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What's up, Doc? Lots more Bugs and Porky Pig

New 'Looney Tunes: Golden Collection' delivers laughs but comes with a caveat by Whoopi Goldberg.

November 08, 2005|Gene Seymour | Newsday

I'm sure I speak for trillions of fellow Earthlings when I say few sounds promise as much ecstasy as the "sproing" of the Warner Bros. logo at the start of every "Looney Tunes" or "Merrie Melodies" animated short. It's a sound that never gets old. If you've ever watched these cartoons in succession in a theater, you know that all you feel like saying after each "sproing" and each cartoon is: "Keep 'em coming!"

So, at the outset, there's good reason for even the most rational of us to jump up and down and giggle like kids upon the release of Volume 3 of the "Looney Tunes: Golden Collection" ($64.92, Warner Home Video). The emergence of each new volume is becoming an annual autumn event; an eagerly awaited occasion at that, given that it seems harder these days for aficionados of Warner's timeless shorts to get a daily fix on the Cartoon Network.

As with the first two "Golden Collections," there are four discs, each jammed with short films spanning the gilded age of Warner's animation from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s. The great animators from that period -- Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, Bob Clampett, Art Davis, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson and Chuck Jones -- are all represented in this package.

Each disc is given its own theme: There's the requisite Bugs Bunny compilation, including such roughhousing gems as Freleng's "A Hare Grows in Manhattan," McKimson's "Easter Yeggs," both from 1947, and Jones' "Homeless Hare," from 1950, featuring the bullying construction engineer who, upon getting his comeuppance in the end, memorably drawls, "I'm feelin' mighty looooww." Disc 4, dubbed an "All-Star Cartoon Party," includes Jones' "Super Rabbit" (1943), while containing the only Road Runner short on this set, 1963's "To Beep or Not to Beep."

Disc 3, meanwhile, yields most of its space to the relatively underappreciated Porky Pig. The disc lays out a well-marked trail from Porky's 1935 "breakthrough" in Freleng's "I Haven't Got a Hat" toward his bumbling-dreamer period exemplified by Tashlin's "Porky's Romance" (1937) and onward to his 1950s period as suave supporting player in Jones' "Rocket Squad" (1956) and "Robin Hood Daffy" (1958).

The second disc, "Hollywood Caricatures and Parodies," focuses mostly on 1930s shorts such as "Coo Coo Nut Grove" (1936) and "The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos" (1937), with forgotten pop-culture fixtures such as Edna May Oliver, Wallace Beery and the Dionne quintuplets. Not too many people living today remember these, but that's what audio commentaries are for.

Volume 3 extras include three rare installments of the "Private Snafu" instructional cartoons, distributed during World War II, about a hapless soldier. You can tell these were made for soldiers because one of the characters actually says the "h-e-double-hockey-sticks" word.

And while we're on the subject of Material That May Be Deemed Inappropriate, you should know that each disc opens with a greeting from Whoopi Goldberg, who celebrates the Warner Bros. cartoon stable as beloved members of the American family while warning audiences that some of the humor in these films may come across as insensitive, even wounding to women as well as racial and ethnic minorities.

Such humor, Goldberg says, "reflected prejudices commonplace in American society at the time." The jokes "were wrong then and they're wrong now," Goldberg says. But to excise them would be "the same as saying [such prejudices] never existed."

I don't suppose there would be room in this package for someone to explain the racial minstrelsy that played such a huge role in vaudeville -- from which most of these animators drew (no pun intended) their inspiration. Nor would there be room to talk about how wartime, when some of these shorts were made, always brings out the most virulent emotions toward those perceived as enemies. But Goldberg, as much as anyone, should be able to tell an audience of any age and any era that humor is almost always at somebody's expense. And that bruises, whether intended or not, will sometimes appear upon someone's psyche.

Oh, well. If there are any major grievances to submit at this point to those releasing the "Golden Collections" it's that there needs to be more of everything. Foghorn Leghorn and Yosemite Sam need their single-disc tributes, don't they? How about more of Jones' hilarious Three Bears shorts with Stan Freberg giving voice to the big, dumb Baby Bear?

Keep 'em coming.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

DVD sales

Here are the 10 top-selling DVDs for the week ending Oct. 30. Ranking are compiled from a variety of major retailers, including Amazon.com, Best Buy, Blockbuster, Circuit City and Tower.

1. "Batman Begins: Deluxe Edition"

2. "Bewitched"

3. "House of Wax"

4. "Herbie: Fully Loaded"

5. "Cinderella: Platinum Edition"

6. "Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story"

7. "Kingdom of Heaven"

8. "Wizard of Oz: Special Edition"

9. "Titanic: Collectors Edition"

10. "Alias: Season 4"

Source: DVDExclusive.com

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