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The first Blu-ray collection of Warners cartoons was sort of a 'greatest hits' album, which leaves this enormous three-disc follow-up set Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume Two to investigate the wider range of cartoon fare produced by the studio. According to the back of the package, it "Is Intended for the Adult Collector and May Not Be Suitable for Children." Don't be concerned, as there is no disturbing content here. Those infamous racist cartoons are nowhere in sight. What the buyer will get is hours of beautifully restored cartoons, followed by documentaries and rarities. Expert testimony and rare interviews take us into the world of Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes.
The average viewer may spend quite a while poring over the set's 28-page guide to figure out what to watch first. I sampled some of each, as well as looked at about fifteen cartoons. Your stamina may vary, but the energy level in these pictures is so intense that five or six at a time may be too much!
The main billboarded cartoons are all remastered in flawless HD; of the ones I watched I saw no damage whatsoever. My first personal contact with these animated gems was at Saturday kiddie shows in the late 1950s, and they literally jumped off the screen at us with bright colors. The WB shield slammed forward with a blast of music, and the packed house of kids would scream in delight. (Well, we did the same for Disney cartoons and Three Stooges shorts, too.) Colors are bright and pure, and the full resolution allows us to see how background art and even animation techniques changed over the years. The artwork cels in earlier cartoons, especially B&W ones, sometimes catch dirt and reflections. By the late 1940s, the artwork medium becomes almost invisible.
The featured animation shorts are grouped by type. Here's a list, adapted from the disc booklet:
Disc 1 is split between 'main star' cartoons (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig) and special supporting characters (Tweety & Sylvester, The Roadrunner, Pepe LePew, Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales.
A WILD HARE (1940) - Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
DISC 2 assembles a number of cartoons showing the development of main characters, and some selected popular supporting characters. We see a lot of rabbits that are 'sort-of' proto- Bugs Bunnies; and the last few cartoons are one-shots with non-formula concepts.
WABBIT TWOUBLE (1941) - Bugs Bunny & Elmer Fudd. This cartoon was selected by an online poll.
Almost every cartoon has a special commentary track. The commentators listed in the booklet are directors Greg Ford, Bob Clampett, John Kricfalusi, Robert McKimson, Chuck Jones, and Eric Goldberg; animators Eddie Fitzgerald, Mark Kausler and Paul Dini, filmmaker Constantine Nasr, and historians Jerry Beck, Michael Barrier and Will Friedwald. A number of cartoons contain isolated music tracks or music and effects tracks that in some instances help us appreciate the clever compositions and orchestrations that were lavished on these cartoons. We have to marvel at some of the simplest sound effects, like the smash to the head of an operatic alley cat in Back Alley Oproar. It sounds like the poor cartoon animal has been splattered into jelly.
Extras and Bonus Featurettes. The set has a tall stack of featurettes assembled for earlier DVD special editions. Most are standard definition, even though all three discs are HD. The most frequent contributor is long-time animation critic Jerry Beck. A now out-of-print full guide to WB cartoons that Beck published years and years ago is now a coveted collectors' item. How else could I ever have identified the cosmically cynical cartoon Fresh Airdale?
Disc One has extended mini-docus on writer-director Bob Clampett, early Bosko-type B&W cartoons and the animation producer Leon Schlesinger.
Disc Two has a short piece on Elmer Fudd, a slightly longer one on Chuck Jones' 'wabbit season' cartoons, another piece identifying Hollywood personalities in the caricature cartoons, an interview with Tex Avery (recommended) and another brief piece about the role taken by Looney Tunes during WW2.
Disc Three is all extra content, over seven hours worth. Most items are also from earlier DVD releases and are presented in Standard Def.
A new docu King-Size Comedy is a long-form show about Tex Avery at Warners and MGM. Among the many interviewees are Avery co-workers Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng.
Tex Avery, the King of Cartoons is another nearly hour-long docu on Avery's life and work. It's older, somewhat redundant compared to the first, and better overall. But it is in Standard Def.
Another hour-long docu, this time on the development of some of the Warners characters, with June Foray and Leonard Maltin.
ToonHeads: The Lost Cartoons. This is a 54-minute expansion of a half-hour Cartoon Network special I edited in 2000. They made us butcher the cartoons down to nearly nothing, but this 2008 cut shows mostly full versions of the cartoons and the animation department's "insider home movies". The "lost" cartoons are old B&W shows, Private Snafu and Mr. Hook cartoons, feature sequences combining animation and live action, TV pilots, TV commercials, etc.
A short docu on "Private Snafu" cartoons. (Standard def)
Finishing things off are collections of 'bonus cartoons':
Six early B&W Leon Schlesinger cartoons and promos, featuring Bosko.
Five Friz Freleng MGM "The Captain and the Kids" cartoons (Standard def)
Eleven top MGM Tex Avery cartoons (Standard def)
Eight B&W Private Snafu cartoons (Standard def)
Three B&W Mr. Hook cartoons (Standard def)
The contents of disc three, with all those Tex Avery and Private Snafu cartoons, was a big attraction. The problem is that they are not only in Standard Definition, they are all older unrestored transfers. The Tex Avery cartoons, for instance, look dull next to the restored main attraction short subjects. I really wanted to see good copies of the Snafu and Hook cartoons, as the older versions I worked with twelve years ago were incomplete, blurry reference copies that might have been from duped 16mm. Lo and behold, that's exactly what we get here, the very same ancient copies. For all I know that's all that still exists in any form, but I was hoping to enjoy Theodore Geisel's adult-oriented rhyming text.
Warners' Blu-ray of Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Vol. Two is a mixed bag, certainly worth the purchase price. The dozens of restored cartoons look and sound fantastic, and animation fans will go for the extras. Viewers looking mainly for the cartoons will not be disappointed.
A wealth of extras is also present, but they're not quite as satisfying. The package states that they may not be in High Definition, and almost none are. When purchasers see a long list of Tex Avery cartoons on a Blu-ray, they're naturally going to think that the cartoons are in Hi Def. But they're considered bonus extras.
The many docus and featurettes contain plenty of good material, but a lot of duplication has occurred as new featurettes and promos have been assembled over the years, for different purposes. Warners have thrown on everything from thoroughly researched documentaries to quickie promos. They weren't made to be seen right after seeing the cartoons themselves, so one needs to use discretion: many are packed with large samplings of cartoon content. I was very pleased to find material I'd never seen before about favorite wild men Tex Avery and Bob Clampett.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Vol. Two Blu-ray rates:
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.
Also, don't forget the 2011 Savant Wish List.
T'was Ever Thus.