Review by KC Carlson
The second bananas of the classic Warner Brothers animation family are back with two new DVD releases. Foghorn Leghorn & Friends: Barnyard Bigmouth has 14 out of 15 new-to-DVD cartoons, while Tweety & Sylvester: Feline Fwenzy is a well-chosen collection of 15 previously released favorites.
“What’s the gag – I say, what’s the gag, son? Gag, that is.”
Well, there’s a whole lotta gags in the eight new-to-DVD Foghorn Leghorn cartoons (plus the returning “A Broken Leghorn” — the other six cartoons on this disc star other characters, about which more later). Foggy (Full name: Foghorn J., I say, Foghorn J. Leghorn) got pretty short shrift in the previous Looney Tunes Golden Collections, so it’s great that he gets to spotlight this new collection. Originally created by Robert McKimson, who also directed all 28 of the classic Foghorn cartoons, Foghorn was the big, lumpy rooster who wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. And he loved music — especially the song “Camptown Races”, although you might be hard-pressed to know it, as his version was mostly unintelligible humming, except for “DOO-Dah! DOO-Dah!” (as sung by the great Mel Blanc).
He proved his incredible lack of finesse over and over again in battles with barnyard dawgs, chicken hawks named Henery, weasels named Bill, old biddy hens named Miss Prissy, and genius baby chicks named Egghead, Jr. The latter is my favorite — and represented on this disc in both “Crockett-Doodle-Doo” and the hysterical “Little Boy Boo”. Egghead is a chicken child with a oversized head, striped cap, and huge glasses (?) who remains totally speechless whenever he appears — making him the perfect foil for the loudmouthed Foggy, who must, amusedly, fill in both sides of the conversation.
Henery Hawk was originally conceived for stardom but ended up being a great foil for Foghorn. Henery just could not grasp the concept that the big dumb rooster wasn’t a chicken, so he was constantly trying to catch him and drag him back home to eat. He’s in both “All Fowled Up” and “Strangled Eggs” on this disc.
One gets the sense that the “feud” between the barnyard dawg and Foggy is more just “passing the time” than actual animosity, especially when the two occasionally team up against other foes like a weasley fox (as in the bizarre “Fox-Terrior”, with its magic folding box). This cartoon is written by usual Chuck Jones collaborator Michael Maltese. Most of the latter Foggy cartoons were ably written by Tedd Pierce, while Warren Foster firmly established the character in several early Foggy shorts.
The most (over-) used gag with Foggy and Dawg is the old “Foggy clobbers the dog with a board and runs just beyond the dawg’s collar and rope limit” joke, where the dawg struggles to get free to clobber Foggy in retaliation. But watch closely in these cartoons — generally the dawg only has a rope and collar when these gags are on screen! For the rest of the time, the dawg is shown without a collar, and pretty much has the run of the barnyard! Whoops!
“Fortunately, I keep my feathers numbered for just such an emergency.”
And that’s because in many Foggy cartoons, he done gets blown up real good by something or other and we watch the naked Foggy forlornly gathering up his errant feathers. A naked Leghorn ain’t pretty, let me tell you.
While a lot of animation critics don’t seem to have a lot of love for Foggy (or his director, Bob McKimson), Mr. Leghorn has been a favorite of mine since early childhood — probably because he’s just so fun to imitate. According to Wikipedia, Foggy’s accent is of Central Virginia origin — which is where I live, and yet I have never heard anybody from around here with the classic Foghorn speech pattern. (Maybe I just don’t get out enough.) Foggy has been ingrained in my head since watching him in the early 1960s, where it seemed that he was always on every Warner cartoon show, and I began to think of him in the same status as (at least) Daffy and Porky. When the complete Warner Bros. filmographies began to surface, I was shocked to discover that Foggy was only in 28 (out of over a thousand) classic Warner Bros. cartoons. I coulda swore I saw a hundred of them as a kid.
Foggy only stars in nine of the cartoons here. The rest feature a lot of other Warner “lesser” characters, including the Goofy Gophers (in “Gopher Broke”, a latter period, really unfunny cartoon with “canned” music, a bizarre ending, and the angriest duck (not Daffy) that you’ve ever seen), an Elmer Fudd solo short (“A Mutt in a Rut”), a Honeymousers (do I have to explain this?) cartoon (“Cheese It, the Cat!”), and a one-shot (“Mouse-Placed Kitten”) about a kitty given to a mouse family to raise. The grown-up cat has a voice that Barney Rubble would later appropriate.
The final two cartoons — “Two Crows from Tacos” and “Crow’s Feat” — feature the Two Crows, Manuel and Jose (who may be based in part on the two Mexican cats who pop up in the Speedy Gonzales short “Mexicali Schmoes”). They are almost certainly the reason that the now-ubiquitous Warner disclaimer about racial stereotypes is practically frozen to the screen at the top of this collection, due to the depiction of these two ethnic characters. Bottom line, they are funny cartoons (at least the first one), both directed by Friz Freling, and I am glad to see them here, as I had forgotten that they even existed. The Two Crows are classic “dumb” characters in the same mold as Junyer Bear or Pete Puma, but because they are Mexican in origin, it is possible that some might find them offensive or stereotypical. I somehow doubt that they were created to be that.
One last thing about the disc — it’s the first Warner animation disc to offer a choice between full screen or widescreen for your viewing pleasure. I’m not a super genius on these aspect ratio matters, but it looks to me like the widescreen version cuts off a fair amount of information from both top and bottom of the image. Full screen gives you the complete picture. So don’t be fooled by the bogus “comparison” example on the disc. It appears that Warners has cut down the full frame original to make a faux widescreen version. Once again, most of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons were created in the full frame format.
The Tweety & Sylvester collection offers up 15 cartoons of the classic cat vs. canary pairing. It should be noted that all 15 have been previously released on the earlier Looney Tunes Golden Collections (most of ‘em on Volume 2). Which has made this a somewhat controversial set among animation fans because of the repetition, especially while there are still Tweety & Sylvester cartoons that have not been released on DVD (at least in the U.S.).
I’m a little more sanguine on the subject. I think this is a fine product and certainly deserves to exist (as long as Warner is upfront about the content duplication). Here are three good reasons:
- Members of the more general audience (e.g., not hardcore cartoon fans) probably haven’t bought all of the Golden Collections since (at least initially) they were quite expensive.
- Even if you have the Golden Collections, it’s nice to have a bunch of Tweety & Sylvester cartoons collected all in one place for easy watching. These cartoons were originally spread out over five of the six Golden Collections, making them difficult to locate, especially since the complete title listings of the cartoons are only found inside the packaging. Meaning you have to open up all the Golden Collections to find them, and then keep changing discs to watch them all.
- Sales of this disc will help fund future restoration of more vintage Warner cartoons. And that’s a good thing.
While I too am frustrated by the stoppage of the Golden Collections and the unsure future of more new collections of Warner classic cartoons, it seems like Warner has put itself in several no-win scenarios regarding future releases — especially since most of the “cream” of the Warner cartoon line has already been issued, and future releases are likely to be less stellar than what we’ve already seen. (As these Looney Tunes Super Stars releases have indicated.) But for now, I’m still supportive of the project, as long as it seems that there is some sort of plan for the future. I’m not sure that’s the case right now. But I don’t think it’s worth crying and moaning about either.
Bottom line for the Tweety set: If you don’t own the Golden Collections, this is a fine set of classic and really entertaining Tweety and Sylvester cartoons that you and your family will watch over and over again. If you do own all of the Golden Collections, it’s a good set for the convenience of having all these great cartoons in one place.
Here’s Foggy with the last word: “Let’s bury — I say, let’s bury the hatchet, but not in anyone’s head, boy.” (The studio provided review copies.)