PART ONE - PART TWO - PART THREE - PART FOUR
An all-star anthology of cartoon classics!
When a small film-duplication company in suburban Detroit named Magnetic Video gave birth to the home video industry in 1977, little did anyone realize how it would almost singularly (if not single-handedly) redefine how the public viewed, enjoyed, and consumed movies...or what it would mean for the growing and very passionate culture of cartoon enthusiasts young and old. Sure, most series of theatrical cartoons were being seen regularly on both network television and in local syndication, while companies like United Artists sold 8 mm films throughout the 1960s and 1970s to varying degrees of success, but never before was the possibility presented of being able to purchase a studio-produced collection to easily watch at one's desire and to their heart's content.
The proliferation of the Looney Tunes library in this new avenue of exposure would in most cases go hand-in-hand with the evolution of the industry itself. And as new technologies and formats became available, the cartoons would find both new and continued audiences waiting for them to enjoy, study, and appreciate.
Bugs imitates Yosemite Sam in new footage from The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, the first ever Looney Tunes production to see release on home video.
Inauspiciously named WCI Home Video, the label officially launched in early February 1980 with the release of a couple dozen titles on both VHS and Beta (the studio would continue to regularly release titles on both formats through the early 1990s), many of which were popular Warner Bros. releases of the past decade. In addition to such hits as Superman: The Movie, Dog Day Afternoon, and Dirty Harry, among that initial batch of releases was The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, a theatrical compilation from the previous year that featured a number of classic Looney Tunes cartoons directed by Chuck Jones. (In fact, BB/RR was the historic third title ever released by the fledgling label, behind only Blazing Saddles and The Green Berets.)
Priced at the "low end" of the retail spectrum at $49.95, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie proved to be a popular title not only in the growing rental market but also through direct consumer sales, quickly becoming a top twenty chart item in Billboard and selling over 20,000 copies within its first year of release. In keeping with WCI's theme of presenting their movies in the most prestigious way possible, the cassette's large book-style box included text that provided insight into the making of the movie and even an excerpt from an interview with Jones. Right from the start, Warner Bros. was interested in presenting their animated shorts and characters as a vital part of the studio's storied history and of the American film experience.
That need to frame the Looney Tunes in a historically important context continued with the 1982 offerings by the newly rechristened Warner Home Video. First up was April's release of the 1981 compilation feature Friz Freleng's Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie. Despite its $69.95 retail price, the movie nevertheless became another best seller for the studio.
The same price point would be used in June for the first wave of A Night at the Movies, a multi-volume series that spotlighted celebrated Warner Bros. movies from the mid-to-late 1950s. Highlighting such classics as Dial M for Murder and Auntie Mame, the five videos in the first assortment attempted to recreate the vintage moviegoing experience by also including a year-specific newsreel, coming attractions, and a complete Warner Bros. cartoon. Marking the first time the cartoons had been released on home video uncut and not merely as excerpts in a compilation movie, major Looney Tunes series were represented with the inclusion of classics like Speedy Gonzales, A Star Is Bored, and Greedy for Tweety. The cartoons were given almost equal billing on the packaging with the featured movies, while the characters themselves were billed and treated as authentic Warner Bros. stars. The notion of pairing popular Warner Bros. movies with contemporary cartoons was one that Warner Home Video would revisit in years to come.
Warner Home Video's marketing materials for its Night at the Movies collections, such as the above ad from the July-August 1982 issue of American Film, attempted to trade in on the nostalgia of the classic American moviegoing experience.
November 1982 also saw another, more lasting presentation of the characters on home video with the launch of The Looney Tunes Video Show. Priced at $39.95 each, three volumes were initially offered with an additional four being advertised as "coming soon!" Each cassette contained seven complete Warner Bros. cartoons and, true to the series title (and perhaps in an attempt to recreate the random nature of television presentations of the shorts), featured a mix of various characters. One Bugs Bunny cartoon highlighted each volume, while the remaining contents varied from films featuring such other "big stars" as Daffy Duck and Tweety, to 1960s Speedy Gonzales cartoons, to celebrated one-shots such as Robert McKimson's The Hole Idea.
Even with their somewhat high price tag, the three Looney Tunes Video Show volumes would prove to be popular in both the rental and sell-through markets, and within three years each collection would sell between ten to twelve thousand copies. The videos would later be reissued at a more reasonably priced $14.95 in March 1989 and remain in print for another decade. Despite being advertised as a "series of seven," volumes four through seven would never see an American release but would eventually be made available in Canada and throughout Europe. The Looney Tunes Video Show series actually proved to be so popular overseas that additional, expanded editions would be released in 1983 and 1984 (while even more, uniquely compiled volumes were dubbed into French and Spanish for select markets in North America). In all, nineteen official volumes of The Looney Tunes Video Show were released worldwide.
But for the time being, if American fans wanted to enjoy Looney Tunes at home on video, their options were strictly limited--but Warner's 1983 offerings would expand the library. February's second wave of A Night at the Movies covered classic films from the years 1959 to 1963 and included such cartoons as Person to Bunny, Banty Raids, and even the Chuck Jones one-shot Martian Through Georgia (which had usually suffered from television edits due to a suicide reference). The success of the first two compilation features on home video prompted April's rush-release of the previous fall's Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales for $49.95 and then Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island for $39.98 in November--and CED editions of most of the movies (1001 Rabbit Tales being the lone castaway) were also issued before the format was mercifully discontinued. But Warner Bros. was about to enter the home video sell-through race in a very big way.
The year 1985 didn't seem all that particularly significant when it came to Warner Bros. cartoons. Apart from it just by happenstance being Porky Pig's fiftieth birthday (and this at a time when media characters' "birthdays" weren't really major events), the Looney Tunes franchise was in a comfortable lull. No new theatrical movies were in production, the series of recurring half-hour prime time television specials had wrapped three years before, it had been five years since the characters last appeared in a new seven-minute cartoon, and The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show was ending a historic seventeen-year run on CBS Saturday mornings. But Warner Bros. deemed it necessary to suddenly celebrate all things Looney, declaring the year the fiftieth anniversary of the free-wheeling and anarchic spirit that made the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts popular and beloved for generations.
Central to this celebration was the October 1985 release of the Golden Jubilee: 24 Karat Collection, a series of intially nine, one-hour videos each containing eight uncut classic Looney Tunes cartoons, primarily from the post-1948 library still owned by the studio. Six of the videos spotlighted specific characters or duos--Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, Sylvester and Tweety, and Speedy Gonzales--while the other three volumes highlighted the three major creative forces of the Looney Tunes post-war heyday: Mel Blanc, Friz Freleng, and Chuck Jones. (Robert McKimson, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and Arthur Davis were also represented throughout the series, albeit in much smaller doses.)
The Chuck Jones classic Rabbit of Seville was one of the few Looney Tunes cartoons offered in both assortments of the Golden Jubilee series, seen on A Salute to Mel Blanc and then on Elmer Fudd's Comedy Capers.
To better show off the cream of the crop, new video transfers were created for each of the cartoons, masters that Warner Bros. would eventually also use for its various television packages. Among other technical tweaking, colored windowbox mattes were added to the cartoons' opening credits to prevent overscanning from clipping off names--including one unique multi-colored matte for the titles of The Pied Piper of Guadalupe. Despite all the extra care taken in the process, a select number of cartoons--including Dough for the Do-Do and Porky's Duck Hunt--were inexplicably sped up. It would be decades before some of these shorts were remastered properly.
To kick off the series, Warner Bros. Animation produced a brand new opening sequence. With the iconic Merrie Melodies theme "Merrily We Roll Along" playing in the background, the Tasmanian Devil speeds down a city street in the middle of the night on a motorcycle, with a police car close behind. He decides to take a shortcut into a nearby theater that has the Golden Jubilee: 24 Karat Collection title on the marquee. Switching music to an instrumental of the Bugs Bunny Show theme "This Is It," we cut to a close-up of a sandwich-board sign that announces which character or person the specific compilation is spotlighting. The Bugs Bunny Show motif continues as Bugs, Daffy, and Porky are seen dancing on a stage in vaudeville outfits, with a procession of other Looney Tunes stars marching behind them (including Yosemite Sam, who curiously wasn't given his own volume in the series despite evidence that keeps turning up to suggest that he was supposed to). Bugs, Daffy, and Porky each do a wild take as they see Taz zooming across the stage on his bike, creating a huge cloud of dust and smoke. As an end-title version of "Merrily We Roll Along" starts to play, Taz cuts through the cloud and speeds toward the camera, with the Warner Bros. shield appearing on his headlight.
Entertainment Tonight's film critic Leonard Maltin, fresh from publishing the essential animation-history book Of Mice and Magic, penned liner notes for each release, going into the history of the characters and studio in a way never before attempted on a consumer product. Every effort was made to present as complete a picture of the studio's animated legacy as possible, with Warner Home Video even making the somewhat bold decision to include a few choice black and white cartoons. The videos perfectly served their purpose as quality family entertainment while also catering to the serious animation fan.
Priced at $19.98 each, the videos were released ideally with the intent of consumers buying them to take home and share with their families, but they would nevertheless also become popular rental staples for the next two decades. To fulfill retailer pre-orders, Warner Home Video shipped 200,000 units from across the series (almost unheard of for what was considered a "non-theatrical" release), and by mid-October sales climbed to 250,000 copies. To help promote the series and anniversary celebration, Trix cereal had a mail-in offer for a specially packaged version of The Looney Tunes Video Show #1, a film and art exhibition opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a brand new one-hour television special was produced for NBC featuring a slew of celebrities, Warner Bros. arranged to have Bugs awarded with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and--tying it all back to the home video industry--Bugs became the spokesrabbit for Sony's new SuperBeta player.
The whole gang is present in an industry ad for the Golden Jubilee series seen in the August 21, 1985, issue of Variety. This full-on image would also be used for the cover of a special retailer screener video and then later for the Spanish-language Fiesta de Comiquitas 4.
Leonard Maltin returned with new liner notes to give the videos some much-needed prestige, but a decided lack of enthusiasm hung over these new releases. The amount of character artwork on the packaging was reduced, the cartoon selection itself was a little more questionable than those on the earlier volumes, and--perhaps most frustrating of all--cartoons released on last year's Golden Jubilee collections were repeated in this new batch. Both Pepe le Pew's Skunk Tales and Elmer Fudd's Comedy Capers contained shorts last seen just a year before on A Salute to Mel Blanc and A Salute to Chuck Jones, while Foghorn Leghorn's Fractured Funnies included a cartoon previously available on The Looney Tunes Video Show #3. This trend of video deja vu would rear its ugly head from time to time on future Warner releases.
Despite the overlap, a total of ninety-one unique cartoons were released in the Golden Jubilee series, forming the basis of many Looney Tunes fans' home video collections and setting the standard for series to come.
Meanwhile, across town another major Hollywood studio was about to enter the Looney Tunes video market. Trying to keep track of all of the partnerships, buyouts, and mergers MGM had gone through since the 1970s could make one's head spin, but what's important to know is that in mid-1985 a deal was set in motion where MGM and all of its assets were going to be purchased by Ted Turner to add to his quickly growing empire of cable networks and sports franchises. In addition to MGM's own vast library of classic films, the deal was also to include ownership of United Artists, which MGM had previously acquired back in 1981. Among United Artists' own properties was the former Associated Artists Productions library. It was back in 1956 when AAP had made the historic purchase of Warner Bros.' pre-1950 film library for a whopping $21 million, a deal that included all live-action and animated short subjects copyrighted before September 1, 1948. All of this meant that by the mid-1980s many of the iconic Warner Bros. films such as Casablanca and White Heat--and especially all of the classic color wartime cartoons--were now safely in the hands of a rival movie studio, and with yet another new owner looming overhead.
With the Turner deal taking the rest of the year to complete, and with the future of its library uncertain, MGM renewed its focus on exploiting its vast family entertainment properties, acquired or otherwise. By this point the studio had only treaded lightly when it came to animation on home video, having released only the scant Tom and Jerry or Droopy compilation here and there (and one focusing on various MGM cartoons under the banner MGM Cartoon Magic)--not to mention occasional one-off releases such as The Phantom Tollbooth or the Chuck Jones Dr. Seuss television specials. Even the United Artists properties like the Pink Panther were off the table for a while, as a deal with Magnetic Video was still in effect when MGM bought the studio. But with the clock ticking down before Turner could sink his claws into the studio and its library, MGM had to act fast, and in November 1985 MGM/UA Home Video unveiled its "Viddy-Oh! for Kids" imprint.
Anchored by a re-release of The Wizard of Oz, Viddy-Oh! served as the catch-all banner for MGM's various family productions, becoming the industry's first "family entertainment" sub-label. The inaugural batch of videos also included the first ever Pink Panther compilation, a Lone Ranger movie, and Don Bluth's The Secret of NIMH. The success of these releases quickly prompted MGM/UA to expand the line, with a particular focus on all of the classic animation it had at its disposal (the lone exception were the United Artists-owned Popeye theatrical cartoons, as a 1983 attempt by MGM to release them on home video was met with a cease-and-desist from King Features). By year's end of 1985 The Best of Bugs Bunny and Friends became available in stores for just $19.95.
MGM/UA had to engage in some careful arranging when compiling their Looney Tunes videos, and it showed in the contents of The Best of Bugs Bunny and Friends, which followed the "all-star" model of Warner's Looney Tunes Video Show volumes and served as a sort of preview to the additional collections the label had planned. Though United Artists had ample amounts of classic Bugs, Daffy, and Porky cartoons to release, its access to other major Warner Bros. characters was severly limited. Their library only included two early Foghorn Leghorn cartoons, two rather atypical Pepé le Pew shorts, no Road Runner, no Speedy Gonzales, a few Sylvesters, and barely enough Tweety material to cover a single video. Widening the net a bit on who exactly to consider as "star" characters, the initial seven-cartoon tape--which featured such gems as What's Cookin' Doc?, Duck Soup to Nuts, Nothing but the Tooth, and the Oscar-winning Tweetie Pie--also included A Feud There Was with the prototypical pre-Arthur Q. Bryan Elmer Fudd, Bedtime for Sniffles with Chuck Jones's early mouse character, and (most surprising of all) The Little Lion Hunter with youthful African native Inki.
"How do they expect a guy to sleep with water on the brain??" asks a frustrated Daffy in one of the better-selling titles from MGM/UA's Viddy-Oh! For Kids line, the expanded Porky Pig and Daffy Duck Cartoon Festival Featuring "Tick Tock Tuckered."
Though the story content of the shorts on these collections were uncut, the films' overall presentations were not. Attempting to present the compilations as a singular program, United Artists fashioned each video with an extended uniform "Blue Ribbon" opening. After showing the decades-old Associated Artists Productions syndication logo that was standard on all of United Artists' Looney Tunes cartoons at the time, a generic "Blue Ribbon Merrie Melodies" cartoon opening starts to play, with a 1939 arrangement of "Merrily We Roll Along" (lifted from a random Merrie Melodies short) dubbed over the image. Instead of the Merrie Melodies logo fading into an actual cartoon title like on the Warner Bros. reissues that utilized the sequence, the "Blue Ribbon" screen simply freeze-frames for the duration of the music. Once this new sequence ends, the video then merely jumps to the opening credits of each cartoon (or, in many cases, to the "Blue Ribbon" version of the cartoon's title), skipping the bullseye opening, WB shield, and series title each time. These kit-bashed and edited openings would be seen on Turner's cable networks for the better part of the next decade, while future MGM releases would thankfully forego modifying anything in the cartoons themselves (with one debatable exception).
While Warner Home Video and MGM/UA Home Video waged a friendly war to vie for the hearts (and wallets) of Looney Tunes fans, a third contender was starting to come into dubious notoriety. Though certain companies had relied on exploiting public domain material for as long as home video had been around, the sudden success of Warner's Golden Jubilee series and MGM/UA's Viddy-Oh! line meant that by 1986 and 1987 hundreds of new budget labels were starting to crawl out of the woodwork, all with designs on the 123 Looney Tunes shorts that one way or another had fallen out of copyright (not to mention odds and ends like the various government-funded productions like the Private Snafu series or Any Bonds Today?). Seedy-seeming companies with vague, shady-sounding names like Parents Approved Video and United American Video churned out a multitude of ultra-cheap VHS tapes to be sold in grocery stores, discount stores, dime stores, toy stores, home-shopping channels on TV--really, anywhere they were lucky enough to get distribution.
Public domain videos usually ran either a half-hour in length (fitting an average of four cartoons) or were special "one hour" collections, though a select few were also found to run as short as fifteen minutes or as long as six hours. The people who put the compilations together rarely gave any thought to consistency or compatibility, so cartoons from various studios were often placed on the same video, or a video boasting all Bugs Bunny cartoons might also have a Popeye or some random one-shot thrown in as well. A number of Warner Bros. cartoons--including Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur, Falling Hare, and A Tale of Two Kitties--were well-utilized for these tapes to the point of ubiquitousness. But due to the need to fill up these videos, public domain releases also offered rarer cartoons that weren't regularly seen in modern-day television packages (Boom Boom, Inki and the Minah Bird, Pagan Moon), wartime cartoons that certainly weren't going to see the light of day on home video anytime soon (Tokio Jokio, The Ducktators, Scrap Happy Daffy), and even a couple of the infamous "Censored 11" cartoons that hadn't been officially distributed since 1968 (All This and Rabbit Stew, Jungle Jitters). And even though many black and white Porky Pig and Daffy Duck cartoons were in the public domain, these companies instead released the redrawn colorized versions done in 1968--that were still copyrighted by Warner Bros.
For the most part, these collections are a mess in every possible way, from aesthetics to functionality. Titles on the boxes were rarely more imaginative than Daffy Duck or Elmer Fudd and Friends or Over One Hour of Cartoons Volume 1 (a real one from Hollywood Select Video). Character depictions on the covers were usually badly traced from either frames of the cartoons or from clip art and then colored in with marker--or, as the boxes instead phrased it to avoid legal hassle, "The illustrations on this package are color enhanced reproductions from the actual cartoons." The actual cassettes rarely had labels or anything printed on them, while the tapes when played were often riddled with tracking or other technical problems, issues that weren't helped by most labels insisting on duplicating their product in LP or SLP speed in order to maximize content on shorter or lower quality cassettes. The cartoons themselves were almost always at the mercy of choppy, faded 16 mm prints, often looking as if they had come from a dumpster behind a defunct television station. Main and end titles were sometimes edited, replaced, or missing altogether.
Bugs does a classic wild take in Tex Avery's All This and Rabbit Stew, one of the infamous "Censored 11" Warner Bros. cartoons that nevertheless became a semi-regular offering on public domain videos (though, admittedly, looking infinitely better here than it ever did on any such releases).
Due to some of the rarer material turning up on these tapes, public domain videos became a necessary evil for cartoon collectors for the better part of the next decade and a half. Perhaps inspired by Republic Pictures reclaiming the copyright to It's a Wonderful Life in 1993, around the turn of the century Warner Bros. would begin aggressively pursuing legal action against many of these video labels for infringing on their characters and--probably more importantly--for not clearing the still-copyrighted music used in all of the Looney Tunes cartoons. Many companies gave up outright and stopped including Warner material on their releases, while others tried to slip them into their "one hour" collections under the radar. A new batch of public domain companies would spring up again in the age of DVD.
Over at one of the movie studios that were legitimately releasing Looney Tunes videos, 1987 was a bit of a transitional year at MGM. Ted Turner's buyout of the studio had been completed the year before, but to relieve debt he spent the rest of 1986 selling off significant portions of the acquired company, including the United Artists division, the trademark to the MGM name, and the actual MGM movie studio itself. Turner kept the one prize he was really after: the massive library consisting of pre-1986 MGM, pre-1950 Warner Bros., and RKO movies. MGM itself was able to reorganize under the spun-off United Artists, but in order to keep its home video division thriving on more than just the James Bond and Rocky franchises, the reformed MGM/UA Home Video entered a fifteen-year deal to license Turner's newly acquired library. Ironically, this meant that MGM had to pay Turner to release its own classic movies on home video. Enter newly appointed director of programming George Feltenstein.
A former national sales manager for the New York-based Films, Inc., Feltenstein had made a name for himself by unearthing and revitalizing classic films for the revival-house circuit--including securing distribution rights for the works of French auteur Jacques Tati and supervising a Cinemascope restoration of The King and I for Fox. Closer to home, he had also earned critical praise for producing Porky Pig in Hollywood, a touring two-hour festival of black and white Porky shorts presented on newly struck 35 mm prints. Now in charge of programming at MGM/UA Home Video, among his other duties Feltenstein wanted to rethink how the label presented animation releases. Though the Viddy-Oh! Cartoon Festival titles sold well, they were still no match for Warner's Golden Jubilee releases, where the majority of the volumes were being certified Gold and Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. It didn't help that the white Viddy-Oh! clamshell boxes did little to set them apart from similar-looking kid-vid tapes that were muscling their way onto store shelves. Feltenstein wanted to create a new line in the mold of the Golden Jubilee series, and in March 1988 he delivered with Cartoon Moviestars.
Though the Cartoon Moviestars line would eventually cover all of MGM's major animated properties, the initial assortment focused solely on Warner Bros. cartoons. Four character titles--spotlighting Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and Porky Pig--were made available at $14.95 each, as was the first ever home video release of the 1975 documentary Bugs Bunny Superstar for $19.95. With new uncut prints supplied by Turner Entertainment, the character collections featured a number of essential 1940s cartoons, many of which were making their home video debuts.
The Bugs! video included such memorable shorts as Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid, Baseball Bugs, and two entries in the Cecil Turtle trilogy; Daffy! contained the classics Book Review (in its misspelled "Blue Ribbon" form) and The Great Piggy Bank Robbery; Elmer! had a delightfully odd mix of cartoons that included two of his earliest 1940s appearances, Elmer's Candid Camera and Good Night Elmer; and in addition to such films as Little Orphan Airedale and I Haven't Got a Hat, the Porky! tape took a page from Warner's Golden Jubilee series by including the beloved Tex Avery one-shot I Love to Singa. Along with the cartoons included within Bugs Bunny Superstar, a total of thirty-eight uncut pre-1948 Looney Tunes shorts were released in the first wave, to say nothing of the numerous title-edited cartoons available on the still-in-print Viddy-Oh! Cartoon Festival volumes. The new line was very well received, with Bugs Bunny Superstar and Bugs! becoming the top-selling titles in this first assortment.
Bugs interrupts Daffy's moviegoing lecture in this Duck Amuck-inspired commercial for the Warner Bros. Collection catalog, seen on rental copies of Police Academy 5 and Beetlejuice (and then later in altered form on Batman and other titles).
The successful launch of the Cartoon Moviestars line reinvigorated MGM/UA's attention to its various animated properties. Striking while the iron was hot, the label released a second wave in September 1988, this time adding some non-Warner properties to the mix. Keeping the same pattern of four compilations and one feature-length movie, the new assortment included Starring Bugs Bunny!, Starring Tom & Jerry!, The Pink Panther, the first volume of what would become the very popular Tex Avery's Screwball Classics sub-series, and a reissue of the feature The Secret of NIMH. Though the Looney Tunes were now sharing the proverbial stage (and cover motif) with MGM and United Artists characters, it was nevertheless clear that Bugs was envisioned to be the flagship star of the Cartoon Moviestars series. In addition to the VHS releases, MGM/UA also issued a laserdisc edition of Bugs Bunny Superstar. Warner Home Video had previously released a laserdisc of Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island, but this marked the first time that uncut Looney Tunes shorts were made available on the format--and it would lead to grander releases from MGM/UA in the near future.
The Starring Bugs Bunny! video, meanwhile, featured seven cartoons that were all new to home video, focusing on more underrated mid-1940s shorts by Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and Robert McKimson. Such highlights included Easter Yeggs, Buccaneer Bunny, A Hare Grows in Manhattan, and A Feather in His Hare, which was still in regular rotation on television but would soon be quietly retired due to its Native American antagonist. The back cover's brief liner notes tried to give the cartoons some historical context, even crediting such rarely acknowledged crew members as Elmer voice artist Arthur Q. Bryan and post-war producer Edward Selzer.
As MGM/UA continued aggressively pushing new Looney Tunes video product onto the marketplace, it was time for Warner Home Video to get back into the game. With the self-imposed fiftieth anniversary behind them, Warner needed to not only rebrand their video releases but also market them less to collectors and more to families and general consumers. In October 1988 the studio launched its Cartoon Cavalcade line, a modest series of 45-minute videos priced at $14.95 each. Though the series was the heir apparent to the Golden Jubilee collection, every aspect of the compilations was much smaller in scope. Only three characters--Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig--were spotlighted in the initial assortment, the eight-cartoon average on each video was scaled down to just six, and almost all of the cartoons included were from the mid-1950s with very little either before or after that. Most future Warner Home Video VHS releases would be assembled in that same mold.
The selection of Bugs, Daffy, and Porky to star in the new compilations wasn't as random as it may have seemed, as their Golden Jubilee volumes were easily the top selling titles in the line. Three years after their release, Bugs Bunny's Wacky Adventures, Daffy Duck: The Nuttiness Continues..., and Porky Pig's Screwball Comedies were still outselling many new and catalog releases by rival studios. But the catalyst for the new line might not have been past releases but rather another company's product, as Warner's ad materials invited retailers to "cash in on the Roger Rabbit rage with everybody's favorite other rabbit and his pals!"
Despite the reduced focus on the studio's history, there was nevertheless an attempt to shine a prestigious light on these compilations, especially as Warner Bros. was beginning to look forward to another milestone: Bugs Bunny's own fiftieth birthday. Each video's back cover included liner notes by a relatively unknown writer and historian who would quickly become one of the most recognized and respected names in the animation industry, Jerry Beck. For the better part of the 1980s, Beck had been enjoying a varied career in film and animation research, including stints at Orion Classics and United Artists and assisting Leonard Maltin with research on Of Mice and Magic. Beck himself had published his own animation book with co-author Will Friedwald, 1981's The Warner Bros. Cartoons, and at the time the two were collaborating on a follow-up, the landmark paperback "bible" Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons. If anyone had an encyclopedic enough mind to properly frame a context for the Looney Tunes shorts, it was Jerry Beck, starting an off-and-on partnership with Warner Home Video that would continue for the next three decades.
Warner Home Video crafted a new introduction for the Cartoon Cavalcade line, doing away with the newly animated sequence that kicked off the Golden Jubilee videos. This time, a clip of Bugs and Daffy from the iconic stage opening of The Bugs Bunny Show segues into a Looney Tunes montage set to "This Is It." Scenes from various Warner Bros. cartoons (all of which were included in the Golden Jubilee series) play on a filmstrip set against a blue background decorated with WB shields. A final shot from the Bugs Bunny Show opening closes the montage as the song ends, with the filmstrip receding back into the center of a red Looney Tunes bullseye. Finally, a new graphic appears to announce the title of the video.
Bugs naturally commanded his own compilation in Warner's Cartoon Cavalcade line, but he also shared the spotlight with Daffy on Daffy Duck's Madcap Mania via A Star Is Bored.
Warner Home Video quickly released a second and final wave of Cartoon Cavalcade videos in March 1989. Instead of the 45-minute cartoon compilations that kicked off the series, these two new releases contained half-hour Chuck Jones television specials starring Bugs, 1976's Bugs and Daffy's Carnival of the Animals and 1978's Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court. Noteworthy for being the first ever home video release of the recurring prime-time Looney Tunes TV specials, the two tapes proved to be popular enough that almost all of the remaining specials would be individually released throughout the early 1990s.
March 1989 also saw the release of the third wave of MGM/UA's Cartoon Moviestars series. Focusing entirely on the Looney Tunes characters again, three new character collections were issued for $14.95 each, as was a brand new feature-length compilation for $19.98 that would more or less overshadow the rest of the releases.
Hosted by Leonard Maltin, the feature-length Bugs & Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons examined Hollywood's efforts during World War II, specifically those of the cartoon studios. With a proper historical context, the video presented eleven uncut mid-40s cartoons from the Turner library, the majority of which were making their debuts on home video. Though some of the more racially charged cartoons like Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips and Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs were judiciously overlooked, the entertaining selection of shorts ranged from such classics as Little Red Riding Rabbit and Draftee Daffy to such rarely seen one-shots as Fifth Column Mouse and the Chuck Jones newsreel spoof The Weakly Reporter. Bugs & Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons would become a highlight in the Cartoon Moviestars series while also serving as a stepping stone to more adult-collector-oriented releases yet to come from MGM/UA.
Among the more family-friendly character releases, Bugs again got a new solo collection with Bugs Bunny Classics. Billed as a "Special Collector's Edition" in anticipation of the character's fiftieth birthday in 1990, the video was composed primarily of Bugs's adventures from the tail end of the Turner-owned pre-1948 package, including such highlights as Rabbit Punch, Haredevil Hare, and two early tussles with Yosemite Sam: Hare Trigger and the epic Bugs Bunny Rides Again. Daffy also got a brand new collection in Just Plain Daffy, which was made up entirely of cartoons previously released in the old Viddy-Oh! Cartoon Festival volumes like Ain't That Ducky and Nasty Quacks, but at least this time they were presented uncut with their Warner Bros. bullseye openings intact. The final new compilation in this assortment was Tweety & Sylvester, collecting almost all of the Turner-owned cartoons starring the two characters (together and apart). All of the Tweety cartoons from the Little Tweety and Little Inki Cartoon Festival Featuring "I Taw a Putty Tat" video were included, as were such home video premieres as Tweety's debut in A Tale of Two Kitties, Sylvester's own introduction in Life with Feathers, and the outrageously oddball cartoon Crowing Pains starring Sylvester and Foghorn Leghorn!
In addition to the tape releases on VHS and Beta, this new wave of Cartoon Moviestars also offered a few new laserdisc releases. Bugs & Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons was given a laserdisc release, while older Cartoon Moviestars collections were combined to create new single-disc laserdiscs. The Bugs! and Elmer! videos became the Bugs! & Elmer! laserdisc, while Daffy! and Porky! became (what else?) Daffy! & Porky!
The rest of 1989 saw an interesting mix of other releases from different sides. In July Warner Home Video issued the theatrical compilation movie Daffy Duck's Quackbusters on VHS, Beta, and laserdisc in part to cash in on the theatrical release of Columbia's Ghostbusters II--becoming the studio's best-selling Looney Tunes title since the Golden Jubilee line. But perhaps the most unique release came in October with the 45-minute video Cartoons for Big Kids released not by MGM/UA but instead by the newly formed Turner Home Entertainment. Capitalizing on the newfound adult appreciation of classic theatrical animation in the wake of last year's blockbuster Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Leonard Maltin wrote, produced, and hosted this look at some of the supposed racier shorts produced during the Golden Age of Hollywood--or at least those in the Turner library. Two Looney Tunes cartoons--The Big Snooze and The Great Piggy Bank Robbery--were included, as were the MGM Tex Avery shorts King-Size Canary and Red Hot Riding Hood. Cartoons for Big Kids became so popular that Image Entertainment would issue a laserdisc edition in 1992.
The Looney Tunes characters, however, made perhaps their most watched home video showing that November, as Bugs and Daffy returned as Warner Bros. Collection catalog salesmen at the start of Warner's Batman video. A slightly retouched and redubbed version of the original 1988 trailer (and now featuring Jeff Bergman providing the voices of Bugs and Daffy for the first time), the animated ad appeared on all 13.5 million VHS and Beta copies that were shipped to retailers. With Batman setting a record of 9.8 million rentals in its first two weeks of release--and with video stores, grocery stores, discount stores, toy stores, and music stores all clearing shelf space to sell the in-demand blockbuster direct to consumers--it was clear that wherever the Caped Crusader went, Bugs and Daffy were going to follow.
But as much as 1989 was the year of the bat, 1990 was all set to be the year of the wabbit.
PART ONE - PART TWO - PART THREE - PART FOUR
LOONEY TUNES, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Speedy Gonzales, and all related characters are the exclusive properties of Warner Bros., a WarnerMedia company.