Judge Clark Douglas thinks the folks at Warner Brothers should have saved their ink and just called this set Oscar 'Toons.
Restored, Remastered—And Each Honored by Oscar!
For the many animation buffs out there, Warner Brothers has put together a special compilation package. Cartoons from Warner Brothers, MGM, and the Fleischer studios are all represented by various efforts that either won or were nominated for an Academy Award. The 41 cartoons are spread across three discs, with 15 Oscar winners on Disc One, and 26 nominees on Discs Two and Three.
• "The Milky Way"
• "The Yankee Doodle Mouse"
• "Mouse Trouble"
• "Quiet, Please!"
• "The Cat Concerto"
• "Tweety Pie"
• "The Little Orphan"
• "For Scent-imental Reasons"
• "So Much for So Little"
• "The Two Mouseketeers"
• "Johann Mouse"
• "Speedy Gonzales"
• "Birds Anonymous"
• "Knighty Knight Bugs"
• "The Dot and the Line"
• "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor"
• "Peace on Earth"
• "A Wild Hare"
• "Puss Gets the Boot"
• "Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt"
• "Rhapsody in Rivets"
• "The Night Before Christmas"
• "Blitz Wolf"
• "Pigs in a Polka"
• "Swooner Crooner"
• "Walky Talky Hawky"
• "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse"
• "Mouse Wreckers"
• "Hatch Up Your Troubles"
• "Jerry's Cousin"
• "Little Johnny Jet"
• "Touché, Pussy Cat!"
• "From A to Z-Z-Z-Z"
• "Sandy Claws"
• "Good Will to Men"
• "Tabasco Road"
• "One Droopy Knight"
• "High Note"
• "Nelly's Folly"
• "Now Hear This"
If there's one thing that I learned from watching the Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection, it's that an Academy Award nomination or win does not really indicate any particular level of quality in an animated short. No, this isn't a bad batch of cartoons, but if you've seen a reasonable amount of cartoon classics from Warner Brothers and MGM, you may be shocked at the choices the Academy made. "Duck Amuck" isn't among these titles, there's no "One Froggy Evening," no "What's Opera, Doc?" Instead, we have a lot of perfectly ordinary formulaic shorts mixed in with some offbeat experimental efforts. So, don't let the "Academy Award" label fool you into thinking that this is a highlight reel, because it most certainly isn't. However, it is quite an interesting collection for animation buffs out there, and the cartoons (aided by some informative supplements) help provide historical perspective on the Academy's feelings about animation during the 1940s and 1950s. In addition, it's a rare opportunity to see Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Superman, Popeye, and numerous other characters in the same collection.
Let's begin by taking a look at the 15 winners, presented on the first disc. No less than six of these shorts are centered on that much-loved cat and mouse team, Tom and Jerry. Despite the considerable technical qualities of the shorts, most of these tend to be quite typical. The one that does manage to really stand out is "The Cat Concerto," a tremendously funny and inventive musical short. However, the documentary hints that this one may have borrowed liberally from the Bugs Bunny short "Rhapsody Rabbit"…or perhaps it was the other way around. Regardless, it's quite good. The Sylvester-and-Tweety shorts here also feel quite ordinary; the same can be said of the shorts featuring Bugs Bunny, Pepe Le Pew, and Speedy Gonzales. As for the shorts not featuring famous characters, "The Milky Way" is a charming little effort with some inventive visuals, and Chuck Jones' "The Dot and the Line" is a minor masterpiece (easily the most worthy of the winners here).
Things tend to be a little less predictable and diverse among the nominees. Disc Two begins by offering one of the few color Popeye cartoons, "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor." It's a fun effort, and so is the wildly cheesy (but visually vivid) appearance of "Superman." Things turn very serious in the post-apocalyptic warning "Peace on Earth," which disconcertingly blends Capra-esque sentiment with horrifying cartoon images of nuclear destruction. The cartoon was remade as "Good Will to Men," which makes an appearance on Disc Three. Both are interesting, though they both push the point much too hard. Also strange is "Blitz Wolf," an admittedly very funny short that is at times unfortunately disturbingly aggressive in its hatred for the enemy (a sign reading "No Dogs Allowed" is replaced by a sign reading "No Japs Allowed"). Tom and Jerry continue to appear regularly on this disc and on the third one.
Aside from the thoroughly-represented cat and mouse, Disc Three is highlighted by some more remarkably inventive Chuck Jones efforts. The giraffe tabloid scandal spoof "Nelly's Folly" uses some surprising visual techniques (and controversial storytelling ideas). "High Note" is another visually splendid one, as musical notes bustle about attempting to stage a performance of "The Blue Danube." The best one is "Now Hear This," a terrifically original short that uses all kinds of sound effects and odd noises in telling the story of a man who hears strange noises when he uses the devil's horn as a hearing aid. There's also a very funny Droopy short called "One Droopy Knight" and a rather good tale about an airplane, "Little Johnny Jet."
Supplements are quite generous here, about on par with the material provided in the Golden Collection sets. There are a total of 14 commentary tracks from various animation experts, all of which are quite compelling and provide quick histories of some of the more interesting cartoons. There are also some music-only tracks on select shorts, if you're into such things. Then, there's a bonus short called "What's Cookin', Doc?" featuring Bugs Bunny at the Academy Awards. It's okay, but nowhere near the best Bugs cartoons. The real treat here is an hour-long documentary called "Drawn for Glory: Animation's Triumph at the Oscars." It features pretty much all the same experts who appear on the commentaries, and is narrated by Bonnie Hunt. The documentary appropriately pays tribute to the cartoons nominated by the Academy Awards, but also points out the political and artistic differences that prevented so many truly great shorts from being recognized. It's an excellent doc that is essential viewing for anyone who picks up this set. Also, the good folks a Warner Brothers have done a typically strong job with the restoration of these shorts…they all look and sound excellent, with a minimal amount of distortion and flecks. If you've seen their work on the Golden Collection releases, you know what to expect.
While it's certainly nice to have these cartoons in a collection devoted to
Oscar-winners and nominees, I suspect that it will have limited appeal to anyone
who isn't a diehard animation fan. Many of these shorts have been previously
released on other collections (The Tom and Jerry Spotlight collections,
The Looney Tunes Goldencollections, as well as extras on actor boxes,
such as the ones devoted to James Cagney and Doris Day), so you're not really
getting a very large amount of exclusive material by purchasing this set.
Considering that these shorts aren't exactly the artistic pinnacle of their
creators, it can't be treated as a "greatest hits compilation,"
either. If you're going to buy the set, you're pretty much going to have to be
purchasing it for the few exclusive cartoons and for the engaging historical
perspective provided by the three hours of bonus features. The collection is
well-packaged and presented, and it delivers precisely what it promises, but
beware of the aforementioned liabilities before spending your 40 bucks.
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