PART ONE - PART TWO - PART THREE - PART FOUR
When Only the Looney-est Will Do!
As 1990 began, Time Warner had one major thought on its mind: Bugs Bunny's fiftieth birthday. Despite the devastating loss of Mel Blanc the previous July, Warner Bros. was nevertheless committed to making Bugs Bunny a hot media and licensing property again, using the same strategy and resources that had made Batman the biggest trending entertainment brand the year before. A new theatrical short, Box Office Bunny, was in production; the Time publishing division was preparing a special commemorative magazine all about the rabbit; DC Comics was launching a three-issue mini-series; a new half-hour cartoon package, Merrie Melodies Starring Bugs Bunny & Friends, was being offered in syndication; and Warner Bros. Animation partnered with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment to produce a brand new weekday-afternoon series about Bugs schooling the next generation of cartoon stars, Tiny Toon Adventures.
With Warner Home Video reducing the retail price of its Looney Tunes back catalog to promote Bugs Bunny's fiftieth birthday, many stores created entire marketing campaigns around the wabbit. This Erol's Video ad heavily promoted the Golden Jubilee series and even offered a plush Bugs giveaway.
Warner Home Video also had plans for traditional retail, as in March 1990 the label started a price-reduction campaign, lowering the price of twenty-four cartoon collections to just $12.95 each. Also, the five theatrical compilation features were re-promoted and lowered to $19.98 each, including reissues of Friz Freleng's Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie, Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales, and Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island. In the label's first strike against the growing market of public domain Looney Tunes videos, the covers of the three movie reissues prominently featured a new element: a gold round seal with the WB shield and the phrase "Authentic Looney Tunes" circling it.
While Warner was busy re-promoting older releases, March 1990 also brought new product from MGM/UA Home Video: the fifth wave of its Cartoon Moviestars series--one made up entirely of Looney Tunes compilations after MGM collections dominated the last wave the previous fall to time with the fiftieth birthday celebration of Tom and Jerry. Marking the final assortment to feature any Warner Bros. cartoons, the uniform look of the older waves' covers, which presented characters in front of a white sunburst against a yellow background, was done away with in favor of full-color paintings of the featured cartoon stars.
Bugs vs. Elmer commemorated the pair's half-century mark with seven cartoons, two of which were new to legitimate home video (Hare Remover and the public domain favorite Fresh Hare) and the rest having only been released edited on the Cartoon Festival videos. Daffy Duck and Company and Porky Pig and Company, in addition to obviously featuring the title characters, each contained a couple of one-shots or other miscellaneous shorts such as The Dover Boys at Pimento University and most of the pre-1948 cartoons starring Hubie and Bertie.
As with the previous waves, this new Cartoon Moviestars assortment also included a laserdisc release, Bugs Bunny Classics. Following the mold of the earlier laserdiscs, it merely combined the contents of the Bugs Bunny Classics and Starring Bugs Bunny! video cassettes. Among the four waves, a total of ninety-nine uncut pre-1948 Warner Bros. cartoons were released in the Cartoon Moviestars line. And though the Looney Tunes characters were taking their final bows in that particular series, MGM/UA had bigger and better plans in store for the franchise.
In the midst of Time Warner's yearlong celebration of all things Bugs, Warner Home Video finally got into the act that August with their first new Looney Tunes video release of the 1990s: a slightly edited version of the CBS prime time special Happy Birthday Bugs: 50 Looney Years that aired just three months before. In addition to very short clips from the yet-to-be released productions Box Office Bunny and Tiny Toon Adventures (not to mention a blink-and-you-miss-it moment from Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit!), the video was noteworthy for being the first Warner Home Video release to feature clips of cartoons from the Turner library--a bit of a foreshadowing of a major event to come later in the decade. Bugs, Porky, and Tweety were also seen that month on another Warner release of another television special, The Earth Day Special that had aired earlier in the year on ABC--with the gang making cameos alongside such superstars as Robin Williams, Bette Midler, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Keaton, the cast of Cheers, and even Kermit the Frog.
As Bugs's big birthday year was nearing an end, October 1990 saw new releases from both of the (authorized) Looney Tunes home video labels. Seeing as how they had access to the very shorts that were the cause of the celebration, MGM/UA Home Video launched a brand new stand-alone Bugs Bunny video line to honor the rabbit's fiftieth year. Priced at $12.95 each, the first wave consisted of four volumes, with each one featuring five inarguable 1940s classics. To set them apart from the rather understated-looking Cartoon Moviestars videos of old, the cover of each video featured a strikingly beautiful airbrushed image of Bugs recreating a scene from one of the cartoons inside.
Unfortunately for those already collecting MGM/UA's compilations, this series left a lot to be desired. Out of the twenty cartoons available in this first assortment, only one had not been previously released by the label, the public-domain staple Wackiki Wabbit. A few others were uncut upgrades from versions released on the old Viddy-Oh! Cartoon Festivals, but the majority of the shorts were already readily available on various Cartoon Moviestars releases.
Despite the excessive repeats, the first four volumes nevertheless offered an excellent selection of Bugs's pre-1948 adventures. With all five of the major Bugs Bunny directors--Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Robert McKimson--represented at least once, and with some historically minded liner notes on the back covers, the videos served as an adequate "best of" starter collection. Bugs Bunny's Greatest Hits was rightly titled, containing the classics Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears, Slick Hare, and The Big Snooze. With a tongue-in-cheek back cover "written" by Bugs himself, The Very Best of Bugs included some of the rabbit's supposed personal favorites like Rabbit Punch and The Heckling Hare. Bugs Bunny on Parade was perhaps the oddest yet most collector-friendly volume in the first wave by including such rarely released shorts as Elmer's Pet Rabbit, Buckaroo Bugs, and Hold the Lion, Please. The assortment ended solidly with Bugs Bunny's Festival of Fun, which featured such favorites as Rhapsody Rabbit, Baseball Bugs, and The Wabbit Who Came to Supper.
Bugs and the gang ride in a Taz-drawn sleigh in a wraparound segment from the 1979 television special Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales, which made its home video debut in 1990. By early 1993, almost all of the Looney Tunes prime time specials would see a video release.
As if the numerous new Bugs Bunny releases weren't significant enough to cartoon fans, that same month brought on a change behind the scenes that set in motion a series of events that would forever alter the fate of the pre-1948 Warner Bros. cartoons. MGM was again in the crosshairs of another buyout, this time by recently launched media company Pathé Communications. Sensing a unique opportunity, Time Warner advanced Pathé founder Giancarlo Parretti $125 million to help fund the purchase. In exchange, Warner Home Video was granted a thirteen-year deal to exclusively distribute MGM/UA Home Video product. Though the sixteen-employee MGM/UA (including George Feltenstein, who was now director of laserdisc sales and marketing after an oh-so-brief stint away at Criterion) would continue to produce and package the label's releases, Warner was now in charge of mastering, manufacturing, and getting those videos and laserdiscs into stores--and, perhaps most importantly, sharing in the profits. This meant that for the first time since 1956, Warner Bros. again had a direct financial stake in its classic pre-1950 films and cartoons that were now owned by Turner and being released by MGM/UA.
Warner had one last Looney Tunes-related treat to close out the year with December's home video release of Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The horror comedy featured an animated pre-title sequence directed by Chuck Jones in which Daffy usurps Bugs from his position atop the WB shield--and later Daffy pops up throughout the end credits to offer comments before trying to take over Porky's "That's all Folks!" end tag.
With Warner Home Video now in full control of the release calendar of legitimate Looney Tunes videos, they could better strategize their new titles with those still being produced over at MGM/UA, avoiding competition and oversaturation at retail. The new Warner and MGM/UA titles over the course of 1991 would all be given wide berths, quietly starting with the January reissues of four titles from the Golden Jubilee series: Bugs Bunny's Wacky Adventures, Daffy Duck: The Nuttiness Continues, Road Runner vs. Wile E. Coyote: The Classic Chase, and Elmer Fudd's Comedy Capers. Repackaged in slightly modified covers, it is perhaps not a coincidence that each of the four volumes contained Bugs Bunny cartoons, a clear indication that Warner Home Video intended to keep the focus on Bugs well into the new year.
Warner continued to push Bugs that February with the second wave of MGM/UA's Bugs Bunny series, again consisting of four tapes at $12.95 each. Again jam-packed with classic pre-1948 Bugs shorts, the second assortment unfortunately proved to be even less essential to completists than the first. All but one of the cartoons were already found on various Cartoon Moviestars videos, while the remaining short was merely another uncut upgrade from a previous Cartoon Festival release.
Bugs Bunny's Zaniest 'Toons was the only "themed" volume in the whole series, focusing solely on Bugs's encounters with Cecil Turtle and Yosemite Sam. Bugs Bunny: Hollywood Legend focused primarily on mid-40s cartoons by Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng such as Hare Force, Hare Tonic, and Hare Conditioned. Here Comes Bugs was almost a rethinking of last year's Bugs vs. Elmer compilation, including such essential pairings of the two as The Unruly Hare and the Blue Ribbon-titled The Wild Hare. Finally, Bugs Bunny's Comedy Classics contained such WTBS staples as Easter Yeggs and Racketeer Rabbit. Quality Bugs shorts all, but all previously released as well.
Unfortunately, cartoon selection was the least of the problems with this second wave. Surprisingly, the videos now claimed to contain six shorts each as opposed to five in the first batch. However, due to some odd mastering error, initial shipments neglected to include the sixth cartoons listed on each box; with Bugs Bunny Rides Again, Herr Meets Hare, A Feather in His Hare, and Haredevil Hare becoming the shorts missing in action. MGM/UA eventually corrected the mistake, and videos with all six advertised shorts were finally shipped at a later date, but in those pre-Internet days there was no viable way to alert collectors or to offer any sort of replacement program for those stuck with the error copies. Ultimately, it was a crapshoot as to which version a consumer picked up.
For fans who may have started their VHS collection with the Bugs Bunny line, it meant frustratingly having to backtrack in order to obtain the "missing" cartoons--buying older Cartoon Moviestars tapes at full price for the benefit of owning usually only one of the cartoons on it. Bugs Bunny Rides Again and Haredevil Hare were still available on the Bugs Bunny Classics video, while Herr Meets Hare was on the pricier Bugs & Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons and A Feather in His Hare was on Starring Bugs Bunny! MGM/UA likely had every intention of including all listed cartoons on the videos, especially since the cover for Here Comes Bugs depicted Bugs in a scene from A Feather in His Hare while a recreated still from Haredevil Hare appeared on the back of the box for Bugs Bunny's Comedy Classics, but at the same time it was hard not to see the error as a ploy to get consumers to buy additional product.
It also didn't help matters that there weren't enough Bugs Bunny cartoons left in the Turner package to justify a third wave of videos, which meant that fans had to do even more hunting and searching if they wanted to attempt to complete their pre-1948 Bugs collection. The few remaining cartoons weren't necessarily impossible to find, but one would still have had to again purchase additional videos. Stage Door Cartoon was still available on the Bugs vs. Elmer video, A Corny Concerto and The Old Grey Hare were included on Bugs Bunny Superstar, while Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt (albeit with the edited opening titles) was only on the quickly disappearing Bugs Bunny Cartoon Festival Featuring "Little Red Riding Rabbit." To say nothing of the fact that there were still three pre-1948 Bugs cartoons unreleased on video by MGM/UA: All This and Rabbit Stew, Case of the Missing Hare, and the wartime Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips. Though the first two titles were in the public domain and relatively easy to find on numerous budget tapes, it was extremely unlikely that the third short was ever going to appear on any sort of general retail release...for the moment, anyway.
In the end, the Bugs Bunny series posed something of a Catch-22 for collectors. Those who started their collections with the line were forced to purchase older videos to fill gaps, while consumers who instead had already owned the various Cartoon Moviestars videos needed to indulge in the line for the sake of a handful of uncut cartoons. It became a line that tried to cater to both casual and die-hard fans yet satisfied neither. It would be almost a year before MGM/UA recovered with what would inarguably be their greatest Looney Tunes release.
It wasn't until August that Warner Home Video issued its first dedicated Looney Tunes product of the new year--all it had offered thus far was the inclusion of Box Office Bunny on the May release of The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter, the movie the cartoon was paired with theatrically. Based on the success they had last year with Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales, Warner decided to dive back into their catalog of half-hour Looney Tunes television specials--most of which featured clips of classic cartoons bridged with new animation to create a single story. Timed with the upcoming fall holidays in mind, this first assortment consisted of two individual releases: Bugs Bunny's Howl-oween Special and Bugs Bunny's Thanksgiving Diet. Warner Home Video would spend the bulk of the next two years preparing the other TV specials for release.
August also saw a very special Looney Tunes release from Warner Home Video, one not necessarily intended for children but rather marketed under the label's "Special Interest" banner. Marking Warner's first director-specific release since the days of the Golden Jubilee series, Chuck Amuck: The Movie was a 1989 British documentary initially produced to promote the opening of London's Museum of the Moving Image but then as an afterthought was loosely tied to Chuck Jones's recently released autobiography. In addition to chats with Jones, the film also featured vintage interviews with Mel Blanc and Michael Maltese that were shot during the making of Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales.
Owl Jolson performs his signature song in Tex Avery's celebrated one-shot I Love to Singa, one of the highlights on the "1930s Musicals" side of the first Golden Age of Looney Tunes laserdisc set.
Since the Cartoon Moviestars line was officially over, The Golden Age of Looney Tunes was meant to be an all-new, definitive series for collectors. With the limited amount of Warner Bros. shorts in the Turner library, understandably there was going to be some overlap with what had been released by MGM/UA over the years. Even still, the majority of the cartoons on the set were new to the laserdisc format, while a third of the seventy cartoons were entirely new to home video altogether.
"We put all our favorite titles into the first volume," explained Jerry Beck, "not knowing if we'd have the chance to do any further laser collections."
Naturally, many of the highlights involved cartoons not usually found on MGM/UA's past Looney Tunes releases, as the laserdisc sides contained a cross-section of celebrated character shorts and often-overlooked one-shots. Two of the handful of black and white Warner Bros. cartoons under Turner's control were included on the "1930s Musicals" side, as were Katnip Kollege and Tex Avery's Page Miss Glory. The side completely devoted to Avery contained all new-to-video material such as Thugs with Dirty Mugs and Cross-Country Detours. The Chuck Jones side featured the director's inaugural short The Night Watchman and even an Inki cartoon! But perhaps the boldest addition on the entire set was found on the "Bugs Bunny by Each Director" side, which featured the rarely seen wartime cartoon Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips--not necessarily an officially "banned" short the way the "Censored 11" were, but definitely one considered a little too politically incorrect by the 1990s, so much so that it wasn't even included back on Bugs & Daffy: The Wartime Cartoons. Its inclusion was a clear sign of the intended scope of the series and of the determination to present the Warner Bros. cartoons as something more than just kiddie entertainment, but it was also a move that would come back to bite MGM/UA in the "That's all, Folks!"
George Feltenstein would later recall how his industry colleagues laughed at the mere suggestion of his plan to create a laserdisc boxed set devoted to Looney Tunes. But his gamble paid off, with The Golden Age of Looney Tunes eventually selling over 14,000 copies in its first year of release and becoming the twenty-fifth best-selling laserdisc of 1992, well over four times the company's own expectations. A follow-up set was not only all but inevitable, but it would also pave the way for similar sets centered around Tom and Jerry and Tex Avery's MGM cartoons.
With MGM/UA catering to the more serious, adult cartoon fan with its pricy laserdisc releases and leaving more general audiences behind, Warner Home Video decided to fill the void by offering lower-priced tapes aimed primarily at families. The studio particularly spent the better part of 1992 aggressively rolling out a release campaign for its remaining Looney Tunes prime time television specials.
The first batch of TV specials for 1992 came out in January and sold well. Priced at $12.95 each, the assortment consisted of Bugs Bunny's Cupid Capers (released just a month before Valentine's Day), Bugs Bunny: All American Hero, Bugs vs. Daffy: Battle of the Music Video Stars, and Bugs Bunny's Wild World of Sports. The attractive box art by freelance illustrator extraordinaire Greg Martin blended classic looks of the characters with modern design sensibilities, setting the standard for Warner's cover artwork for the next decade.
Warner Home Video quickly followed it up with an additional wave that March. Timed with the upcoming Easter holiday and promoted as potential basket-stuffers, each of the four videos were themed around the spring season: Bugs Bunny's Easter Funnies (the only hour-long animated special Warner produced), Bugs Bunny's Bustin' Out all Over, Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-citement, and The Bugs Bunny Mother's Day Special. Both Bugs Bunny's Bustin' Out all Over and Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-citement were noteworthy for each featuring three original seven-minute shorts by Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, respectively.
In the middle of all these blasts from television's past, July 1992 finally saw the first new series of character compilations from Warner since 1988. Though officially untitled, the line is commonly referred to as the "movie parody series," as each video's title parodies that of a hit movie (Sylvester & Tweety: The Best Yeows of Our Lives, etc.). Six characters or teams were featured in this series: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, Sylvester and Tweety, and Yosemite Sam--the latter getting his first stand-alone collection ever. The cover art depicted the characters coming out of a Warner Bros. bullseye and filmstrip similar to the "Happy Birthday Bugs" logo, a motif Warner Home Video had previously used for a 1990 UK line of character videos done in the Golden Jubilee mold.
Each video started with the same Bugs Bunny Show-framed clip montage that kicked off the Cartoon Cavalcade collections, but with one major difference. In another salvo targeted at the various public domain tapes that were still filling up store shelves, Warner Home Video created a new "seal of approval" logo to appear just before each compilation's title. Unlike the round gold WB seal that appeared on releases a couple of years ago, this new graphic looked more like a coat of arms. The WB shield and Looney Tunes logo were prominently displayed, with banners proclaiming "Authentic and Original Looney Tunes Cartoons: When Only the Looney-est Will Do!" The logo would be used on all Looney Tunes home videos and promotional materials for the next two years.
With only five cartoons each this time (an all-time low for Warner releases), the videos featured only choice selections with little to no filler. In a bit of good news/bad news, Warner Home Video deviated from the usual tried-and-true era of 1950s cartoons by including a few exceptional late 1930s and early 1940s shorts on two of the collections. Unfortunately, instead of the original black and white versions of such classics as Porky Pig's Feat and The Impatient Patient, the studio decided to use the supposedly more family-friendly computer-colorized versions done for syndication and Nickelodeon earlier in the decade. Though this process was lightyears better than the late 1960s Korean-outsourced method of retracing and refilming entire cartoons, and though the process at least retained the shorts' original animation, for purists it was nevertheless a poor substitute.
In another, less controversial example of appealing to general consumers, three of the five cartoons on Bugs Bunny: Truth or Hare pitted Bugs against characters Warner Bros. Consumer Products had been eagerly promoting in the early 1990s: Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare with the Tasmanian Devil; Hare-way to the Stars with Marvin the Martian; and Water, Water Every Hare with Gossamer. Daffy Duck: Tales from the Duckside meanwhile included three of the aforementioned computer-colorized cartoons plus the rarely seen Wise Quackers, in which Daffy promises to be Elmer's slave to avoid being shot at. Porky Pig: Days of Swine and Roses featured three more colorized shorts in addition to Arthur Davis's excellent 1940s swan song Bye, Bye Bluebeard. Two of the highlights on The Road Runer & Wile E. Coyote: The Scrapes of Wrath were the earthquake-pill classic Hopalong Casualty and the goofy Bugs/Wile skirmish Rabbit's Feat. Sylvester & Tweety: The Best Yeows of Our Lives featured a number of classic 1950s shorts including the train-themed All A Bir-r-r-d and the park-set Home, Tweet Home.
For die-hard fans, the highlight of the whole series was perhaps Yosemite Sam: The Good, the Bad and the Ornery!, Sam's debut video collection. With the wealth of unreleased Yosemite Sam cartoons in Warner's vault, picking just five might have seemed like a daunting task--especially since a Sam short, The Fair-Haired Hare, was already being included on Bugs Bunny: Truth or Hare. In the end, five exemplary Yosemite Sam cartoons were featured, showcasing a cross-section of the character's career as a Western outlaw (Wild and Woolly Hare), a sea-going captain (Mutiny on the Bunny), a foreign heavy (Sahara Hare), a backwoods rabbit hunter (Rabbit Every Monday), and even the cowboy's lone solo outing (Honey's Money). The collection was apparently well worth it for the Sam fans who patiently waited, as The Good, the Bad and the Ornery! became the best-selling title in the whole series.
Marvin threatens Daffy in a "deleted scene" from Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 1/2th Century, seen only in home video releases of the 1981 television special Daffy Duck's Thanks-for-giving. When the cartoon eventually saw a video release on its own, it would only be as the condensed "short" version.
As if the month didn't have enough new product from Warner Home Video already, the label also distributed the latest laserdisc release from MGM/UA, the long-awaited second volume of The Golden Age of Looney Tunes. Again priced at $99.98, the five-disc set featured seventy more cartoons from the pre-1948 Turner library, of which fifty-seven were new to laserdisc and thirty-three were entirely new to home video.
The 1930s Merrie Melodies were again given the introductory side of the boxed set, offering such classics as Honeymoon Hotel and the black and white Goopy Geer. Another side was devoted to the evolution of Bugs Bunny, including the prototype cartoons like Hare-um Scare-um and such early official entries as Elmer's Pet Rabbit and Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt. Directors Frank Tashlin, Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones were each given dedicated laserdisc sides, while another was split between Robert McKimson and Arthur Davis. Fairy tale spoofs took up another, as did all cartoons focusing on sleep deprivation (titled "Variations on a Theme"). Daffy finally got his due on "The Art of Daffy (or Six Directors in Search of a Screwy Duck)," while such characters as Hippety Hopper and the Goofy Gophers were featured on the "Best Supporting Players" side.
The enormous success of the Golden Age of Looney Tunes series led to MGM/UA issuing a VHS and Beta edition of the first volume that November, which would end up being the final Looney Tunes cassette series released by the label. Each of the ten sides from the first boxed set became individual video releases priced at $12.95 each (the "1930s Musicals" laserdisc side became The Golden Age of Looney Tunes Volume 1: 1930s Musicals, etc.), while all ten sides were also offered in a boxed set of five double-length videos for $79.95. Warner Bros. animator Darrell Van Citters designed the video covers, creating new and faithful artwork of such long-forgotten characters as Sniffles and the Avery-era Elmer.
The cassette versions marked the VHS/Beta debuts of such cartoons as Odor-able Kitty, The Bashful Buzzard, Page Miss Glory, and notably Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, among others. The inclusion of the racially charged wartime Bugs short would eventually have serious repercussions on how Looney Tunes home video product was produced and marketed.
MGM/UA did make plans to offer additional Golden Age of Looney Tunes laserdiscs on cassette, but in the end only the ten volumes (and the one five-tape set) containing the first collection's contents made it to stores. With this final assortment, the label had released a total of 143 Warner Bros. cartoons onto video cassette.
Even though they would stop producing Looney Tunes videos, MGM/UA was far from finished with the franchise, as in December they delivered The Golden Age of Looney Tunes Vol. 3 on laserdisc through Warner Home Video. Like its predecessors, this new five-disc boxed set contained an additional seventy pre-1948 cartoons. Similar to the second laserdisc set, fifty-eight of the shorts were new to the format, but forty-seven were completely new to home video.
The third volume marked something of a turning point in the series. Fewer and fewer cartoons featured any of the recognizable Warner Bros. characters, with Bugs in particular almost being entirely relegated to one disc side and Daffy and Porky having to share another. The majority of the cartoons featured were either one-shots or starred lesser known characters such as Egghead or Inki. By this point there was hardly any doubt that The Golden Age of Looney Tunes were being produced and marketed just for die-hard collectors.
Some of the few remaining black and white Merrie Melodies by Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising that were in the Turner package made up a side of the set's first disc. The 1940s Chuck Jones shorts like From Hand to Mouse and Fresh Airedale made up a side, as did various Friz Freleng cartoons. Another was devoted to Tex Avery one-shots, while Frank Tashlin and Bob Clampett cartoons were paired up on that disc's flipside. Sports spoofs such as Sports Chumpions and the classic Baseball Bugs took up a side, while cartoons starring Egghead and then the pre-Wild Hare Elmer Fudd were spotlighted on a side titled "The Evolution of Egghead." Easily the most intriguing side for completists was the set's closing compilation, "Politically Incorrect," which showcased rarely seen or outright shelved cartoons that were deemed to be either sexist (the domestic-abuse-themed He Was Her Man) or insensitive to Native Americans (Sioux Me, A Feather in His Hare) and African Americans (The Early Worm Gets the Bird).
Despite the willingness to feature racier and more adult-oriented material, unfortunately for collectors it was becoming apparent that one batch of cartoons the Golden Age of Looney Tunes laserdiscs wouldn't be touching were the infamous "Censored 11," referring to eleven specific shorts that were pulled from distribution by United Artists in 1968 at the height of the civil rights movement. Though a few were in the public domain, they had never been officially distributed since they were suppressed, a policy Turner Entertainment continued when it acquired the library.
Warner Home Video repeated much of 1992's release strategy into 1993, though not at the same frenetic pace. March saw the final wave of prime time television specials released, almost entirely exhausting Warner Bros.' library. Focusing on the specials that had no discernible connection to any holiday or time of year, the assortment included The Bugs Bunny Mystery Special, Bugs Bunny's Mad World of Television, How Bugs Bunny Won the West, Bugs Bunny's Overtures to Disaster, and the world premiere of a previously unaired special, Bugs Bunny's Lunar Tunes. Produced in 1991 and intended for broadcast on CBS the following year, the space-themed Bugs Bunny's Lunar Tunes had become lost in the shuffle after the network decided to stop airing Looney Tunes specials following the abysmal ratings of 1992's Bugs Bunny's Creature Features. (An additional special, initially referred to as Bugs Bunny's Secrets of Filmmaking and later retitled Bugs Bunny's Cinemaniacs, was in pre-production at the time of the CBS decision and was never completed.) An attempt to temper the special's unceremonious debut on home video was made by the cover art, which hoped to attract consumers by calling attention to the studio's newly rediscovered cartoon star with the blurb "Featuring Marvin the Martian!"
With this final batch of videos, the only remaining animated special left unreleased was 1977's Bugs Bunny in Space, which was left in the proverbial can since it was the only one to not feature any new animation.
March 1993 also saw a first from Warner Home Video. Taking a page from MGM/UA, the label finally started releasing its own cartoon compilations on laserdisc. Instead of massive, multi-disc boxed sets like The Golden Age of Looney Tunes, Warner decided to concentrate on single-disc collections with very specific themes. The first wave contained six laserdiscs priced at $34.98 each.
While MGM/UA's The Golden Age of Looney Tunes releases often devoted laserdisc sides to certain directors or specific kinds of one-shots, the theming on Warner's discs were a little broader. Three character collections were released in the first wave, while the other three offerings focused on horror cartoons, musical cartoons, and some of the studio's supporting characters. The laserdisc programs began with the same "This Is It"/montage opening that kicked off last year's Warner cassettes. Each compilation mixed iconic cartoons that for the most part were last seen on the Golden Jubilee videos with more underrated or otherwise unreleased material. Eighty-six cartoons were featured in Warner's inaugural assortment, of which thirty-eight were new to home video.
Bugs naturally got his own laserdisc with Winner by a Hare: 14 of Bugs Bunny's Best, which included such previously released classics as Bully for Bugs and Rabbit Seasoning but also debuted the equally essential Captain Hareblower, My Bunny Lies over the Sea, and Mississippi Hare, among others. Duck Victory: Daffy Duck's Screen Classics featured obvious selections like Robin Hood Daffy and Duck Amuck alongside Muscle Tussle and Daffy Dilly. Perhaps the most collector-friendly laserdisc in the first wave was Ham on Wry: The Porky Pig Laser Collection, which included a number of black and white classics such as You Ought to Be in Pictures and Porky in Wackyland (but then the other shoe dropped, as it also contained the recent computer-colorized version of Porky Pig's Feat). The humorously titled Looney Tunes After Dark: Ghoul, Ghost and Goblin Cartoon Classics was primarily horror-themed with a few science fiction cartoons thrown in as well, collecting Hyde and Go Tweet and The Wearing of the Grin while also debuting The Abominable Snow Rabbit and The Hasty Hare. The most eclectic mix of cartoons was found on Looney Tunes Assorted Nuts: Memorable "Supporting Players" and Vintage Classics from the Looney Tunes Vault, which not only had sixteen cartoons as opposed to fourteen but also the most number of home video debuts in the first wave, including one-shots like Chow Hound, cartoons with the Three Bears and Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, and even the Pete Puma showcase Rabbit's Kin. Closing out the first assortment was Looney Tunes Curtain Calls: Classic Warner Bros. Musical and Show Business Cartoons, which contained the expected mix of shorts such as One Froggy Evening and What's Opera, Doc? but also included Nelly's Folly, Three Little Bops, and even Tweety's Circus for Sylvester's rousing opening number.
With 1993 already being a big year for Looney Tunes on laserdisc, it was perhaps no surprise when July saw the release of MGM/UA's The Golden Age of Looney Tunes Vol. 4, the fourth and (at the time) assumed final edition in the series. Another five-disc boxed set, the fourth volume differed from the previous collections by including seventy-three cartoons (due to four very special bonus shorts), of which sixty-six were new to laserdisc and sixty-one were new to an official home video release.
After three previous seventy-cartoon sets, a clear attempt was made to treat The Golden Age of Looney Tunes Vol. 4 like the series's swan song. All remaining Bugs Bunny cartoons in the Turner library were included (except for All This and Rabbit Stew from the "Censored 11"), as were almost any remaining shorts starring a recurring character, most of the remaining Chuck Jones and Frank Tashlin cartoons, the one lone Bob Clampett cartoon left unreleased (again, apart from his entries in the "Censored 11"), and most of last few spoofs of Hollywood and radio stars. There were so few series or themes left to explore that the only two characters to get their own dedicated laserdisc sides were Bugs and, incredibly, Sniffles!
Bugs sings and dances for Uncle Sam in the classic promotional trailer Any Bonds Today?, which made its official home video debut as a special feature on MGM/UA's The Golden Age of Looney Tunes Vol. 4 laserdisc boxed set.
MGM/UA sales figures indicated that together the four boxed sets had sold over 50,000 copies, an unbelievable success for hundred-dollar releases showcasing fifty-year-old content usually considered children's fodder. Seemingly ending on a high note, The Golden Age of Looney Tunes Vol. 4 was the final MGM/UA Looney Tunes product distributed by Warner Home Video. But miraculously, reports of the series's death would eventually prove to be premature.
With more than enough new laserdisc product out in stores, Warner Home Video spent September 1993 concentrating heavily on video cassette releases. First up was the label's brand new series of Looney Tunes compilations. Five new character collections were offered, again repeating the previous year's format of containing five cartoons each. And like last year, there was no clear series title or banner these videos fell under--there wasn't even any underlying cover motif. The only constant element was the now-standard "Authentic and Original Looney Tunes Cartoons" logo appearing in the corner. The genericness of the assortment was compounded by the lack of any kind of opening graphic or sequence; just a quick Warner Bros. Family Entertainment logo featuring Bugs that had become standard on the studio's family releases. Notably, this became the final Warner series to be offered on Beta.
Considering Warner's newfound appreciation of laserdisc, it was perhaps not surprising that the majority of the cartoons in this series were already mastered for disc. In fact, many of them had already been included in March's assortment. Thankfully though, this meant that many long-missing-in-action classics were finally seeing a video release.
Bugs Bunny's Hare-Brained Hits was arguably the most satisfying collection in the series, with such essential entries as My Bunny Lies over the Sea, Captain Hareblower, and Hillbilly Hare. Elmer got his first Warner video compilation since 1986 with Elmer Fudd's School of Hard Knocks, which focused less on his encounters with Bugs and more on appearances with Daffy (Don't Axe Me), the Goofy Gophers (Pests for Guests), and John the paranoid rooster in the eerie Each Dawn I Crow. The Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote's Crash Course filled such early gaps as Going! Going! Gosh! and Scrambled Aches. Sylvester & Tweety's Tale Feathers included such excellent shorts as Satan's Waitin' and A Street Cat Named Sylvester but also a solo Sylvester cartoon: Tree for Two's not nearly as iconic sequel, Dr. Jerkyl's Hide. Surprisingly, Yosemite Sam got his second video collection only a year after his first with Yosemite Sam's Yeller Fever, which featured such Friz Freleng classics as This Is a Life? (in which Sam is more just a featured character than the main antagonist), Hare Trimmed, and the often-edited-for-TV Southern Fried Rabbit.
Unfortunately, Yosemite Sam's Yeller Fever also included Bunker Hill Bunny, which was last seen on cassette on A Salute to Friz Freleng in the Golden Jubilee line. Although the Salute to... compilations were often cannibalized for later Golden Jubilee videos, this nevertheless marked the first time in seven years that a Warner video release featured a double-dip. It was the start of a pattern that would annoy collectors across multiple formats.
As if five new cartoon compilations weren't enough, September also saw the release of three episode collections from Taz-Mania, the Fox Kids Saturday morning cartoon starring the Tasmanian Devil and his family. Containing two half-hour episodes each, the three videos--Taz-Maniac, Taz-Manimals and Taz-Tronaut--were the first ever home video release of the series and the only cassette releases in the United States (additional volumes were released in the United Kingdom). While Taz-Mania never made as big of an impact in terms of licensing the way Tiny Toon Adventures or Animaniacs did, the three videos nevertheless stayed in print long after the program ended its original broadcast run.
After the breakneck release schedule of the past two years, 1994 proved to be extremely light on the Looney Tunes front. For most VHS collectors, it was the start of a dry spell that would last almost three years.
One bright spot came not from Warner Bros. but from Donovan Publishing, which had signed a deal with Friz Freleng to explore the legendary director's life, career, and artistry. In February the company released Animation: The Art of Friz Freleng Volume One, a massive hardbound biography co-written by Freleng and David Weber. Unlike the general release of Chuck Jones's wildly successful Chuck Amuck, Donovan marketed Freleng's book primarily to art galleries by making it a numbered limited edition of just four thousand copies, priced at a whopping $1400!
For those collectors willing to take the plunge, they got not just a book but an entire boxed set. The book itself was split up into two volumes, one mostly consisting of text and the other of art. One also got a behind-the-scenes production booklet, three limited edition sericels, a special hologram page personally signed by Freleng, an audio cassette, and an exclusive video titled Freleng: Frame by Frame. Narrated by Stan Freberg, the feature-length documentary traced Freleng's life and career, featured a slew of clips from his classic cartoons, and contained rare on-camera interviews with such crew members as Arthur Davis, Norm McCabe, and many others. The boxed set would be the documentary's only release, making it something of a Holy Grail for die-hard fans and enthusiasts of the Looney Tunes directors.
Warner Home Video's only release of 1994 came in May with its second and final wave of cartoon compilations on laserdisc. Six new collections were offered at $34.98 each, again with three focusing on specific characters and three focusing on themed cartoons. Fresh off (supposedly) wrapping up MGM/UA's Golden Age of Looney Tunes series, Jerry Beck returned to provide liner notes and programming suggestions.
Similar to last year's assortment, eighty-four cartoons were released in this second wave, forty of which were new to home video in the United States. The amount of debuts on a given laserdisc seemed to have depended largely on its subject matter. The themed discs had the bigger percentages of unreleased cartoons, while the character collections were for the most part split equally between repeats and premieres--apart from one laserdisc title that was made up entirely of previously released material.
No new Warner video assortment would be complete without a new Bugs compilation, in this case Hare Beyond Compare: 14 More Bugs Bunny Classics. In addition to such iconic shorts as Rabbit Fire and Bunker Hill Bunny it also featured the likes of Big Top Bunny and Rebel Rabbit. The cat and the canary got their first laserdisc release with Sylvester & Tweety's Bad Ol' Putty Tat Blues, which included the obvious entries like Birds Anonymous and Greedy for Tweety but also focused heavily on Sylvester's non-Tweety cartoons, including the debuts of Stooge for a Mouse and Pop 'Im Pop! with Hippety Hopper and Sylvester Jr. The third character disc was devoted to another famous pair, The Road Runner vs. Wile E. Coyote: If at First You Don't Succeed..., which sadly just contained the first thirteen Wile E. cartoons in order with Hopalong Casualty thrown in at the end--all fine cartoons, but also all released on older VHS compilations. Though a valiant effort, the laserdisc nevertheless hinted at the danger of reintroducing a formulaic series onto an all-new format.
A more diverse and livelier selection of cartoons were featured on the themed titles. Police spoofs were the focus of Guffaw and Order: Looney Tunes Fight Crime, which debuted a wide array of shorts ranging from Rocket Squad to Bugsy and Mugsy to Dough Ray Me-Ow to even the black and white Porky cartoons The Blow Out and Porky's Movie Mystery. Longitude & Looneytude: 14 Globetrotting Looney Tunes Favorites was all about putting the characters into international settings, with a particular focus on Pepé le Pew. Highlights on the disc included Frigid Hare, A Pizza Tweety Pie, and the black and white Polar Pals. Warner's final laserdisc collection was perhaps the most obvious one given the studio's cartoon library, as Wince Upon a Time: Foolhardy Fairy Tales and Looney Legends focused on storybook and fairy tale parodies, debuting such films as Little Red Rodent Hood, Paying the Piper, and (once again) three more black and white Porky shorts.
"Here's some scrap iron for Japan, Moto!" Easily the boldest and most controversial addition to the Golden Age of Looney Tunes series was the wartime Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, eventually causing the only ever recall of a Looney Tunes video product.
"It hurts because a large corporation is so insensitive to rerelease this type of video to children," explained JACL spokesperson Lori Fujimoto in a television interview. Though nothing was said of the larger laserdisc boxed set that originally featured the cartoon, members of the organization felt it was inappropriate to market the stand-alone cassette alongside other family-friendly Looney Tunes releases.
MGM/UA was sympathetic but nevertheless stuck to their guns on the philosophy of the Golden Age of Looney Tunes series. In a statement to the press, spokesperson Anne Corley said, "When we were compiling the video, we were putting together a history of animation. As much as it is distasteful, it was part of history at the time and reflected Hollywood's part in the war effort." Among the reported eight thousand copies of the video that had been sold, MGM/UA claimed they had only received one complaint.
The controversy became a major news story thanks to the Associated Press including it on its wire service, while a television news segment produced in Sacramento was picked up by other stations across the country. Featuring extended clips of the cartoon itself, it ironically gave the short more television exposure than it had received in decades.
Both Warner Bros. and MGM/UA responded quickly to the complaints. The Warner Bros. Studio Stores immediately pulled the video off its shelves, while MGM/UA voluntarily recalled not only Bugs Bunny by Each Director but also the five-tape Golden Age of Looney Tunes boxed set and the original five-disc laserdisc collection. While the VHS releases were gone for good (thus becoming hot collector's items), MGM/UA would quietly reissue the Golden Age of Looney Tunes laserdisc set with Racketeer Rabbit in place of Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips.
Bigger, better, history-making Warner news came later that year when on September 22 Time Warner announced that it had reached an agreement to merge with Turner Entertainment, with the former intending to purchase the remaining 80 percent of the latter's stock that it didn't already own. All of Turner's assets were to be folded into Time Warner, including film divisions Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema, animation studio Hanna-Barbera, sports franchises the Atlanta Braves and WCW, Turner's various cable networks including CNN and TBS, and most importantly, Turner's vast library of pre-1986 MGM productions and pre-1950 Warner Bros. films.
It was that last element that was especially attractive to the studio, as it would right a past wrong. Not knowing the potential for television and then eventually home video, during the mid-to-late 1950s Warner Bros. sold off significant portions of its library--both animated and live action--to various television distributors. Almost every subsequent merger or acquisition the studio was involved in would in some way bring part of the library back under the tent. Now, for the first time in nearly forty years, the entire Warner Bros. library would be back home.
The deal would take another thirteen months to complete, and even then Time Warner continued to honor various distribution deals and partnerships that Turner had signed before the merger. In the meantime, Warner Bros. had some pretty out of this world plans for the Looney Tunes franchise.
The studio was well under way with production of Space Jam, a big-budget, special-effects-fueled comedy blending together live action and animation in the style of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Fresh off his popular Nike commercials, NBA superstar Michael Jordan co-starred alongside Bugs, Daffy, and the entire Looney Tunes gang as the basketball player comes to save the cartoon icons from a band of kidnapping aliens. Warner Bros. would spend the better part of 1996 promoting the holiday release.
While Warner Bros. was perfecting special effects for its upcoming intended blockbuster, another Warner division was working on technology of a different kind, one that would revolutionize the home video industry. In March 1996 investors and shareholders received the Time Warner 1995 Annual Report, which recapped the corporation's various successes of the past year and looked at its plans for the future. Buried in an article about Warner Home Video was the news that the label, "along with Time Warner partner Toshiba and an unprecedented alliance of leading global consumer electronics and entertainment companies, forged an agreement in 1995 to create the digital versatile disc, or DVD." Anticipating a major launch by the end of the year, Warner Home Video hoped "to benefit by releasing first-run movies in the new format and re-releasing its extensive catalogue of feature motion pictures."
As for the immediate future, Warner Home Video was doing its part to promote the upcoming release of Space Jam by focusing on the Looney Tunes' previous big-screen endeavors. In August 1996 a pair of new compilations were released on VHS, each one featuring a recently released theatrical short alongside a selection of classic cartoons.
Arguably the more satisfying of the two videos was Carrotblanca: Looney Tunes Go to the Movies, which spotlighted the 1995 Casablanca spoof of the same name that ran with Warner's family film The Amazing Panda Adventure. The rest of the video was made up of movie-themed cartoons, either in the way of genre spoofs or about the moviegoing experience. Two semi-highlights on the collection were 1990's Box Office Bunny, making its debut on a dedicated Looney Tunes VHS, and the world premiere of the recent computer-colorized version of the classic animation/live action hybrid You Ought to Be in Pictures--by no means a substitute for the original black and white version, but interesting for mere curiosity's sake.
Chuck Jones's 1994 cartoon Chariots of Fur, which preceded the live action adaptation of Richie Rich starring Macaulay Culkin, appropriately kicked off the other video in this assortment, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote: Chariots of Fur. The other five cartoons on the compilation were such old favorites as Beep, Beep and Operation: Rabbit, all fine cartoons but all five of which were readily available on the still-in-print Road Runner vs. Wile E. Coyote: The Classic Chase from the Golden Jubilee series--hardly enough to justify the $12.95 price.
When Space Jam was finally released theatrically that November, Warner Home Video offered a more direct tie-in that same month with the Stars of Space Jam collection, a series of five character compilations. Featuring six cartoons each, the videos were available individually or--for the first time ever in a Warner series--as a single boxed set. Of the thirty cartoons available in the collection, twenty-one were new to VHS.
The choice of the new cartoons on each video left something to be desired. There weren't really any stinkers on the compilations but there also weren't any outright classics; more b-list material than a-list. Stars of Space Jam: Bugs Bunny was one of the weaker volumes in the assortment, something of a rarity for a Bugs collection in a series. The Saturday morning stand-by Apes of Wrath and the early Robert McKimson entry Hot Cross Bunny stood alongside such lesser Chuck Jones work as Forward March Hare and Barbary Coast Bunny. Stars of Space Jam: Daffy Duck was mostly 1950s McKimson material like Stupor Duck and the inspired Daffy/Foghorn crossover The High and the Flighty. Perhaps the most wholly entertaining video in the series was Stars of Space Jam: Sylvester and Tweety, which debuted a number of great 1950s Friz Freleng shorts including Snow Business, the Oscar-nominated Sandy Claws, and Tree Cornered Tweety with Tweety narrating the cartoon Dragnet-style.
Unquestionably the most disappointing offering in the collection was Stars of Space Jam: Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, which contained just one cartoon that was new to home video, the average Hot-Rod and Reel! Not only were the other five cartoons on the video--Gee Whiz-z-z-z, Zoom and Bored, Fast and Furry-ous, Zip 'n Snort, and Hook, Line and Stinker--all double-dipped from Golden Jubilee videos, but two of them--Zip 'n Snort and Hook, Line and Stinker--had just been repeated three months ago on the Chariots of Fur video! Considering the number of Road Runner shorts that were still unissued on home video, this continued reuse of the same handful of cartoons was more than enough to frustrate collectors.
Cartoon repeats also played a role in the most innovative character compilation in the series, Stars of Space Jam: Tasmanian Devil. Warner's past character videos were always devoted to those that had a sizable library, at least one large enough to be able to pick choice shorts and save some for later collections. Taz instead was a character who for one reason or another was used sparingly, and it was always more likely that he would simply be featured on a Bugs Bunny collection alongside other films. But banking on the character's modern-day popularity, Warner Home Video collected all of Taz's cartoons for the first time ever; just enough to fill a six-cartoon video. Three double-dips--Devil May Hare, Bedevilled Rabbit, and Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare--were featured with three video debuts: Ducking the Devil, Bill of Hare, and Fright Before Christmas, which was a 1979 cartoon originally produced for the TV special Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales and then later fashioned with its own title sequence. The concept of compiling all of a supporting character's cartoons in one release was one Warner would revisit from time to time.
The Chuck Jones Dragnet spoof Rocket Squad was set to make its VHS debut in 1996 in the Stars of Space Jam series on a collection titled Space Tunes. Unfortunately, the video would initially only see an international release, eventually coming out in the United States two years later as part of a line of Marvin the Martian tapes completely divorced from the Space Jam movie.
Space Jam itself saw a home video release just months after the Stars of Space Jam series, with both VHS and laserdisc versions coming out in March 1997. Back in 1989, theater owners had called foul when Warner Home Video issued the first Batman movie on video just five months into its theatrical run. And now, not even eight years later, the studio was able to shrink that window down to four months with no opposition from exhibitors. Actually, there was very little reason for any complaint. Despite the movie's strong opening and $90 million take in the United States, Space Jam was already quietly ending its stay at second-run theaters at the time of the video's release. By comparison, 1996's highest grossing animated film, Disney's lackluster The Hunchback of Notre Dame, waited nine months before appearing on home video.
Releasing Space Jam to stores just one week after Notre Dame, Warner Home Video was clearly hoping to muscle in on Disney's territory--and it pulled no punches to steal the hunchback's thunder. The movie was packaged in a Disney-style plastic clamshell, a first for a Warner Looney Tunes release. The label's suggested retail price for Space Jam was $22.96, but it also strongly recommended aggressive sale prices, allowing retailers to go as low as $14.95. The video offered rebate incentives with such licensing partners as Dole bananas, Ball Park hot dogs, and Rayovac batteries, while even further mail-in rebates were offered with the purchase of additional Warner family titles. Initial shipments included a commemorative Michael Jordan and Looney Tunes silver coin wedged into the front of the clamshell, and Warner Home Video even sponsored a promotional "Meet Mike" essay contest where the winner would get flown to Chicago to hang out backstage with Jordan at a Bulls game.
Much less promotional hoopla was aimed at the Space Jam laserdisc, priced at $34.98. With consumers slowly abandoning the format, there was little the double-sided disc could offer. The one benefit of owning the laserdisc version was that it presented the movie in widescreen, another first for a Warner Home Video Looney Tunes product.
The laserdisc format also figured into what would be the biggest surprise of the year for Looney Tunes collectors that April, the unprecedented fifth and really totally final volume in the Golden Age of Looney Tunes series--and the absolute final Looney Tunes release by MGM/UA Home Video. Now acting as MGM/UA's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, George Feltenstein once again teamed up with Jerry Beck to raid the Turner Entertainment vaults and present one last collection of pre-1948 Warner Bros. animation. Boasting fifty-five cartoons on four discs (actually fifty-three cartoons and two animated excerpts), the $99.98 boxed set completed the Turner Looney Tunes library--minus the "Censored 11," which Turner adamantly refused to allow for release despite Beck and Feltenstein's best efforts to convince the company otherwise.
Beck attributed the release of this fifth and final volume to the insatiable nature of Looney Tunes collectors, explaining in a "review" in The Whole Toon Catalog that fans "demanded the rest of the collection to be released." It's likely that Turner Entertainment's motives for green-lighting the release were far less charitable. The company had spent the better part of 1995 creating new video masters of all of the Warner Bros. cartoons in its library, allowing Turner to copyright them anew. With Turner no longer syndicating Looney Tunes packages to local television stations, releasing a costly boxed set was no doubt a savvy way of recouping some of the company's investment.
Very few seemed to share the mania that Beck described, most notably Warner Home Video. Though they were still contracted to manufacture and distribute MGM/UA product, and though Turner Entertainment was now a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner, the label nevertheless passed on this release, allowing MGM/UA to instead go through Image Entertainment (as it did for other outlier releases Warner refused to touch like the NC-17 cut of Showgirls). Apart from Feltenstein, even MGM/UA showed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the project, procrastinating the mastering of some of the films to the point where an original July 1996 street date was pushed back to November before being delayed again. Despite the series's following and despite the year-long anticipation for the new volume, the pressing for the title was nevertheless extremely small, just enough to cover pre-orders.
For those die-hard fans and completists who were able to obtain one, the set provided a treasure trove of oddities, only one of which--the wartime Fifth Column Mouse--had already been available on laserdisc let alone home video. As explained earlier, almost all recurring characters in the Turner library were thoroughly exhausted by the end of The Golden Age of Looney Tunes Vol. 4, with just a single Little Blabbermouse cartoon and a few Chuck Jones Curious Puppies shorts left to mine. All that remained were the numerous random Merrie Melodies of the 1930s and early 1940s that were quickly disappearing from Cartoon Network and TNT.
One disc side was devoted to black and white cartoons, including I Wish I Had Wings, I Like Mountain Music, and the Oscar-nominated It's Got Me Again! Another Oscar nominee, Detouring America, highlighted a side dedicated to early Tex Avery work such as The Sneezing Weasel and the atypical The Mice Will Play. Friz Freleng was the only other director to get his own side, which featured the likes of She Was an Acrobat's Daughter and The Fighting 69 1/2th. Musicals took over a side, including Mr. and Mrs. Is the Name, Bingo Crosbyana, and Frank Tashlin's Now That Summer Is Gone. Another side focused on pet cartoons including The Cat Came Back and the remaining Curious Puppies shorts like Stage Fright. One of the more intriguing disc sides was titled "Objects d'Art," which spotlighted cartoons of a more abstract nature such as Little Dutch Plate and Avery's I'd Love to Take Orders From You starring a family of scarecrows. More animal-themed cartoons were found on the main program's final side, including A Star Is Hatched and Pop Goes Your Heart.
The one caveat to all this was that in the course of creating the new video masters for their library, Turner Entertainment replaced all of the shorts' individual "That's all Folks!" end tags with a uniform one taken from a random cartoon. The closing also included a new Turner copyright notice, specifically referring to the new foreign-language versions the company created for its various Cartoon Network outlets around the world. In the end, having a replaced closing tag with a new "Dubbed Version" copyright notice was a small compromise in order to own oddities like The Merry Old Soul and Streamlined Greta Green. The "Dubbed Version" masters would become the go-to versions of the pre-1948 cartoons on both television and home video for the better part of the next decade.
The eighth and final laserdisc side of The Golden Age of Looney Tunes Vol. 5 was all bonus material. Jerry Beck was able to track down an extremely rare unreleased version of the Bob Clampett Bugs Bunny short Hare Ribbin', which contained a visually different ending in which Bugs shoots a dog protagonist in the face instead of handing him a pistol to do it himself. Bugs was also featured in animated excerpts from two live action Warner Bros. feature films, Two Guys from Texas and My Dream Is Yours. The final special features were three previously lost, previously unknown shorts produced for the United States Navy. Similar to the Private Snafu cartoons, the three black and white shorts starred Mr. Hook and focused primarily on sailors' plans following the end of World War II. Unlike the much more common and obtainable Snafu shorts, though, The Return of Mr. Hook, The Good Egg, and Tokyo Woes were making their civilian world premiere on this collection.
Beck and Feltenstein had planned to include additional supplemental material including the original non-"Blue Ribbon" cut of Have You Got Any Castles featuring a caricature of Alexander Woollcott as a town crier, the non-"Blue Ribbon" version of Book Revue, the unreleased original version of The Crackpot Quail with the quail making raspberry sounds instead of whistling, and Chuck Jones's Oscar-winning healthcare documentary So Much for So Little. Unfortunately, Turner and Warner Bros. dragged their respective feet on allowing access to the prints of these rarities housed at the UCLA Film and Television Archive to the point where the producers gave up waiting. The Hook shorts and Hare Ribbin' would have shared a similar fate if not for Beck securing prints from private collectors, transferring them into Digital Betacam files himself, and literally driving the files over to MGM/UA. The Hook films in particular began deteriorating while they were being processed, literally destroying what was believed at the time to be the only surviving prints of the cartoons.
Over the course of five volumes, the Golden Age of Looney Tunes series presented 333 individual Warner Bros. cartoons (plus two alternate versions). A decade would go by before another Looney Tunes home video line was able to surpass that. The fifth volume also served as a final hurrah for George Feltenstein, who soon left MGM/UA altogether and was done with animation releases--for now.
If 1997 held any significance to the history of home video, it was the year that DVD finally made its long-awaited debut. As one of the major architects behind the format's development, Warner Home Video spent the better part of the year aggressively rolling out new product, offering several dozen DVD titles featuring classic movies and recent blockbusters. Among its August wave of releases was one of the studio's biggest hits of the last year, Space Jam, becoming the first Looney Tunes-related title available on the new format. Released as what would later be referred to as a "bare bones" disc, the DVD's paltry special features included the movie's theatrical trailer, a slideshow of production notes, and "interactive menus"--while the film itself was only presented in full frame. Warner Home Video would quickly improve how it presented its feature films, but the long, painful history of the Looney Tunes franchise on the new, exciting format was just beginning.
As if the year didn't have enough to offer laserdisc collectors, October saw an additional boxed set come from Warner Home Video--but not in the United States. Working with Pioneer, Warner's Japanese division released the five character collections in the Stars of Space Jam video series as a limited edition, stand-alone laserdisc set. Since Japan was one of the very few countries that used the same analog television video-signal system as the United States (NTSC), all Japanese home video releases were able to be played on American players, making it not impossible for a domestic fan to be able to add it to their collection for their viewing pleasure.
Priced at 15,000 Japanese yen (the equivalent of a little over $123 at the time), the three-disc Stars of Space Jam set featured English on one audio channel and Japanese on the other. Each character compilation took up a side of each disc, with the flipside of the third disc ending up blank. Of the thirty cartoons on the entire set, all but five were new to laserdisc.
While Japan was revisiting the Stars of Space Jam collection, back home Warner Home Video was working on a follow-up. The new series was a radical departure from previous Warner collections in a number of ways. Instead of commanding his own compilation, Bugs Bunny now shared the spotlight on each video with another Looney Tunes star, particularly those he didn't necessarily share the screen with. More significantly, instead of staying in the comfort zone of the classic 1950s shorts, the new series focused primarily on an era of Warner Bros. cartoons that had mostly gone overlooked in the past: the 1960s. Though each compilation typically contained at least one 1950s cartoon, the majority of the selections were from the final years of the original Warner Bros. studio--not to mention the occasional cartoon from the even later Depatie-Freleng era, which hadn't been utilized since the days of The Looney Tunes Video Show.
Road Runner and Speedy Gonzales get ready to square off in The Wild Chase, one of the cartoons making its home video debut in the Bugs & Friends series.
Bugs & Tweety: Watch the Birdie was the most '50s-friendly video in the series, with such entries as Rabbit Rampage, Dog Pounded, and Foxy by Proxy. A bit more character interaction was found on Bugs & Daffy: What's Up, Duck?, which paired them up in The Iceman Ducketh and The Abominable Snow Rabbit in addition to Bugs and Thugs and Daffy's Inn Trouble. After a frustrating year of repeats, some Road Runner debuts were finally available on Bugs & Road Runner: Runaway Rabbit such as Highway Runnery and the Oscar-nominated Beep Prepared, in addition to the Bugs shorts Lighter Than Hare and The Unmentionables. Road Runner returned on Bugs & Speedy: Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow via the oddball The Wild Chase, which was featured with such debuts as Assault and Peppered, False Hare, and the cult classic Rabbit's Kin with Pete Puma. Finally, Marvin the Martian headlined his first ever video with Bugs & Marvin: Martian Mayhem--even though little Marvin material was left to release on video! Nevertheless, Mad as a Mars Hare and 1980's Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 1/2th Century were highlighted along with Hyde and Hare and From Hare to Heir.
Unfortunately, despite clearly being groomed as the continuation of the Stars of Space Jam series--and despite contents clearly meant to complement fans' existing collections--this interesting assortment would never see an American release. In fact, the Bugs & Friends series would notoriously be released in almost every international video market except the United States and Canada: Brazil, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, even the Czech Republic! It is unknown what prevented the line from being marketed in the United States. Did the Stars of Space Jam videos perform below expectations? Was Warner Home Video worried that the selection of cartoons would turn off consumers? Was the inclusion of Speedy Gonzales giving the label some politically correct cold feet, given the controversy MGM/UA faced over the release of Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips? Whatever the reason was, it would be another year before an English-language version was made available anywhere.
As 1998 approached, Warner Bros. was focused on celebrating the studio's seventy-fifth anniversary. Warner Home Video did its part throughout the year by reissuing a number of titles and offering promotional incentives and rebates on others. The Looney Tunes weren't exactly going to be a major factor in the promotion, but the label did have various plans for the franchise; some good, some questionable.
One of the first titles tied to the anniversary promotion was the February rerelease of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie on VHS, with the movie's first ever laserdisc release coming a month later. Priced at $14.95, the reissue was packaged in a clamshell box (with new 1990s artwork replacing the original Chuck Jones poster image) to better fit on store shelves alongside not only Space Jam but also the numerous Disney titles and Disney look-alikes like Anastasia and the Land Before Time sequels.
The first new Looney Tunes products of 1998 came in April, and they would prove to be among the oddest appearances the characters ever made on home video. A trio of VHS titles--Bugs Bunny's Funky Monkeys, Bugs Bunny's Elephant Parade, and Bugs Bunny's Silly Seals--were released for $9.95 each under the Kids' WB banner of Bugs Bunny's Learning Adventures. Collectors who might had been expecting, say, Bugs Bunny's Funky Monkeys to feature the debut of Hurdy-Gurdy Hare or Bugs Bunny's Elephant Parade to contain Prince Violent were to be greatly disappointed. Instead, each video was a half-hour educational look at the featured animals, co-produced by British television company Survival Anglia Ltd. and utilizing the video archive of its long-running documentary series Survival. With Greg Burson handling the voice of Bugs, awkwardly redubbed classic animation of the gang was spliced or otherwise superimposed over real-life nature footage to provide narration and comic relief.
Though the Looney Tunes were often used for public service announcements or educational commercial bumpers on Saturday morning television--teaching everything from geography to facts about the U.S. Constitution--this was the first time an actual episodic series was attempted with the characters. Despite the videos' best intentions, consumers weren't ready to accept Bugs as the successor to Jack Hanna and the series died a quick death at retail. Two additional videos--The World of Bears with Bugs Bunny and The World of Lions with Bugs Bunny--were eventually only released overseas.
Via superimposed classic animation, Bugs serves as nature show host in the Bugs Bunny's Learning Adventures series, just one of a number of new directions Warner Home Video was trying to take the Looney Tunes franchise.
Priced at $12.95 each, the first and only wave consisted of two titles: Sing Along Looney Tunes and Sing Along Quest for Camelot, with the latter promoting Warner Bros.' recent animated feature film. Each video ran just a little under a half-hour in length and started with a short Looney Tunes montage in which Bugs (voiced by Billy West) and a children's choir sing a Warner Bros. Sing Along theme song.
Despite some fun cover artwork depicting Bugs, Daffy, and Tweety as the Blues Brothers, Sing Along Looney Tunes was a grating twenty-seven minutes to endure. Presented as a self-contained program with a single story as opposed to isolated clips, extended and redubbed sequences from Show Biz Bugs served to frame the musical numbers in typical "Daffy tries to upstage Bugs" manner. Billy West and Joe Alaskey provide Bugs and Daffy's voices for a newly rerecorded version of "This Is It" from The Bugs Bunny Show (which is folded into the main story by having Daffy yell at Bugs off-screen that they need to change outfits), while clips of Daffy and Tweety are used for oddball songs about the characters. The finale of sorts is a hacked-up version of Three Little Bops, which abruptly ends with the Big Bad Wolf blowing himself up. Due to a curious lack of songs to use, out of desperation the video had children singing lyrics over three instrumental moments from Show Biz Bugs: Bugs's quick tap dance (with the blink-and-you-miss-it lyrics to "Shave and a Haircut" showing up on screen), Daffy's soft-shoe to "Jeepers Creepers," and Bugs and Daffy's classic dance to "Tea for Two."
Sing Along Quest for Camelot was an even stranger program, if that was at all possible. In addition to excerpts from not only Quest for Camelot (which had just come out in theaters) but also The Wizard of Oz(!), the video also offered new songs set against barely related clips from Robin Hood Daffy, Rabbit Hood, Lumber Jack-Rabbit, and Knighty Knight Bugs. Despite plans to continue the series--including very brief discussions to release a Sing Along Space Jam video before deeming the movie's rap soundtrack inappropriate for juvenile audiences--Warner Home Video's sing-along concept also disappeared as quickly as it had begun.
In July Warner Home Video washed the taste of reissues, sing-alongs, and learning adventures out of everyone's mouths with a quadruple-dose of more conventional Looney Tunes compilations. If 1998 was significant at all to the history of Warner Bros. cartoons, it marked two milestones of sorts: the fiftieth anniversary of the cut-off between the former pre-1948 and post-1948 television packages and the fiftieth birthday of Marvin the Martian. Though not nearly of the same scale as Bugs's birthday eight years before, Time Warner certainly wasn't going to let such an opportunity slip away to re-promote one of the decade's most popular cartoon characters.
With only seven cartoons to his name, it was perhaps unbelievable that Warner Home Video was able to seize on the occasion by releasing two cartoon collections starring the alien! The covers of the two videos featured a new banner title, Looney Tunes Presents, which was the label's new line of Looney Tunes compilations that it planned to officially launch the following year.
Marvin the Martian: Space Tunes was the same compilation originally prepared for the Stars of Space Jam line back in 1996 but had gone unreleased in the United States until now. The content was unchanged from when the video was originally programmed, with three repeats and three others--The Hasty Hare, Rocket Squad, and Rocket-bye Baby--making their U.S. debuts on VHS.
The odder of the two videos was clearly Marvin the Martian & K9: 50 Years on Earth! Though it featured more Marvin cartoons than Space Tunes, it was almost all lesser material. The talky, dreary 1963 effort Mad as a Mars Hare was making its U.S. debut, as were the two ultra-dull 1980 shorts Spaced Out Bunny (originally made for TV) and Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 1/2th Century. The one saving grace was the inclusion of Marvin's first cartoon, Haredevil Hare, making it the very first cartoon from the old pre-1948 library to be released on a Warner Home Video compilation. To round out the collection, two non-Marvin (and non-space, for that matter) shorts were illogically selected: a double-dip of Hyde and Go Tweet and the VHS debut of Lumber Jack-Rabbit.
Just a week after the Marvin mini-celebration came two more Looney Tunes videos! This time it was a second and final wave of compilations that highlighted recently produced theatrical shorts.
From Hare to Eternity spotlighted the Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam cartoon of the same name. Directed by Chuck Jones as a tribute to the late Friz Freleng, the short was completed in 1996 but had remained unreleased until now. Like with the last batch of similar collections, the rest of the six-cartoon video was all repeated material, containing earlier Bugs/Sam films like High Diving Hare and Ballot Box Bunny and some Chuck Jones classics like Bully for Bugs and Rabbit Fire.
The other compilation in the assortment was Superior Duck, which was the title of another 1996 Chuck Jones cartoon--only this time one actually released, with the Tom Arnold comedy Carpool. Daffy was the focus of this video, so a handful of classic cartoons (primarily by Friz Freleng) rounded out the collection like Golden Yeggs and Show Biz Bugs. In addition to the title cartoon, Superior Duck also debuted another Daffy short on VHS, Arthur Davis's The Stupor Salesman. In a somewhat crass way to market the video, the box cover featured Tweety and Taz alongside Daffy--even though the two characters only had brief cameos in the featured cartoon.
Chuck Jones's Friz Freleng salute From Hare to Eternity headlined one of a small assortment of videos that featured recently released theatrical cartoons alongside classic material. Ironically, From Hare to Eternity was the only one of the highlighted cartoons to not actually show up in theaters, instead premiering on home video.
Promoted as the direct sequel to the Stars of Space Jam set, Bugs & Friends was priced slightly cheaper at 12,000 Japanese yen (a little over $92). Of the thirty cartoons on the set, all but seven were new to laserdisc. With the format quickly dying with consumers, Bugs & Friends marked the final Looney Tunes laserdisc release anywhere in the world.
Not surprisingly, consumers were turning their backs on laserdisc and happily embracing the smaller and much more promising DVD format. While Warner Home Video spent the past two years issuing a number of its major classics and popular newer titles on disc, the question kept coming up about when fans would start to see Bugs, Daffy, Tweety, and the rest appear on the new format, especially as word leaked that such shorts as Hare Force, Acrobatty Bunny, and The Foghorn Leghorn were undergoing restoration and mastering tests. Rumors abounded regarding Warner's supposed plans, with everything from a Chuck Jones salute to an all-star collection being tossed about as programmed and ready for release.
It wasn't until February 1999 when someone from Warner Home Video finally, and officially, addressed the prospects of Looney Tunes on DVD. Speaking in an online chat, Warner's vice president of worldwide DVD marketing John Powers vaguely promised, "We will issue cartoon compilations next year and beyond, pending mastering issues."
As tantalizing as such a statement sounded, it didn't really answer any questions, nor did Powers elaborate on what sort of "mastering issues" could possibly come up. It was simply unknown what state the cartoons were in and what else needed to be done in order to prepare them for DVD release. Was the studio going to be using archival prints? Technicolor negatives? Were original titles going to be restored to "Blue Ribbon" reissues? In terms of DVD production, the word "mastering" itself is so unclear that it could mean simply taking an off-the-shelf print of a movie and copying it into a digital file. Many years later it would be revealed that it cost Warner Bros. approximately $15,000 to remaster a single seven-minute cartoon. With over a thousand entries in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series, one would think the home video division had a specific plan in place. If only.
Meanwhile, the end of an era was truly at hand. Rocked by a series of buyouts and mergers, in March 1999 a troubled MGM paid Time Warner $225 million to prematurely end its long-term home video distribution partnership, allowing it to expire in January 2000 instead of in 2003. As a part of the termination agreement, MGM surrendered any and all remaining rights to Warner's pre-1950 library and MGM's own pre-1986 library, reverting them back to Time Warner via Turner Entertainment. With Warner Home Video now free to exploit not only its own classic library but also that of MGM itself without going through a third party, the future was about to never look brighter for fans of classic film and especially classic cartoons.
That same month, Warner Home Video issued its first DVDs of classic animated material--but alas, not a single Looney Tunes character was in sight. Hanna-Barbera's Scooby-Doo was quickly becoming Time Warner's hottest cartoon property, with the dog's licensed products outselling those of Bugs and friends. Two Scooby DVDs--the five-episode Scooby-Doo's Original Mysteries and the 1987 TV movie Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers--joined the Tom and Jerry compilation Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases. Scooby and Tom and Jerry would soon eclipse the Looney Tunes as Warner Home Video's highest animated priority.
But Warner Bros. wasn't done with the Looney Tunes yet. The company spent a considerable part of 1999 promoting its Mil-looney-um 2000 licensing campaign, Warner's first big Looney Tunes push since the release of Space Jam. Amounting to little more than ad artwork featuring the characters celebrating the upcoming new year, Warner Bros. was hoping the Mil-looney-um 2000 campaign would inject new life into the franchise.
Warner Home Video again did its part by officially launching a brand new line of Looney Tunes videos. New character collections were going to fall under the banner Looney Tunes Presents, a title that had already been tested the year before on the two Marvin the Martian tapes. Considered by the label as the next generation of Looney Tunes home video releases, Warner Home Video unceremoniously put almost all preceding Looney Tunes videos on moratorium, including such high sellers as the Golden Jubilee series and all of the MGM/UA product it was still distributing.
The Looney Tunes Presents line officially premiered in June 1999 with the release of two Tweety collections: Tweety: Home Tweet Home and Tweety: Tweet & Lovely. Tweety was picked to launch the series for a very simple reason: he was Warner Bros. Consumer Products' top-selling Looney Tunes character. According to the studio's press release announcing the series, Tweety merchandise had brought in more than $50 million in 1998 alone. The rest of the Looney Tunes Presents series would focus entirely on the franchise's most popular characters in terms of licensing.
Priced at $14.95 each, the two videos were marketed primarily for children. The simple cardboard slipsleeve boxes of old were replaced with plastic, Disney-style clamshell cases in bright Tweety-inspired yellow (though slipsleeve versions were also made available through select retailers). Each video came packaged with a flat, cardboard Tweety picture frame, while special gift sets were also sold that included a plush Tweety doll.
Each video featured ten cartoons, a record for a Warner VHS release at the time. Despite the intent on marketing the videos to children and families, some consideration to die-hard fans and collectors had also been made. Of the twenty cartoons included on the two tapes, ten were new to VHS while five were new to home video in the United States altogether. With the release of these two compilations, there was very little Tweety material left in the vaults.
Tweety: Home Tweet Home had the bigger number of double-dips between the two collections, but it also debuted such key titles as Dog Pounded and Red Riding Hoodwinked (mislabeled as Birds Anonymous, a last-minute switch between the two videos) as well as the later effort The Jet Cage. Tweety: Tweet & Lovely was the more collector-friendly of the two cassettes, featuring the VHS debuts of Tugboat Granny, Tweety's Circus, Fowl Weather, Catty Cornered, A Pizza Tweety-Pie, The Rebel Without Claws, and Tweety and Sylvester's swan song from the original studio, Hawaiian Aye Aye.
In October a second wave of Looney Tunes Presents videos were released, amounting to one new collection and two reissues (of sorts), again all priced at $14.95 each. Bugs was finally given a time to shine with not only a brand new compilation, Bugs Bunny: Big Top Bunny, but also a rerelease of 1981's The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie. The third video in this new wave was Marvin the Martian: Space Tunes. Not necessarily meant to be confused with the video from last year of the same name, this new release combined the contents of last year's Space Tunes and 50 Years on Earth! videos to present Marvin's entire filmography; packaged in a Martian green clamshell case.
Like with the Tweety videos, Bugs Bunny: Big Top Bunny presented ten cartoons, half of which were new to VHS. A very family-friendly compilation, most of Bugs's adversaries in this release were larger-than-life animals or monsters--only one instance of a gun of any kind; in fact, Elmer appears only in the briefest of cameos. In addition to Big Top Bunny itself, the collection debuted Rabbit Rampage, The Abominable Snow Rabbit, Rabbit's Kin, and Foxy by Proxy. It should be noted that all of the video debuts were cartoons originally released internationally in the Bugs & Friends series. Bugs Bunny: Big Top Bunny also featured two choice pre-1948 Bugs shorts, Tortoise Beats Hare and Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid. Warner Home Video would quickly become more and more comfortable utilizing the former Turner library for its compilations.
With the Looney Tunes Presents line aimed squarely at children and with everything else going out of print, Warner Home Video began looking for a new way to sell the cartoons to the more serious animation fans who might have felt lost in the shuffle. In November 1999 the label partnered with Columbia House, which Time Warner had owned a 50 percent share of since 1991, to launch a new mail order line of videos: Looney Tunes: The Collector's Edition. It would be the final new series of Looney Tunes VHS collections ever produced.
This wasn't the first time that Looney Tunes videos were being made available directly by mail, but unlike the Time Life collection at the start of the decade, the Looney Tunes: The Collector's Edition series was to be made up with brand new compilations. Jerry Beck was hired to program the collections and provide liner notes. Initially he crafted some grand plans for the series that would have appealed to die-hard fans and completists, a task made a little difficult by Warner's original stipulation that he not include any pre-1948 material from the former Turner library. Nevertheless, Beck dived deep into the post-1948 and black-and-white catalogs, pairing some essential classics with many shorts that had yet to see a VHS release, and coming up with collector-friendly themed compilations such as one tracing Robert McKimson's career from animator to director and a chronological look at the studio to be called Milestones that would have covered everything from Sinkin' in the Bathtub all the way to 1969's Injun Trouble. Ultimately Warner Home Video lifted its pre-1948 restrictions and brought on additional people to help compile the collections and fine-tune Beck's selections. The end result was a line of videos clearly put together by committee; mainstream classics and Saturday morning favorites sitting uncomfortably alongside occasional odds and ends that only the collectors the Collector's Edition was intended for would truly appreciate.
Bugs and Sam face each other in Friz Freleng's excellent Bugs Bunny Rides Again, a perennial favorite on home video that made its way onto All-Stars, the first volume in Columbia House's Looney Tunes: The Collector's Edition series.
With access to the entire Warner Bros. cartoon library, an attempt was made to focus on the studio's key players in a more complete way than ever done before. Six videos in the first assortment spotlighted men behind the scenes, while the other four were themed collections. The amount of VHS debuts on each compilation varied wildly, but each video had at least one cartoon that was new to the format.
The first volume, All-Stars, was exactly that, featuring every major Looney Tunes star in such oft-released classics as Rabbit Seasoning, Tweety's S.O.S., and The Great Piggy Bank Robbery but also debuting Bowery Bugs, The Slap-Hoppy Mouse, Wild About Hurry, and The Foghorn Leghorn with its original title sequence restored for the first time since its "Blue Ribbon" reissue. Another restored title, Scaredy Cat, was featured on Running Amuck, a somewhat disappointing video saluting Chuck Jones that contained only one true debut with Boyhood Daze, offered the usual suspects such as Feed the Kitty and For Scent-imental Reasons, and even somehow managed to neglect to include a Road Runner cartoon! The Vocal Genius, focusing on (who else?) Mel Blanc, was made up entirely of post-1948 material such as Rabbit Fire and Robin Hood Daffy--and only one of which, Daffy Dilly, was new to VHS.
Bob Clampett received his first Warner Home Video salute with Welcome to Wackyland, which included such pre-1948 standards as The Old Grey Hare and Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid but also premiered three black and white shorts: Eatin' on the Cuff, Porky in Egypt, and Porky in Wackyland. Tex-Book Looney focused on Tex Avery (of course), with the likes of Tortoise Beats Hare and Hollywood Steps Out but also such debuts as Egghead Rides Again, Holiday Highlights, and the black and white Porky cartoon The Blow Out. The Friz Freleng showcase A Looney Life had the usual assortment of cartoons such as High Diving Hare, A Mouse Divided, and You Ought to Be in Pictures while also debuting Kit for Cat (with its title restored, too) and Gift Wrapped. After years of being treated on home video as an "also ran" director, Robert McKimson finally got his due on Daffy Doodles, which highlighted his classics of the late 1940s and early 1950s like Easter Yeggs and Boobs in the Woods and also served as the VHS debut of French Rarebit and Pop 'Im Pop!
The three themed collections in the first wave didn't so much focus on recurring subject matters but rather on perennial concepts that made the Warner cartoons so beloved, with two topics having already been mined on laserdisc releases. Musical Masterpieces contained just that, with the obvious Bugs Bunny entries and One Froggy Evening but also the video debuts of Pigs in a Polka, Mouse Mazurka, and the Freleng Merrie Melodies oldie How Do I Know It's Sunday? Similar to the Looney Tunes Assorted Nuts laserdisc, Supporting Players saluted the various minor characters in the Looney Tunes gang, of course featuring Rabbit's Kin and Mouse Wreckers but also such VHS newbies as Bosko and Honey, I Gopher You, and Terrier Stricken. More dogs were given the spotlight on Canine Corps, which contained the highest percentage of debuts in the first wave including Buddy and Towser, Hollywood Canine Canteen, Bosko and Bruno, A Hound for Trouble, and Porky's Pooch.
With such a wide array of cartoons being featured on Looney Tunes: The Collector's Edition, and with such a renewed focus on the Looney Tunes franchise's history and heritage, it only begged the question as to when fans would see the cartoons on DVD. Unfortunately, all Warner Home Video could offer were more vague guesses, seemingly meant to do nothing more than settle down the restless.
But surely, good things were to come to those who waited!
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.