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If there's one thing I recall most vividly in my childhood it's the obsession I had towards the hilarious Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies which were created well before I was even born. No matter how many times I saw the same cartoon in a repeat I would never tire of them (well, almost never). Other more fancy productions of the day would come and go, but my priority on a Saturday morning or weekday after school was to tune into the telly for another dose of Warner Bros financed animated mayhem.

Oddly enough, the owner of this franchise, Leon Schlesinger, didn't find any of these cartoons at all funny but nonetheless he gave free reign to the animators' imagination as to what they thought the audience would love to see. It literally took decades for all of these characters to be fined tuned and honed to perfection in the way that we adore them now. However, fate took a turn for the worst when Warner Bros decided to terminate the entire animation production house just when the franchise was hitting its peak. But against all odds, the Toons have stood the test of time and is one of the few productions of the past that still sees the light of a cathode-ray tube (along with M.A.S.H. and The Brady Bunch - yikes!)

It must have been tough to decide on which 56 shorts should end up on this 4-disc DVD set, but I believe the right balance has been struck here even though not every one of them is an instant classic. Luckily, nine out of every ten cartoons in this compilation are the post-war creations from 1945 and beyond where the characters are rendered in their most familiar fashion, but the other episodes are much earlier works that were included for their historical value. Basically, it wouldn't have been in Warner Bros best interest to completely blow us away with the Ultimate Edition all at once, so instead a Golden Collection was formed to provide an all-round "edutainment package" for this golden era of animation.

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (4-Disc DVD Set)
All of these shorts are in their full uncut form, but all this really means is that the TV stations would have removed extraneous scenes to shorten the running time from 7 minutes down to about 4 or 5. The most violent thing that you ever saw here was the now typical "explosion causing blackened faces" routine which always resulted in the characters' miraculous recovery for the next scene. However, some of the earlier pre-1945 works such as Tortoise Wins By A Hare had more direct references of the day with Mafia-controlled gambling and sabotage as well as a quadruple suicide that I feel crosses the line of common decency. The US rating moniker of NR (Not Rated) for this Golden Collection 4-disc DVD set is an indication that some discretion should be adhered to by the parents, since this isn't your typical Disney-style collection of kiddies-only animated fare. And unlike the wonderful world of Disney, the Looney Tunes gang were not restricted or censored in their output which gave them a much broader range of madcap situation comedy potential. Their unique filmic contributions are now an essential part of pop culture folklore and this DVD collection should be treated as a valuable historical document.

Here's a list of major characters on this DVD set in their descending order of appearance: Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Sylvester with some nods to Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd, however there are just a couple of token offerings for Foghorn Leghorn, Tweety Bird and Marvin Martian only. Sadly, there is but one instance of Speedy Gonzales, Tasmanian Devil, Pepé Le Pew and the almighty double-act of The Road Runner and Wile E Coyote to all but satisfy the dedicated legion of these fans. It's a shame that there aren't any glimpses of the Six Inch Elephant, the Grey Kangaroo outwitting Sylvester, the Bumbling Puppy scaring the wits out of Ginger Cat or that all-time classic of the Crow / Hunter / Lion & Dinosaur walking to the beat of 9/8 time (all you musicians should know what I'm talking about here).

** Post your comments about which other cartoons you'd like to see that are not available in this set **

Here's hoping that the second DVD edition improves on this original compilation set, but no matter which cartoon we get to watch, they are almost always about outwitting the dumbest numb nut onscreen.

Cartoon Episodes
They say that one picture equals a thousand words and this is certainly true with the 1,700 or so different animated shorts stored in Warner Bros extensive celluloid archive. Basically, it's one thing to name the credit title of each episode, it's another to imagine which cartoon it actually refers to. Therefore I have compiled an image for every episode belonging to this 4-disc DVD set so that hopefully it will help you to recognise which shorts were thrown into this particular pile of pictorial paradise - it also saves me from developing the indispensable brief yet detailed synopsis's (synopsi?) for all of them.

I've also provided a small legend of features that belong to each episode on these DVDs. The first is the year of production, the second is any optional commentary (c) or music-only (m) track, and lastly the directors of the feature in question (mainly that of Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones or Robert McKimson).

Disc 01 - Best of Bugs Bunny
01. Baseball Bugs (1945, Freleng)
02. Rabbit Seasoning (1951, c, m, Jones)
03. Long-Haired Hare (1948, c, Jones)
04. High Diving Hare (1958, c, Freleng)
05. Bully For Bugs (1952, c, Jones)
06. What's Up Doc? (1949, c, m, McKimson)
07. Rabbit's Kin (1951, c, m, McKimson)
08. Water, Water Every Hare (1950, Jones)
09. Big House Bunny (1948, Freleng)
10. Big Top Bunny (1950, c, McKimson)
11. My Bunny Lies Over The Sea (1948, Jones)
12. Wabbit Twouble (1941, c, Clampett)
13. Ballot Box Bunny (1950, Freleng)
14. Rabbit Of Seville (1949, Jones)

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (4-Disc DVD Set)

Disc 02 - Best of Daffy and Porky
01. Duck Amuck (1951, c, m, Jones)
02. Dough for the Do-Do (1958, N/A)
03. Drip-Along Daffy (1950, c, m, Jones)
04. Scaredy Cat (1957, Jones)
05. The Ducksters (1959, Jones)
06. The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1958, c, m, Jones)
07. Yankee Doodle Daffy (1948, Freleng)
08. Porky Chops (1957, Davis)
09. Wearing of the Grin (1950, c, Jones)
10. Deduce, You Say (1956, Jones)
11. Boobs in the Woods (1958, McKimson)
12. Golden Yeggs (1959, Freleng)
13. Rabbit Fire (1950, m, Jones)
14. Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1952, c, m, Jones)

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (4-Disc DVD Set)

Disc 03 - Looney Tunes All Stars
01. Elmer's Candid Camera (1940, Jones)
02. Bugs Bunny and The 3 Bears (1954, c, Jones)
03. Fast and Furry-ous (1958, c, Jones)
04. Hair-Raising Hare (1945, c, Jones)
05. The Awful Orphan (1957, Jones)
06. Haredevil Hare (1957, c, Jones)
07. For Scent-imental Reasons (1958, c, Jones)
08. Frigid Hare (1948, Jones)
09. The Hypo-Chondri-Cat (1949, Jones)
10. Baton Bunny (1958, m, Jones)
11. Feed the Kitty (1951, c, m, Jones)
12. Don't Give Up The Sheep (1951, Jones)
13. Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid (1942, c, Clampett)
14. Tortoise Wins By A Hare (1943, Clampett)

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (4-Disc DVD Set)

Disc 04 - Looney Tunes All Stars
01. Canary Row (1949, c, Freleng)
02. Bunker Hill Bunny (1949, Freleng)
03. Kit for Cat (1947, Freleng)
04. Putty Tat Trouble (1950, m, Freleng)
05. Bugs and Thugs (1953, Freleng)
06. Canned Feud (1949, c, Freleng)
07. Lumber Jerks (1954, Freleng)
08. Speedy Gonzales (1955, c, m, Freleng)
09. Tweety's S.O.S. (1950, c, Freleng)
10. The Foghorn Leghorn (1947, c, McKimson)
11. Daffy Duck Hunt (1947, McKimson)
12. Early to Bet (1950, McKimson)
13. Broken Leghorn (1954, m, McKimson)
14. Devil May Hare (1953, c, McKimson)

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (4-Disc DVD Set)

First impressions count but you really shouldn't judge a book by its cover. As crazy as that sounds, this is how I feel about the video and audio presentations of these "fully restored" animations. Don't worry, everything I have to say about them is good. This DVD reproduction is everything you ever remembered the cartoons to be (and more) when your eyes would go square from squinting into your 14" family TV.

All the flaws and limitations inherent in these cartoons have been faithfully reproduced on this DVD set, but this is actually to its benefit not its detriment. Thankfully there are no artificial colourings or flavourings given to the original image and soundtrack, simply an assurance that no undue digital processing or artefacting is allowed to creep in needlessly. In short, these cartoons have only been restored, not remastered, from the original source elements. This might sound like you aren't getting anything more than what is already available on your thoroughly worn-out VHS copies...but you'd be wrong.

Video
Considering that cell animation was produced with the lowest cost factor in mind meant that things had to be completed in the quickest time possible, although the producers would take much care in trying to eliminate the worst of the offensive defects (by wiping every cell clean before they were filmed etc). However, many imperfections would still poke their pointy head into every cartoon generated, but not in the way you would expect on film. When we talk about live-action movies, dust and dirt particles usually only appear for one or two frames at any one time, but the use of multiple transparent cells often meant that the same piece of crud could crawl its way along an object. The DVD format in particular highlights these (and other) blemishes in all their ugly glory, however Warner Bros was right in leaving these alone otherwise the result would probably have backfired on them so violently that their duck-bill would spin. Thanks to this restoration I have finally worked out the song title which Bugs Bunny plays incorrectly, <font color="#EEEEEE">Endearing Young Charms</font>, resulting in the explosive booby-trap backfiring (literally) on its creators.

The Warner Bros crew have dug up these precious film negative elements and put them through a new telecine transfer process to come up with the sharpest and most detailed image yet for these cartoons. Putting aside all other obvious shortcomings, everything else is spot on, from the rich colour schemes to the deep black levels and ultimately no hint of low-level video noise. Grain is somewhat unnoticeable in mainly the episodes made after 1950 save for a few instances, although I suspect that this particular flaw might have been digitally treated in some subtle way. The focus is also very sharp but only for the post-1948 creations. The earlier productions, however, are less so, most likely because a different camera system and/or film stock was utilised at the time. Even with all these artefacts trying to burst out through the celluloid, the encoding of these images hold very little instances of macro-blocking effects. And depending on the scene in question, it can either be rock-steady or have a slight telecine wobble.

Each frame is rendered as a solid whole rather than relying on the inferior interlacing 3:2 frame pulldown technique to store them, although this is still used electronically in the final showing. It's a wonderful thing to pause on any frame that you wish in order to study the many tricks used to emulate such things as motion blur (either by implementing coloured streaks or even multiple representations of the one limb in action). Despite the faults, you eventually start ignoring all of the errors once you get into the chaotic antics of the characters and various life-threatening objects being hurled at each other constantly. In short though, I'd rather have all these artefacts present because they add an extra dimension to the drawings which breathes life into the action, instead of them looking completely sterile and dull to watch.

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (4-Disc DVD Set)
There are a couple of concerns I have for these DVDs that affects the owners of both the 4:3 (squarish) and 16:9 (widescreen) television sets, but each problem here is only exclusive to one or the other type of telly. For the 4:3 TVs, there is the slight loss of visual information around all sides of the frame for the main feature, although the opening credits are black-bordered (the TV broadcasts were also screened this way) ala the The Blair Witch Project R1 DVD. Many is the time when I can barely see the worker ants or a lighted fuse travelling along on the bottom of the screen, but there is still just enough visual information apparent on the perimeter to convey the activity for you almost subliminally. For the 16:9 TVs though, this bothersome fault is actually eliminated due to the presentation of the full 4:3 over-scanned frame in its entirety. But to view it, there will be the inevitable frustration of selecting the proper 4:3 display adjustment to properly present the image of the cartoons and all extras in their correct ratio, although the menus are rendered in 16:9 format. Still, there are some people out there who will simply insist on either squashing down or cropping the 1.33:1 image just to fill up their 1.78:1 viewing screen, which causes no end of arguments with my friends (being the widescreen & image-proportion fanatic that I am).

All in all, this is a beautiful visual presentation that fails to disappoint on any level (almost).

Audio
If high fidelity and wrap-around surround is your carrot cake, then prepare to be hit by an anvil from on high. Instead, let's get warm and comfortable with the wonderful world of mono. How we ever survived without Pro-Logic or even stereo soundtracks when flares were the king of fashion is beyond me!

The soundtracks (English and French) for these cartoons are of the same restrictive aural quality as they were originally, but now carry an extra warmth if not punch to them that was simply not there when they first came out of those fancy dual-cone TV speakers of old. The sound mix(es) are perfectly suited for standard television output as well as the home cinema system so no one is being left out in the cold here. Dialogue is naturally easy to understand at all times and surprisingly there's little or no hiss present regardless of how antique the entire archive is. There is no use of stereo separation to make every sound bend around each speaker like with any typical episode from The Simpsons. However, it's the inventive sound effects artistry and melodic warpings of Carl Stalling that truly establish the genuinely adventurous and cacophonic aural support (in mono) for all the visual pranks that we witness.

The contrast of these soundtracks is surprisingly greater than what our initial impression allows us to assume when little more than the dialogue is being uttered - all of the zooming sounds, musical cues and especially explosions hold a greater depth of body than should be expected from these recordings, which is very welcome indeed. This rendering gives it a more desirable impact without coming across as overdone or stressed out. There is a continual telltale sign of overload and distortion evident when Mel Blanc goes completely bananas in the recording booth, but any negative aspects of this process are minimal in the final mix and it actually adds a lot of insane characteristics towards the sound in general.

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (4-Disc DVD Set)
Listening to a 90-piece orchestra and completely bizarre sound effects in full 5.1 surround sound would have been immensely pleasurable, but these soundtracks were given another dynamic of their own when threaded through the strained workings of a film negative. The multi-track recordings must still exist today (since we get multiple languages and separated audio tracks here) but it probably would have taken a lot of effort to keep any possible remix as faithful to the final soundtrack as we know it now. It's common knowledge that the creation of a new sound mix from the original elements has often resulted in an unwarranted loss or even boosting of certain fidelities, the end result being a total loss of the desired effect from its initial conception. Therefore, it was better that they were not tampered with in any way.

As before, selected episodes have a separate music-only (and sound effects) track which is equal in quality to the spoken word varieties - you could almost make this into a karaoke track if so desired, but having tried this myself you soon appreciate the incredible vocal skills that Mel Blanc possessed. The English and French soundtracks are also similar in aural output except that the French voices are more pronounced and ultimately a little off-putting compared to the better balanced English ones. Finally, the subtitle streams in English, French and Spanish are practically complete except for a few oversights.

Extras
Oh brother! Just when you thought you could come out of the closet after sifting through all of the supplemental material for the Alien Quadrilogy, along comes Looney Tunes to drive you even more barmy. Whilst it's not quite up to the same complexity level here (obviously), this suite will have animation aficionados drooling for some time to come. These were generated more for the adults in mind or simply anyone who'd be interested in the evolution of the characters and animation methodologies.

Ranging from the archival to the retrospective, it covers a lot of ground in the 50+-year history of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies stable of animated artistry. Each of these discs provide similar extras such as the audio commentaries, music-only tracks (with sound effects), documentaries, featurettes, movie excerpts, TV specials and commercials, production footage, pencil tests and stills galleries. However, many of them exhibit video clips for a lot of the cartoons which have not been included in this particular set, but that just whets the appetite even more for them to appear in the next DVD anthology.

The following paragraphs will summarise the extras that are housed on every DVD, then there's a more specific overview of what's left on each individual DVD. Note that the video utilises the aforementioned 3:2 frame pulldown process which will make all the cartoon references slightly jagged and blurry etc. Unfortunately though, none of this material is subtitled (it may have English Closed Captions tho).

All Discs
The audio commentaries range from historians to past animators, producers and even some of the voice actors. Most comments though come from the author of Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation In Its Golden Age, Michael Barrier, which probably provides the best rundown of anecdotes and social perceptions that these cartoons exhibited in their day. However, his voice is best described as uninterestingly flat and boorish, but this is somewhat superseded by the poorly recorded telephone conversations he has with Chuck Jones and other people directly involved in the creation of these cartoons. Nonetheless, these are much more preferable over the ones made by voice-man Stan Freberg since all he does is repeat his lines over the top of what he already says in the cartoon anyway.

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (4-Disc DVD Set)
The music-only tracks are invaluable to those who love and appreciate the immense impact that music plays in the overall soundtrack of any production (live or animated). Music is often a character unto itself as much as the visuals they represent and these selected audio tracks deliver a whole new aspect into what we already know about the cartoons as we saw them on TV. It may keep the children amused for a minute or two before they get bored from the lack of dialogue, but personally I was astounded at the range of harmonic tonality that Carl Stalling provided over his 25 years of involvement with Looney Tunes. It's a pity that more of the memorable episodes weren't considered for these intriguing music-only tracks, but you will finally understand how much influence Carl's work had on every musical composer and arranger ever since - this is how the other half of filmmaking is created. Most of these music tracks also include sound effects in the mix except for Baton Bunny, Putty Tat Trouble and Speedy Gonzalese, although expect a little added bonus at the beginning of Broken Leghorn (give us more of these, WB!)

The Behind The Tunes featurettes (three for 12 mins total on each disc) are short but decent digests of each major character in the stable of Looney Tunes animation archives. There are talks with such people as Leonard Maltin and Noel (the son of Mel) Blanc as well as other parties that were at one time or another involved with these productions on various levels. They were most likely produced as fillers for between various unspecified Cable TV showings such as those found on the Cartoon Network.

The Boys From Termite Terrace documentary (two 30 min sections split over Discs 01 & 02) may already be familiar to those old enough to have picked their TV Times to bits trying to find anything that related to their beloved Looney Tunes. This ancient documentary was produced in 1975 (11 years after the animation lot was closed down by Warner Bros) which showcases a stack of interviews with the major players involved at the time of its heyday. Many of their techniques are shown from how they developed the animation to recording all the necessary audio elements to finally produce an entertaining seven minutes of animated heaven. One feels that this documentary was created so that future budding animators may draw inspiration from it and that these skills would not vanish off the face of this earth, the irony being that soon after its release, Jones and Freleng were hired back by Warner Bros to consult and direct in future animated productions. The video and audio quality here is rather bland and scratchy which can make for a dull viewing experience if you're not totally switched onto it, but history buffs will have a field day here with the self-analytical discussions of everyone involved.

Then there's the Stills Gallery on a rolling chaptered video which houses fifty various pencil sketches, promotional posters and coloured cells for each disc. The rough pencil drawings in particular give you a good idea as to how the artists were able to impart their ideas for the storyline and animation itself.

Disc 01 - Best of Bugs Bunny
A Greeting From Chuck Jones (4 mins) quickly sums up on the iconic placing that the Looney Tunes has garnered in American history (including the obligatory U.S. flag-waving for its sponsored patriotic commitment to the WWII effort). Next is Bugs Bunny At The Movies (14 mins) exhibiting some Warner Bros animation excerpts of two live movies from 1949: Two Guys From Texas with two famous crooners outdoing each other for the affections of some girly lambs and My Dream is Yours starring Doris Day which predates the same live-animation concept shown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit by about forty years - these really have to be taken in the context that they originally came in. The Bugs Bunny Show is a collation of the regular credits sequences and not-so-familiar bridges that were made for TV channels to fill in their half-hour or full-hour airings of the cartoons themselves. This also includes a rare aural glimpse of a taped dialogue session for the cartoon Astro-Nuts with Mel Blanc in the recording booth.

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (4-Disc DVD Set)
The Blooper Bunny: Bugs Bunny's 51½st Anniversary (8 mins, CGI produced in 1991) is Warner Bros' attempt at manufactured outtakes (with voice actor Jeff Bergman replacing the late great Mel Blanc), however I find this relatively unamusing for reasons that I will address below. There's an optional audio commentary for this short narrated by Greg Ford whom, amongst other persons, was responsible for this and all the other 80s & 90s TV specials made under the Looney Tunes banner. Unfortunately, all of these productions continually made the same mistake of trying to update the humorous (and political) sensibilities of the day whilst ignoring the essential key ingredient of "zany wacky situations" that made the original cartoons so appealing. In the case of the earlier 70s stuff though, the misguided concept was to simply butcher the famous 50s & 60s shorts so that they could fit within the newly generated animation bridges, this then nullified the impact of what was being represented. Admittedly, the desire to remain faithful towards the original animation style was admirable, but what was the point when all that the characters did was wander around doing things in "real life"? Blooper Bunny is a remarkable blend of old analogue and new digital methodologies ala The Lion King, but for Greg Ford to lay claim that it's much funnier than Pixar's later efforts is laughable in itself. There are also two trailers that were first screened in the cinemas of ye oldé days, but one of them slowly loses focus bringing tears to the eyes.

Disc 02 - Best of Daffy and Porky
As summarised above.

Disc 03 - Looney Tunes All Stars
The major extra on this disc is Toon Heads: The Lost Cartoons (45 mins), made by the Cartoon Network television channel, which is a tour de force of rare animated footage from the founders of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. This is an invaluable information resource of the unlikely beginnings and unfortunate end to this remarkable period in film history. It details the evolution of the medium from its humble roots of the silent era to recorded soundtracks and the role that it played in providing educational and entertaining shorts for the allies of World War II. The first few minutes prove a little tiresome with its dinosaur-age of early animation productions, but perseverance pays off with many a gem of genuinely innovative techniques on show. Some of these productions are presented in full whilst others are clipped to suit the documentary. The other extra is From The Vaults containing still-life pencil sketches (schematics) in place of the final animation for Hair-Raising Hare and The Hypo-Chondri-Cat.

Disc 04 - Looney Tunes All Stars
The major extra on this disc is Irreverent Imagination: The Golden Age Of Looney Tunes (51 mins) which is like an extended version of the smaller Behind The Tunes featurettes as mentioned earlier. This provides further insight of the development of animation with current interviews looking back on how everything came to be, there is also some more archival footage not seen in the other documentaries housed in this set. The only drawback is that the over-enthusiastic narrator sounds like he's about to burst out of his pants any minute. The other extra is From The Vaults containing the original black & white short Bosko: The Talk-Ink Kid and then some (silent) moving pencil sketches by animator Virgil Ross (however these ones only exhibit examples from cartoons that are not included in this DVD set).

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (4-Disc DVD Set)
Overall
The packaging of this 4-disc box set is exactly the same gatefold styling as on the R1 Alien Quadrilogy monstrosity complete with the "stickied-up disc holders attached to the cardboard" process, so let's hope that they won't become as unpopular as Warner Bros' earlier snapper cases were before. There are a couple of truncated single & double disc varieties of these Toons for sale too, but I doubt you'd get a better deal from them compared to the full enchilada on this edition. The Looney Tunes: Golden Collection may not appeal to everyone's initial expectations of this set, but there's no arguing that it is a well-rounded summation of the appeal that this unique form of entertainment provided for us.

And for any of you who are considering some of the other DVDs sporting the Looney Tunes moniker, here's one major word of warning; Warner Bros bankrolled a bunch of atrocious Shockwave Flash Looney Tunes parodies which were originally meant for the Internet but are now on DVD. From what little I've read, they were produced by folk who must have hated the Looney Tunes with a vengeance (from their blatant disregard of this legacy) and the quality in general is poor, so avoid them like the plague.

I'm still kicking myself for not investing in the earlier Laserdisc Box Sets that were available in 1999; five of them in total housing 338 shorts over 24 LDs with a running time of 44 hours, phew! I'm not sure if the LD transfers were as pristine as these DVD versions, but if you're really keen on stockpiling as many of these Toons on LD as possible then latest Ebay figures reveal that you can pick the lot up for about US$600. But if you aren't feeling quite that rich for these 12" platters, then the 5" varieties will more than suffice at less than a tenth of the price - I'm sure you can hold out for the next DVD assortment though.


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