Review by Roger Ash
If you haven’t yet read KC’s review of the first two discs, go and do that. You don’t want to miss the beginning. I’ll wait here. (Twiddling thumbs and whistling aimlessly.) Back? Cool! Let’s continue.
Disc 3: Bosko, Buddy & Merrie Melodies
These four-disc Golden Collection sets are intended for the animation collector, and I don’t think that’s ever been more evident than on Disc 3: Bosko, Buddy & Merrie Melodies. I honestly don’t believe casual animation fans, or even casual Warner Brothers cartoon fans, will find these cartoons that interesting. These are not the snappy, character-driven, laugh-out-loud funny cartoons that most people associate with Warner Brothers. These are from the early days of the studio. At that time, cartoons in general were still a bit of a novelty. What plot there is in most of these cartoons is intended to get to a segment where there’s lots of singing and dancing. The driving force behind these shorts was to keep songs in the Warner library in the public eye, or more precisely, in the public ear.
Early Days of Animation
The humor in the cartoons is not as sharp as it would become in later cartoons. The jokes are often based on bodily functions, body parts (a naked butt is always funny), celebrity caricatures, and, unfortunately, racial and ethnic stereotypes. Some people may gloss over the disclaimer at the beginning of the disc about these cartoons being a product of their time, but they shouldn’t. The stereotypes in these cartoons aren’t any better or worse than what you’d find elsewhere at the time they were made, but it can still be shocking to a modern viewer. There are a couple of gags in Buddy’s Circus (1934) that left me staring at the TV in disbelief.
All of that being said, for hardcore animation fans, this disc is fantastic. Even though there isn’t much plot in the cartoons, they have a charm to them. It’s also interesting to see early work by creators who would later guide the Warner cartoons to greatness, including Frank Tashlin, Bob Clampett, Isadore “Friz” Freleng, Chuck Jones, and Bob and Tom McKimson. On top of that, we get a rare look at the early Warner Brothers stars.
Warner’s First Cartoon Stars
Warner’s first cartoon star was Bosko, created by Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising. There is an issue for the modern audience with Bosko and his girlfriend, Honey, as they are both caricatures of African-Americans. It may not seem obvious at first to some viewers, but their voices leave little doubt to their intended ethnicity. Bosko appears in five cartoons on this disc: Congo Jazz (1930), The Booze Hangs High (1930), Bosko’s Picture Show (1933), Ride Him, Bosko! (1932), and Bosko in Person (1933).
The stand-out cartoon for me is Ride Him, Bosko!, a very funny Western parody. As well as the expected song and dance segments, there is more of a plot, and the jokes are sharper than other cartoons I’ve seen from this time period. The ending of the cartoon, which I won’t spoil for you, is unexpected and hilarious.
Another early Warner Brothers character, Foxy, appears in two cartoons: Smile, Darn Ya, Smile! (1931) and One More Time (1931). If you’ve never seen Foxy before, imagine Mickey Mouse with a bushy tail and points on the ends of his ears. Yes, he really is that blatant of a copy. Both cartoons are fairly standard for the time, but fans of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) may recognize “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!” as the song playing when Eddie Valiant first travels into Toon Town.
Buddy became the next big Warner Brothers character and stars in Buddy’s Day Out (1933), Buddy’s Beer Garden (1933), and Buddy’s Circus (1934). Buddy is a rather blandly designed character. What’s odd is that he and his girlfriend, Cookie, look to be children. However, various things that Buddy does, such as driving a car, would suggest that he’s an adult. It made for some strange moments when I wondered why a little kid was serving beer.
Most of the other cartoons on this disc pretty much completely ditch plots and go straight for the singing and dancing. The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon (1933) features dancing cutlery, I Love a Parade (1932) is singing and dancing at the circus, and Shuffle Off to Buffalo (1933) shows us where happy, singing babies come from before the stork delivers them.
High Points of This Disc
The major exception to this rule is my favorite cartoon on the disc, A Cartoonist’s Nightmare (1935). This features Beans, Warner’s newest star (who would later be replaced by an upstart named Porky Pig), a fairly nondescript cat. In this surreal adventure, an animator is pulled into the cartoon he’s drawing and forced to confront a number of villains that he has drawn in the past. Jerry Beck provides an interesting and informative commentary for this cartoon, as well as Shuffle Off to Buffalo.
There is a real treat for animation fans on this disc, as it also includes the Christmas Party reels made in 1939 and 1940. These are live action gag reels starring members of the animation department, including Producer Leon Schlesinger and Directors Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Tex Avery. Both feature voice work by Mel Blanc. One scene even has Clampett, Avery, and Jones in drag! Some of the gags are pretty darn racy. These were made to be shown before the company Christmas party. They’re both pretty funny on their own, but commentary by Jerry Beck and former Warner employee Martha Sigall adds lots of information, including Martha identifying nearly everyone in the films.
There is something missing from this disc. In his introduction to the Schlesinger features — which includes the Christmas reels, the opening for a John Wayne film, and an organ recital short — Jerry Beck mentions that we will also be seeing Bugs Bunny Bond Rally (AKA Any Bonds Today). But it’s not on the disc. It’s not on the DVD menu or printed on the DVD packaging, so the decision not to put it on the disc was obviously made prior to going to press. So why is it still in the introduction? There may have been a timing issue that I’m unaware of, but I can’t help but wonder why that part of the introduction wasn’t cut. I was disappointed when I found that the cartoon isn’t on the disc.
Disc 4: Most-Requested Assorted Nuts & One-Shots
Disc Four features characters that mostly only appeared in one cartoon. Disc Three’s earlier cartoons were all about the music and here, the focus firmly shifts to characters and humor. A perfect example of this is Chuck Jones’ Much Ado About Nutting (1953). This cartoon features a squirrel who performs completely in pantomime. He spends most of the short attempting to crack open a coconut and failing miserably. The squirrel’s body language and facial expressions tell you more about his character in one short than Bosko’s whole library will tell you about his.
A Dr. Seuss Adaptation
The disc opens with Bob Clampett’s masterful adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hatches the Egg (1942). The characters look like Dr. Seuss drawings with a bit of Clampett’s flair, and the story is pretty faithful to the book, with plenty of Clampett’s trademark outrageous gags added. In one very funny scene, Horton attempts to stop a sneeze, eventually tying his trunk in a knot! Clampett, more than any other Warner director, liked putting topical references in cartoons. Here, Horton often sings the “Hut-Sut Song.” To a modern viewer, it’s just a goofy little song, but audiences at the time will recognize the popular tune. In 1941, both Freddy Martin and Horace Heidt had versions of the “Hut-Sut Song” in the Top 10 on Billboard’s charts at the same time!
Two Pets From Chuck Jones
Two cartoons, both directed by Chuck Jones, make an interesting pair. Fresh Airedale (1945) features a scoundrel of a dog who does numerous bad things, including letting a burglar rob his master’s house, if he gets food. On top of that, he steals the credit for good deeds done by those around him. And he never gets found out. At the end of the cartoon, he’s hailed as a hero.
This is followed by Chow Hound (1951), which features a greedy dog who uses a cat and a mouse to get him food. He always wants more and he always chides the cat for forgetting the gravy. After stumbling on a scheme to get reward money by kidnapping the cat, he buys himself a butcher shop. Unlike the dog in the previous cartoon, he doesn’t get off scot-free. He winds up in a vet’s office, terribly bloated from over-eating. In one of the most gruesome moments you’ll ever see in a Warner Brothers cartoon, the cat and mouse arrive, and this time they didn’t forget the gravy. The short ends as they stick a funnel in the dog’s mouth and start pouring in a barrel of gravy.
Overview of the Others
It’s Hummer Time (1950) from director Robert McKimson features a humming bird chased by a cat. The cat continually annoys a dog who has some of the most bizarre punishments for the cat that you’ll ever see, including “Happy Birthday” and “The Thinker.” Even though the humming bird never appeared in another cartoon, the cat and dog would appear a year later in Early to Bet (1951), which can be found on Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 1.
Rocket-Bye Baby (1956) and Goo Goo Goliath (1954) both feature babies that end up with the wrong parents. In the first, a Martian boy named Mot is born to a human couple. In the second, a drunk stork (the stork was always drunk in the Warner cartoons) doesn’t want to deliver a giant’s baby all the way to the top of the beanstalk and gives him to normal human parents instead.
Lights Fantastic (1942) is a fairly typical cartoon of blackout gags, this time involving signs in Times Square. Wild Wife (1954) features an average day in the life of a housewife. Martian Through Georgia (1962) is the story of an alien who comes to Earth to find his purpose. Page Miss Glory (1936) harkens back to the song and dance shorts. What makes this one special is an amazing art deco sequence designed by Loedora Congdon.
Bartholomew Versus the Wheel (1964) is a cute little story about a dog that hates wheels. Punch Trunk (1953) is a hilarious cartoon starring a five inch tall elephant. Sleepy Time Possum (1951) features a father possum attempting to keep his lazy son awake so he can peel the ‘taters. Wild Wild World (1960) shows us a recently discovered film about early human life.
Norman Normal (1968) is interesting, but it confuses me. It’s about doing what you’re told to do versus doing the right thing. This dilemma takes the shape of a boss asking his employee, Norman Normal, to get a client drunk so he’ll sign a contract. Norman does lots of thinking and talking about this, but they never reveal his final decision. This cartoon may be of interest to music fans as it was co-written, and features voices by, N. Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary.
High Points of This Disc
This disc includes two amazing cartoons. Now Hear This (1962) is a real tour-de-force for co-directors Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble and sound designer Treg Brown. This Academy Award-nominated cartoon features a British gentleman who throws away his old, beat-up ear trumpet for a new one that he finds on the street. This ear trumpet allows him to hear the strangest things. A masterpiece of sound and design, this cartoon has to be seen and heard to be appreciated.
Finally, The Hole Idea (1955) may not be the best cartoon Robert McKimson directed, but he certainly never did any better. And not only did he direct it, but according to Mark Kausler’s commentary, he animated most of it as well! The story stars Professor Calvin Q. Calculus who invents the coolest thing ever — portable holes. There are many good and useful applications for portable holes, such as getting a baby out of a locked safe or creating your own golf hole. But they can also be used for evil, as we learn when they’re stolen by a crook who becomes known as the Holey Terror.
Mel Blanc Tribute
This disc is rounded out by Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices, a 70-minute documentary about the life and work of Mel Blanc. This is a wonderful tribute to Mr. Blanc and features not only his cartoon work but also his work with performers such as Abbot & Costello and, of course, Jack Benny. Aside from this, the car accident that almost took Mel’s life in 1961, his work with children’s hospitals, and his eventual death are also covered.
In addition to vintage footage of Mel and directors Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, there are comments from people including (deep breath) Kirk Douglas, voice artists such as Hank Azaria (The Simpsons), June Foray (Witch Hazel, Rocky the Flying Squirrel), Gary Owens (Space Ghost), Billy West (Futurama), Stan Freberg (Pete Puma, Baby Bear), Keith Scott (Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle), and Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants), Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, Mel’s former agent, his former assistant, his son Noel, and many, many others.
The comment that sticks with me comes from Hank Azaria, who talks about a sequence in a cartoon where Bugs imitates Daffy and vice versa. While Mel makes it sound easy, that’s actually something that is incredibly difficult to do. This documentary is by turns inspiring and moving. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got choked up a couple times while watching it.
A final note on Disc Four: Keep your remote close by as the sound fluctuates between cartoons.
Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 6 is a treasure trove of great cartoons, but more than any of the previous collections, this one seems geared more to the animation collector than a general audience. If you’re a casual fan, you might be better served by picking up the two-disc Spotlight Collection. For an animation nut like myself though, this is a little slice of heaven. There doesn’t seem to be as much bonus material as there was on earlier collections, and there are far fewer commentaries, but what is here is quite nice.
This is supposedly the end for the Golden Collections. I sincerely hope that whatever form future collections take, Warner Brothers will uphold the high standards that they set with the Golden Collections.