Judge Maurice Cobbs would like to drop an anvil on Whoopi Goldberg's head.
Our reviews of Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume One (published November 25th, 2003), Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Two (published January 24th, 2005), Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Four (published January 8th, 2007), Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Five (published November 14th, 2007), Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Six (published October 21st, 2008), Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume Two (Blu-ray) (published October 22nd, 2012), Looney Tunes Platinum Edition: Volume One (Blu-ray) Collector's Edition (published November 27th, 2011), and Looney Tunes: The Premiere Collection (published November 10th, 2003) are also available.
Restored. Remastered. Completely uncut and uncensored Looney-ness. Including some home video debuts!
These are the times we live in:
In 1999, a Canadian woman took action with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council against the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Bewitched Bunny," in which Bugs goes toe-to-toe with a hideous witch; at the climax of the cartoon, he magically turns her into a beautiful woman, and then walks off arm-in-arm with her, remarking to the audience in an offhand manner, "Ah sure, I know! But aren't they all witches inside?" The rabbit was exonerated on charges of misogyny.
Also in 1999, Speedy Gonzales was removed from Cartoon Network rotation because of fears that the rapid rodent might be offensive to Hispanics. In response, the Hispanic community—led by the League of Latin American Citizens—demanded the return of their beloved Speedy with the rallying cry "Viva Speedy!" Cartoon Network relented in 2002.
Now, in 2005, Warner Bros. has included a forward to each of the discs in their Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume 3 featuring Whoopi Goldberg, who explains that although everyone can enjoy the Looney Tunes characters, some of the attitudes and stereotypes presented in some of the cartoons are inappropriate today, but to edit or destroy these cartoons would be wrong. No cartoons that could be deemed offensive are included in the collection, and there is no indication that there are plans to include any such cartoons in the future, rendering the forward rather pointless.
Facts of the Case
"Volume Three is for the adult collector and may not be suitable for children," according to the packaging.
"Unfortunately," says Whoopi, brimming over with earnestness, "at that time racial and ethnic differences were caricatured in ways that may have embarrassed and even hurt people of color, women and ethnic groups. These jokes were wrong then and they're wrong today." Thank goodness more enlightened minds rule the roost today. Instead of "people of color" being presented as buffoons and idiots, we have actors who eschew stereotypical behavior, whose on-screen portrayals ooze with dignity, like Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, and Chris Tucker…um…wait…
The point is, right or wrong…what they are is funny. I remember being a kid getting ready for school in the morning, bombed out of my skull on sugary frosted cereal, snorting milk through my nose when Elmer's shotgun used to backfire and he'd look like Al Jolson or something. Then again, I was only a little shaver; I didn't know from political sensibilities and ethnic sensitivity. All I knew was funny; that, and that if you messed with Bugs Bunny, you were cruisin' for a bruisin'. But now I've got Whoopi telling me that I was supposed to have been embarrassed and hurt by that scene and others like it. Had I only known.
What would Bugs Bunny have to say about such cloying neo-sensitivity—the rabbit whose fame is based on puncturing such displays of earnest pompousness with decidedly insensitive vengeance? Would he suddenly appear on the screen, capering around the set to the tune of "Shuffle Off To Buffalo," plant a great big kiss on Whoopi's lips, and shove a stick of dynamite down her pants? Would he do a spot-on impression lampooning, say, Louis Farrakhan or—now this would be funny—Ted Danson in blackface, before squirting her in the face with a seltzer bottle and diving into a convenient rabbit hole? Although the sorely-needed dose of rabbit revenge was fun to fantasize about, it never materialized, reminding me with jarring force that the golden age of Looney Tunes has long passed us by—a product of their times, indeed. Whoopi's condescending extra very special foreword had me hoping for the best—would they dare to include such now-forbidden classics as "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs" or "All This and Rabbit Stew"? Alas, a perusal of the listing of featured shorts confirms my suspicion that our charity and tolerance towards our forefathers' foibles extends only so far: "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips" and "Tin Pan Alley Cats" are nowhere to be found.
No, today's highly enlightened collective mentality dictates that such cartoons must remain pariahs, and we fans of classic cartoons—children that we are, unable to process such verboten humor—must accept the word of our betters, like Ted Turner, when they tell us that we are better off having never seen them at all. Certainly, if The Rabbit himself were running things, "Coal Black"—along with most of the rest of Warner Bros.' notorious "Censored 11"—would be readily available, in full and uncut, if for no other reason than simply for the furor they would cause among people with too much time on their hands and an overabundance of righteous indignation. There cannot be any question as to the outstanding quality of cartoons such as "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs"—even as acknowledged by the entire cast of black singers and musicians who had a hand in creating it—and it seems a shame that we have been denied even the opportunity to even experience this cartoon and others like it restored and digitally remastered; still, the Looney Tunes being what they are, even without those now-incendiary entries in the series, there's enough material here to make mental wrecks of activists of assorted types. These characters are vulgar, smoke like chimneys, drink like fish, and will pull a gun on you at the drop of a hat. Even in the golden era of animation, what other cartoons would show a tough little baby teething on the business end of a loaded gun as a gag?
Of course, therein lies the basis of their appeal. These characters (and their creators) display such a blatant disregard for authority, such a sneering contempt for the self-righteous, the pompous and the moronic, such a passion for the extreme and the bizarre, straining to burst beyond the limits of insanity and in some cases, even the limits of good taste, that they are representative of the very best qualities of the American spirit—or rather, the American spirit as it once was. Of course there was no way of knowing that the sort of self-important, humorless critter that Bugs and company delighted in torturing and lampooning would grow in number to become the dominant species—in a world where half of everything said by anyone is not only considered offensive to someone but actionable in court as well, and litigation has become the new national pastime, there is no place for the outlandish, outrageous and decidedly insensitive Bugs Bunny and friends. Which may explain why the best we can get from these characters nowadays are sickeningly sweet Tweety Bird T-shirts and these horrific Loonytics: Unleashed.
Whoopi Goldberg's annoying and jejune attempt to assure us that the folks at Warner Bros. aren't racists after all is really the only blight on this otherwise splendid offering of choice Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts and classic oddities; in fact, Whoopi's little foreword is even more of a mystery after consuming this smorgasbord of wackiness, since none of the shorts come anywhere near being offensive—except, of course, to po' white folks, but they don't have a special interest group, so who gives a damn? Perhaps they should have had Whoopi show up from time to time, pop-up video-style, to illustrate what should be considered socially unacceptable for the benefit of my small piggy brain. On the other hand, maybe this is some sort of timid "test the waters" thing—maybe the execs who decide these things are slowly managing to grow a pair, and maybe in some far future Golden Collection release, we'll be graced with those oh-so-delightfully insensitive and riotously un-PC classics. For now, we must content ourselves with this slate of outstanding animation—there is no adversity without comfort.
As with the two previous sets, Disc One puts Bugs Bunny in the spotlight, showcasing everyone's favorite wascally wabbit with a selection of classic shorts from the character's prime:
• Hare Force (1944)
Longtime fans of Looney Tunes will recognize several notable Bugs Bunny stories in that line-up, including "Hillbilly Hare," which features a square dance sequence that many have come to consider one of the most screamingly funny sequences in all of animation. As far as special features go, this disc offers two that should have any fan of these cartoons salivating: A 10-minute exploration of Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble's "Wabbit Season" Trilogy ("Rabbit Fire " (1951) "Rabbit Seasoning" (1952)—both of which are featured on Volume One—and "Duck! Rabbit! Duck!" (1953), making its debut in this collection), and the 1989 documentary Chuck Amuck, which spends nearly an hour with the legendary animator Chuck Jones as he shares inside information on how these beloved cartoons were put together, along with additional insight from the likes of Michael Maltese and Mel Blanc. Also included as curiosities are bridging sequences from The Bugs Bunny Show featuring the "Honey-Mousers" characters, and audio recording session from bridging sequences for an episode called "Ball Point Puns." Commentary is provided on six of the featured shorts by animation historians Jerry Beck and Michael Barrier, animators Eddie Fitzgerald and John Kricfalusi, and others, and "Hillbilly Hare" and "Duck! Rabbit! Duck!" have music-and-effects-only tracks.
Disc Two is a delightful gem, a literal cavalcade of stars as various shorts satirizing Hollywood celebrities are collected here:
• Daffy Duck In Hollywood (1938)
In my humble opinion, this disc is worth it's weight in platinum just for "The Mouse That Jack Built," one of my all-time favorite Looney tunes, a hysterical send-up of the Jack Benny show that actually features the unforgettable voices of Benny, sidekick Rochester, Benny's real-life wife Mary Livingston, and others; and "Swooner Crooner," which features a crooning duel between two roosters who bear an uncanny resemblance to Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby as they attempt to entice a gaggle of bobby-socked hens to lay eggs (not that there's any sort of subtext there or anything). Still, it's puzzling that the 1946 spoof of To Have and Have Not, "Bacall to Arms," didn't make the cut (although it was featured as an extra on the DVD release of that movie).
Disc Two continues the deluge of special features goodness with part one of the 1990 Turner Network Television documentary "What's Up, Doc?: A Salute To Bugs Bunny," celebrating Bugs' 50th birthday; this half looks at the early history of Warner Bros. Animation, as well as Bugs' origins, and comes complete with three complete Bugs Bunny features: "A Wild Hare" (1940), "The Heckling Hare" (1941), and "The Big Snooze" (1946). "Fine Tooning: Restoring the Warner Bros. Cartoons" takes us behind the scenes, giving a fascinating look at the process of restoring these cartoons for DVD. And fans of the earliest Warner cartoons will be delighted to see "Bosko, Buddy and the Best of Black and White," which throws focus on the black and white cartoons and characters from 1930—1935; two "From the Vault" offerings—"Sinkin' In The Bathtub" (1930), the very first Looney Tunes cartoon ever produced, and "It's Got Me Again" (1931), the Merrie Melodie that won the studio it's first Academy Award nomination—compliment this featurette quite nicely. In addition, seven of the featured cartoons have commentary tracks (including one with June Foray on "The Honey-Mousers"), two have music-only tacks, and one has a music-and-effects-only track.
Disc Three thrusts Porky Pig (and other porcine characters) into the spotlight, showcasing some of his memorable earlier appearances along with classic pairings with Daffy Duck and Sylvester the Cat:
• I Haven't Got A Hat (1935)
This disc is heavy on black and white cartoons (many argue that this was Porky Pig's heyday), but features two of my favorite Porky cartoons: "Claws for Alarm," in which Porky and a very timid Sylvester must spend the night in a spooky old house, and the poor cat is terrorized by some rather malicious mice as the hapless Porky grows more and more agitated; and "Robin Hood Daffy," in which the inept Daffy tries to convince the incredulous Porky (cast here as Friar Tuck) that he is, in fact, Robin Hood. Also provided is the second half of the "What's Up Doc?" documentary, with two more bonus cartoons: "Hare Raising Hare" (1946) and "Hare Trigger" (1945). The career of director Frank Tashlin is examined in the featurette "Tish Tash: The Animated World of Frank Tashlin." Selections "From the Vault" include an animated wartime lecture on "Point Rationing of Foods"; the 1968 Chuck Jones satire "The Bear Who Wasn't," and a storyborad reel for "Porky's Party," which offers interesting insight on the development of that short. And there are eight commentaries (including one with animator Paul Dini), two music-only tracks and two music-and-effects-only tracks.
Whew! I hope you're not exhausted yet, because we still have Disc Four to get through, which finishes up with a scattershot of classic and lesser-known shorts:
• Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur (1939)
"Super Rabbit"—with the gag ending in which Bugs turns into "a real super-man"—and "Draftee Daffy" rank among my favorites from the wartime era, and the wartime theme is explored even further in the special features, with the storyboard reel for "Falling Hare," and a trio of Private Snafu cartoons "From the Vault": "Spies" (1943), "Rumors" (1943), and "Snafuperman" (1944); and "Looney Tunes Go To War!" takes a brief look at how Warner Bros. animation changed as World War II raged. "The Charm of Stink: On the Scent of Pepe le Pew" examines the skunk who made sexual harassment hilarious, and "Strictly for the Birds:-Tweety and Sylvester's Award Winning Team Up" is a nice compliment to "Birds Anonymous." And in addition to the exhaustive commentary and music-and-effects tracks that you've no doubt come to expect, you also get the 1963 pilot for a proposed TV series, Philbert, a mixture of live action and animation that centers around a cartoonist whose pen-and-ink creation, Philbert, comes to life: in this case, to prevent a romantic entanglement with a particularly nasty woman.
Yeesh! That ought to keep you busy for a while! In case you lost count back there, after all is said and done, you've got over 70 cartoons in this package!
One thing Whoopi and I can agree on is that Porky has never looked better—and that goes for everybody else in this collection, too. These cartoons have been cleaned up and restored so well that the beautiful, rich colors and crisp images nearly brought me to tears. Quite an achievement, especially when you compare them to the washed-out versions usually shown on TV. All in all, this is a spectacular collection, and—like the two that preceded it—make my salivate for even more Looney Tunes fun on DVD.
The Looney Tunes Golden Collection sets have provided us with a dvd glimpse not only of some of the finest and funniest gems of animation existant, but also a glimpse into a freewheeling mindset so uncommon now as to very nearly be extinct. If being condescended to is the price I have to pay to get these cartoons…so be it. I'm even willing to put up with a patronizing lecture from Whoopi Goldberg if it means that I'll eventually get my cartoons—all of my cartoons—uncut, digitally remastered and cleaned up and restored. It's a price I'm willing to pay, to ease corporate skittishness and placate the killjoys. I only hope that this patience will eventually pay off…maybe with Volume 4? I won't hold my breath…but it sure is nice to think about.
Guilty of rampantly condescending behavior, but in light of the overwhelming excellence of this collection, the sentence is suspended. Free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• New Introduction by Whoopi Goldberg
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