other composers are noticeably inferior.

Fans of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons should find LOONEY TUNES SUPER STARS: FOGHORN LEGHORN & FRIENDS to be a source of pure nostalgic entertainment.  If you're unfamiliar with this character, whom I find funnier than most of WB's more celebrated stars, then boy--I say, boy are you in for a treat. 


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