Back in 1975 director (and animation fan) Larry Jackson released a low budget compendium of Warner Brothers cartoons, Bugs Bunny Superstar. As a young, but avid, cartoon buff, I cajoled my mother to take the family to see the film. I was dying to see Bugs Bunny on the big screen. I had grown to love these shorts through their constant airing on Saturday mornings, and was always surprised at how much better they were than literally everything else shown at that time. The art was better, the gags were better, even the colors were more vibrant and intense. Once I learned that they were created for movie theaters, I knew I had to see one in a theater.
So I was excited when we bought our tickets and popcorn and settled down in our seats in a sparsely populated theater. I was hoping for a compilation of cartoons but what I saw was much, much more. Yes, there are some great shorts but in between the nine cartoons Larry Jackson included interviews with the creators of the Looney Tunes. It's equal parts documentary and cartoon anthology and the result is an amazing film that's a must-see for any Bugs Bunny buff.
Orated by Orson Welles, Bugs Bunny Superstar is more the story of Looney Tunes than just their most famous character. The film shows where the cartoons were created, a small building, demolished long ago, on the Warners lot affectionately know by the artists who worked there as Termite Terrace, and introduces viewers to some of the famous animators who worked there including Bob Clampett (in a really bad toupee who serves as a sort of host), Tex Avery, and Friz Freleng.
Together they discuss how the shorts were created, and there are some rare films of the animators acting out the action from the cartoons to get the movement of the characters right. Bob Clampett tells how Bugs got the carrot he's always chewing on (it was inspired by scene Clark Gable did in It Happened One Night) and as well as discussing what it was like to work on the Warners lot back in the day.
That's not to say the documentary part of the film is perfect. Robert McKimson and Chuck Jones, though mentioned are notably absent and Bob Clampett does take credit for a lot. It's been reported that Chuck Jones was furious at the way Clampett took credit for a lot of what went on in Termite Terrace and refused to mention him in his autobiography. Clampett's bits are obviously scripted too, and he's pretty stiff as an actor. My main problem is that the documentary section, that is roughly a third of the total run time, is a bit superficial. They never dig really get beneath the "we all had a lot of fun" type comments or discuss the problems and pressures that they faced. Even with these deficiencies, this is a unique document that has a lot of information.
In between the reminiscences of the directors, there are nine classic Looney Tunes cartoons. The mix works very well, viewers get to see what the interviewees are talking about right away. A Wild Hare, the first 'official' Bugs Bunny cartoon is included, along with several other appearances of that "wascally wabbit," but the 'toons aren't limited to Bugs. Tweety, Sylvester, Foghorn Leghorn, Henry Hawk, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, and my favorite character, Daffy Duck, all get appearances too. It is an excellent selection of Looney Tunes that serve as a great introduction to the studio's output.
The cartoons in this movie all date from before 1948. In the early days of television when they needed some cash, WB sold their entire pre-1948 catalog to a company that in turned flipped it and sold the movies to United Artists. It was though UA that director Larry Jackson was able to get the licenses for the cartoons that are included.
The cartoons presented in this film are:
What's Cookin' Doc? (1944)
A Wild Hare (1940)
A Corny Concerto (1943)
I Taw a Putty Tat (1948)
Rhapsody Rabbit (1946)
Walky Talky Hawky (1946)
My Favorite Duck (1942)
Hair-Raising Hare (1946)
The Old Grey Hare (1944)
Originally released on DVD in the Looney Tunes Gold Collection Volume Four, Warner Brothers has now put the movie on a stand alone disc available through the Warner Archives web sites. If you have the Gold Collection set don't automatically disregard picking this up too. The Gold Collection splits the movie between two discs, which I always found a bit strange. It's very nice having the film on a single DVD. In addition, the Warner Archives release has a commentary track by director Larry Jackson. See the 'extras' section for more details.
The original two channel audio track is fine, and about what you'd expect from a 35+ year old film. There's a bit of cracking in a couple of parts, but nothing significant. It's a decent sounding movie.
The full frame image looks very good. It hasn't been restored but the colors, especially the Technicolor shorts, are great and the level of detail is good. There are a few specs of dirt here and there but nothing distracting. It's a great looking disc.
Most Warner Archive releases are bare-bones affairs, but this film has a couple of great extras. The first is an image gallery with a lot of behind-the-scenes images, but the real jewel is the audio commentary by director Larry Jackson. In his non-scene specific track he talks about how the idea came about and relates a lot of the troubles that occurred. His original idea was to have a framing sequence that was a parody of Citizen Kane. A pair of reporters would come across the demolished Termite Terrace in the middle of a studio lot and search out just what went on in the building was and why it was destroyed. The great thing about the idea was that Larry knew Orson Welles and asked him to do the narration. That would have been magnificent, but Mr. Welles did not think too much of the idea. It was also interesting to hear why Bob Clampett had so much air time: he insisted on being the host and having final cut of the movie in exchange for the use of his Looney Tunes memorabilia collection. Since he had just about everything that had been saved, it was either agree to his terms, or do without.
This is a really great release. The movie is funny and informative (though you have to take Bob Clampett's claims with a grain, or better yet two, of salt) and well worth owning just by itself. The commentary is a wonderful bonus and much more entertaining that I was expecting. Highly Recommended.