"No! It can't be! Why? Why? Why?"—Daffy Duck
Released as sort of an afterthought to the Golden Collection and Premiere Collection of classic Looney Tunes shorts, Stranger Than Fiction and its companion volume, Reality Check, are compilations of Flash cartoons culled from the Warner Brothers Animation website. Which should tell you all you need to know about this uninspired, Z-grade travesty. But for the morbidly curious, read on.
As with Reality Check, the shorts on Stranger Than Fiction are centered around a common theme. Whereas Reality Check spoofed reality TV shows, this collection parodies programs like The X-Files, Unsolved Mysteries, and other supernatural/sci-fi "creature features." Clocking in at a little over an hour, the following cartoons are included:
• Sufferin' Sasquatch
The cartoons in Stranger Than Fiction aren't as constrained by their organizing theme as the Reality Check spoofs, so this collection fares somewhat better than its idiot twin; we at least get coherent storylines instead of jumbles of loosely connected gags. In addition, some of the gags are actually funny, which, by the severely lowered standards set by the abysmal Reality Check, constitutes something of a revelation. Not that these marginally amusing efforts will make anyone forget the Golden Age toons of the 1940s and '50s, or even their pale shadows from the late '60s and '70s, but at least they're not completely awful.
In fact, a couple of the cartoons on this disc make it to within a hair's breadth of "good." "Tech Suppork" provides some tried-and-true computer-geek laffs (as well as the indelible image of the Tasmanian Devil as a grumpy tech support guy) and is the comedic high point of the bunch. "Cube Wars," a sort of "Looney Tunes Meets Office Space," and the pizza-delivery epic "Gone in 30 Minutes," even approach the madcap lunacy of classic Looney Tunes. And the "In Search Of" style mystery story "El Chupacabra!" gets a pass on the strength of its use of the word "tchotchke." (Maybe it's just me, but I find that word hilarious, so much more so when employed by a stuttering Porky Pig.)
There are many such moments of quirky humor scattered throughout Stranger Than Fiction's 19 shorts—such amusing sight gags as Taz at a signing for his book "Things I Like to Eat (Including This Book)" and pizza deliverypig Porky wandering through the famous M.C. Escher staircase painting—but even the laugh-out-loud gags are either driven into the ground (anvil-on-head gag: funny once, funny twice, but not so funny after the 23rd time) or buried beneath jokes so lame as to cause physical discomfort. And even the funniest bits of Stranger Than Fiction are undercut by the atrocious animation, which, as mentioned above, is of the herky-jerky Flash variety, and gives the whole thing a cheap, cut-rate feel that makes even second-tier (but at least fully animated) features like The Lion King II look like Fantasia by comparison.
The one bright spot in both of these collections is the voice acting, which with few exceptions is spot-on and uncannily close to Mel Blanc's original characterizations. (The cast includes the ever-reliable Billy West, of Ren & Stimpy and Futurama fame.) The quality of the performances, in fact, makes the mediocrity of these cartoons all the more depressing, as you're left imagining how marvelous they could have been, had they been produced with even a shred of the comic genius that immortalized the original Looney Tunes.
The video and audio presentations on this DVD are identical to those of Reality Check—lush, vivid colors in a pristine full frame 1.33:1 transfer (marred only by occasional edge shimmering), and a clean, presentable Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Extras are largely the same as well: another pointless "All-New Toon Spots" feature made up entirely of recycled clips; a Looney Tunes Back in Action video game "sneak peek"; trailers for Tom and Jerry Favorites, Mucha Lucha, and Scooby-Doo and the Monster of Mexico; and an exceptionally boring DVD-ROM game, "Whack-An-Alien."
Unlike the execrable Reality Check, Stranger Than Fiction is at least watchable, and at times even halfway amusing. But please don't confuse "not entirely crappy" with an endorsement. If you absolutely must have one of these discs, choose this one. If nothing else, it might amuse the kiddies. But any Looney Tunes fan would be well advised to skip both of these titles.
Stranger Than Fiction is hereby found guilty of crimes against the Looney Tunes legacy, and sentenced to the DVD bargain bin without the possibility of parole.
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