Even as a kid, I had to wonder: what's the point of all these Looney Tunes compilation movies? It's not like the franchise needed to get back into the public eye; the classic cartoons were still going strong on Saturday mornings, with VHS right around the corner. Was there really that much of a desire to see these old shorts back on the big screen? And if so, why not just compile them unedited (as they did in 1999, with "The Looney Tunes Hall of Fame"), instead of trying to shoehorn them into a single narrative, with newly minted, noticeably lesser new animation?
But back then, I guess I didn't mind so much. After all, any Looney Tunes is better than no Looney Tunes at all, and if sitting through third-rate filler in "Daffy Duck's Fantastic Island" or "1001 Rabbit Tales" meant getting to watch my most insane cartoon favorites one more time, then sure, why not?
Finally revisiting 1981's "The Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie" - the second of five compilation films released between 1979 and 1988 - for the first time as an adult, I now see the problem with these things: the original cartoons are edited down too much, and the bridging material is too lousy. Worse, the movie's first segment borrows liberally from "Devil's Feud Cake," the 1962 short which was itself a compilation film reworking older material - and which borrowed its storyline from a completely separate Sylvester and Tweety short. By that count, "Looney Looney" is a fuzzy fourth-generation copy.
The film opens promisingly enough, with Mel Blanc, as Bugs Bunny, introducing the 1958 Oscar-winner "Knighty Knight Bugs," which plays out in its entirely (minus opening credits). We're then treated to some nice narration, again from Bugs, telling us about Friz Freleng's work at Warner Bros. and providing a quick rundown of the early days of film comedy, (correctly) equating Bugs and company with the slapstick masters.
But then the movie misses that left turn at Albuquerque. Instead of making the film a crash course in all things Freleng, with Bugs as our documentary tour guide through the director's best shorts, the film instead promises us a rundown of his work "in three acts," that is, three "stories" designed to retool those best shorts into lengthier plotlines.
Act One focuses on Yosemite Sam's repeated attempts to Git That Varmint. After a Wild West showdown (clips taken from "Hare Trimmed"), Sam winds up in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks, where the Devil offers him a chance to escape, as long as he can get the bunny down here in his place ("Devil's Feud Cake"). Sam gets transported through time to fight Bugs in ancient Rome ("Roman-Legion Hare") and the vast Sahara Desert ("Sahara Hare") before returning to the Old West one last time ("Wild and Wooly Hare"). With every short, just as we're getting properly involved in the action and the antics, the movie throws off its rhythms to reincorporate some Sam-in-hell material that's riddled with bad jokes and mediocre animation.
Act Two features Bugs Bunny as G-Man (G-Rabbit?) "Elegant Mess," on the trail of Rocky and Mugsy. It makes sense to use "The Unmentionables," of course, but in order for the new plotline to work, new animation is presented to clumsily dump Bugs in the middle of two Rocky and Mugsy shorts ("Golden Yeggs" and "Catty Cornered") that don't feature the rabbit - while the two others that do ("Bugs and Thugs" and "Bugsy and Mugsy") are not used here at all, despite also being directed by Freleng and therefore a perfect fit. Instead, Daffy Duck craziness and Sylvester slapstick are interrupted to show shots of Bugs spying in on the action. Again, rhythms are broken and energy is lost.
For Act Three, Freleng somewhat abandons his efforts of weaving a single story out of old shorts; instead, we get a cartoon awards show in the form of an Academy Awards parody, with Bugs introducing the best clips from "the nominees." This leads us to "Three Little Bops," "Birds Anonymous," and "High Diving Hare," all presented mostly in their entirety. But these, too, are ruined to make the story work: each short is interrupted with "audience" responses, wisecrack asides from the nominees, and, most uselessly, shots of the audience just watching the shorts. The film wraps with clips from "Show Biz Bugs" (in which Daffy challenges Bugs to a song-and-dance-off) flatly mixed into the awards ceremony.
It's tough to denounce "Looney Looney" and its ilk for inelegantly chopping down the original shorts, since Freleng himself oversaw the chopping, and served as director for several of these compilation films. And yet with the original shorts so readily available in their unedited form elsewhere, one realizes that the only appeal for such movies these days would be the bridging material - which is plenty lousy and not nearly worth ruining all those classic cartoons.
Note: For this DVD, Warner has replaced the film's original 1981 Warner Bros. opening logo with the modern WB Family Entertainment logo. Stuff like that always irks me.
Video & Audio
Overall, the 1.33:1 full frame transfer looks very sharp, with rich colors, clean lines, and no digital problems. There are sharp differences in quality between the vintage footage and the "new" material; placed side by side, you can see some grain and roughness to the older stuff (nothing bad, though, as they look about as good as they do on the Golden Collection discs), while the 1981 material is slick and clean - a likely issue with the original source.
The soundtrack is a simple but vibrant mono. Again, you can spot where Blanc's new voice work interrupts the vintage voices. French and Portuguese mono dubs are provided, as are optional English SDH, French, and Portuguese subtitles.
Three bonus shorts are included, all taken from the 1990s, when Warners struggled to revive the franchise. 1990's "Box Office Bunny" (4:57), the first theatrical Bugs Bunny cartoon in decades, features Bugs and Daffy harassing troubled movie theater usher Elmer Fudd. In Chuck Jones' 1997 entry "From Hare to Eternity" (7:10), Yosemite Sam (sporting awkward voice work from Frank Gorshin) is a pirate hassled by Bugs; the film is dedicated to Freleng, who died two years earlier. Gorshin returns, this time as a henhouse-guarding Foghorn Leghorn, in 1997's "Pullet Surprise." All three aren't too shabby as far as modern Looney Tunes efforts go, and it's nice to see these works on DVD. And yet, well, they're never going to be mistaken for the classics.
A batch of trailers for other Warner Bros. releases is also included.
If you don't have the Golden Collection and are looking for a quickie gathering of some classic Looney Tunes comedy - and if your kids don't mind mediocre material in between - sure, go ahead and Rent It. After all, the original shorts are always worth revisiting. But you're always better off saving up for the uncut versions readily available elsewhere.