PART ONE - PART TWO - PART THREE - PART FOUR
Intended for the adult collector and may not be suitable for children
In April 2000 a team from Warner Home Video--including Paul Hemstreet, Jim Wuthrich, Mike Finnegan with the programming division, Mike Radiloff with marketing, and others--participated in an online chat. All the group could say was, "We hope to release something along the lines of Vintage Looney Tunes Compilations in 2001."
While Looney Tunes enthusiasts of all ages and walks of life eagerly awaited news on the DVD front, Warner Home Video spent the rest of 2000 issuing a variety of releases almost exclusively on VHS.
"Why for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?" asks Taz in his debut cartoon, Devil May Hare. The repeat-filled Taz's Jungle Jams would be the final classic Looney Tunes compilation released to general retail on VHS.
On the same day of Space Jam's reissue, Warner Home Video also issued its final entry in the Looney Tunes Presents line. With such extremely popular characters as Tweety, Bugs, and Marvin already given a spotlight, it was all but inevitable as to who would be next. Taz's Jungle Jams sadly didn't promise much that was new; it couldn't, given the Tasmanian Devil's very limited filmography, all of which had already been included in the Stars of Space Jam series just four years before. Priced at $14.93 (a relatively new VHS price point the label was testing) and issued in a Taz-like brown clamshell case, Warner tried desperately to drum up enthusiasm for what was essentially a double-dip.
In addition to all six of Taz's cartoons, four more jungle-related cartoons were used to round out the collection. When the title had originally been announced back in March, things looked quite promising with the bonus selections. The Beaky Buzzard cartoon The Lion's Busy had only been available in the mail-order Looney Tunes: The Collector's Edition series through Columbia House. The Chuck Jones musical one-shot Nelly's Folly had only been released on laserdisc. And though the Bugs cartoon Apes of Wrath was a double-dip, the other Bugs title announced was the much-requested Bushy Hare featuring a wild Australian native.
Unfortunately, the announced content list was changed just a month later. Of the four extra cartoons, all but Apes of Wrath had been swapped out with less-anticipated films. The 1937 Friz Freleng Merrie Melody The Lyin' Mouse was new to VHS but hardly as sought-after, while Gorilla My Dreams and Dough for the Do-Do were dusted off once again for video release. Ultimately, the switcheroo made the pointless repeat-filled Taz's Jungle Jams all the more unnecessary. The once-promising Looney Tunes Presents line ended without celebration, while plans for a Road Runner compilation in the series never materialized.
The final Looney Tunes releases of 2000 reflected Warner Home Video's curious disinterest in the franchise, as neither release contained any classic cartoons. Bugs Bunny's Halloween Hijinks came out in September for $9.95. Instead of a collection of spooky cartoons in the vein of the Looney Tunes After Dark laserdisc, the video simply combined the two previously released Halloween TV specials, Bugs Bunny's Howl-oween Special and Bugs Bunny's Creature Features, and packaged them in a kid-friendly clamshell case.
Slightly more promising was the first ever direct-to-video Looney Tunes movie released that same month, Tweety's High-Flying Adventure. Produced by the team behind the inventive Saturday morning series The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries, the full-length movie found Tweety defending Granny's honor from Colonel Rimfire(!) by going around the world and collecting paw-prints from eighty different cats. Almost every Looney Tunes star made a cameo one way or another, including such characters as Bugs who never appeared on the Saturday morning show. It was an entertaining effort that tried to appeal to fans of the classic cartoons, but it was hardly a substitute for the original material.
Priced at $19.96, Warner Home Video embarked on a major promotional campaign for Tweety's High-Flying Adventure, but strangely the movie was only released on VHS. Considering it was a brand new production, no further mastering work would have been needed to issue a DVD version, but alas the label seemed to have wanted to hold off any Looney Tunes release on the format for the time being (save for Space Jam). Tweety's High-Flying Adventure did make its way to DVD soon after its video release, but only in Japan. It would be the first of a number of interesting digital releases to come from that country.
The year ended just as it had begun, with vague promises pointing to a vague future. At the industry-wide Studio Day press event in November in Studio City, California, Warner Home Video announced a number of grand DVD plans for many of its popular movies. In addition to DVD releases of the studio's various Stephen King-related movies and its Tim Burton films, Warner also promised that "a Looney Tunes collection" was on its way soon, with no date or further details attached to that. At this point, even the press covering the event chalked it up to another "next year" brush-off.
In April 2001, while the rest of the world was focusing on the completion of the historic merger between Time Warner and America Online, Columbia House announced plans for a second and final wave of videos in its Looney Tunes: The Collector's Edition series. Five new volumes were issued to continue subscribers' collections, with the first one arriving in late June, and again with Jerry Beck serving as a programming consultant and liner-note scribe.
Unlike the history-focused compilations of the first assortment, the five new videos were all character-based. Bugs got his own dedicated collection with Wabbit Tales, which contained an odd mix of lesser Bugs material like Elmer's Pet Rabbit, Mad as a Mars Hare, and Box Office Bunny along with one VHS debut, Compressed Hare. Everyone's favorite duck and pig were paired up in Porky and Daffy, which strangely only featured eleven cartoons (an all-time low for the series) but at least featured a number of unreleased black and white shorts such as Plane Dippy, Porky's Bear Facts, Naughty Neighbors, and Porky's Prize Pony, among others.
Three videos were also released featuring a variety of Looney Tunes characters. Like with Canine Corps in the first wave, Comic Cat-tastrophies focused on felines, with a great assortment of cartoons debuting on VHS such as Catch as Cats Can, Bell Hoppy, It's Hummer Time, and both shorts starring Robert McKimson's oddball lazy cat Dodsworth. Cartoon Superstars tried to feature as many different characters as possible, including such double-dipped character clashes as Dog Pounded and The High and the Flighty but also such debuts as The Million Hare, Fastest with the Mostest, and The Squawkin' Hawk. Finally, A Battle of Wits took a look at chases and rivalries, debuting such fan-favorites as Zoom at the Top, A Fox in a Fix, and the black and white Daffy's Southern Exposure.
Columbia House had intended to continue the series beyond these five new volumes, but alas that was it. With the Looney Tunes: The Collector's Edition series now over with, fans started to again wonder when the bones they had been thrown in the collection would turn into something more substantial--on DVD. At this point, Warner Home Video seemed content only utilizing clips of cartoons in documentary features on such DVDs as The Iron Giant and Casablanca, using the shorts as mere illustration than as content on their own.
After four long years of waiting, fans finally got their wish of seeing uncut classic Looney Tunes on DVD--but only in Japan. Similar to how Japanese laserdiscs could be viewed on American players, DVDs from the country could also be watched in the United States. All one had to do was configure their Region 1 DVD player to also play Region 2 discs; tricky, but not impossible. Still, for the first time ever anywhere in the world, Japanese fans and resourceful American fans were finally able to enjoy Looney Tunes cartoons on DVD...provided they really liked Tweety.
Tweety had been enjoying something of a cult following in Japan, even leading to a short-lived licensing campaign in which the canary buddied around with the country's major animal icon, Hello Kitty. To capitalize on the fad, in April 2001 Warner Home Video's Japanese division released I Love Tweety Vol. 1, containing ten Tweety cartoons and a bonus Bugs Bunny cartoon; with both English and Japanese language tracks available. Priced at 2,100 Japanese yen (approximately $17.83 at the time), the DVD was originally meant to just be a limited pressing but proved to be so popular that numerous reissues would follow at lower price points.
Featuring solely post-1948 material, the DVD ran the gamut of Tweety's career. Highlights included such classics as Bad Ol' Putty Tat, Greedy for Tweety, Tweety's Circus, A Street Cat Named Sylvester, and even some odder selections like The Last Hungry Cat and The Jet Cage. The bonus Bugs cartoon was the iconic Bully for Bugs. All of the shorts looked better than they had on either VHS or laserdisc, showing promise as to what the cartoons would eventually look like if ever remastered stateside. The success of the DVD was marred only by the difficulty in obtaining and watching it.
Chuck Jones's abstract Now Hear This became the first Looney Tunes cartoon released on DVD in the United States, via Warner subsidiary Rhino Records.
Just days after the reissue of 1001 Rabbit Tales, Japan saw the DVD release of I Love Tweety Vol. 2. Ten more Tweety cartoons were joined by a bonus Bugs short (Baton Bunny). Again focusing primarily on 1950s efforts, the Tweety cartoons picked were an even more satisfying selection than on the previous disc, with the likes of All a Bir-r-r-d, Sandy Claws, Gift Wrapped, Tweet Zoo, Fowl Weather, and others. Tweety was becoming so popular in Japan that Warner Home Video announced plans to release a trio of new VHS compilations starring the bird, albeit only in Japanese. (As of this writing, the VHS collections have yet to turn up in the hands of any collector.)
October 2001 became something of a pivotal month for Looney Tunes on home video, especially in regard to the growing demand for the cartoons on DVD. Yet another update would be conveyed, while something historic would happen in the most understated of ways.
A group from Warner Home Video participated in another online chat in mid-October. In addition to chat veterans like programming services vice president Mike Finnegan, marketing vice president Mike Radiloff, and "DVD Added Value Content" vice president Paul Hemstreet, joining in to answer questions was a very familiar name to Looney Tunes fans--George Feltenstein. After leaving MGM/UA Home Video, Feltenstein moved over to Turner Entertainment, where he was currently serving as that division's senior vice president of marketing, specializing in the various classic movie properties in the library.
As the inevitable question of Looney Tunes on DVD inevitably came up, the team gave the inevitable vague answer. Offering a little more behind-the-scenes information, they explained, "There is great demand. There are Marketing Issues, Transfer Cost Factors and a whole hullabaloo of things to be considered...but believe us when we say that the DVD debut of Looney Tunes is an ongoing concern of WHV and indeed a passion among a few staffers. Be patient."
It would later be revealed that the unclear "marketing issues" amounted to Warner Bros.' lack of faith in the Looney Tunes property. The studio had very little interest in investing the time, money, and energy in restoring and remastering the classic cartoons without some sort of marketable new "event" to tie it all into--essentially, if the classic cartoons couldn't be used as mere promotional fodder, then it wasn't going to be worth it. Fortunately for everyone, something big was in the works to help make that become a reality.
In the meantime, considering the earlier "be patient" update, the end of October saw the most ironic of miracles: the first ever Looney Tunes cartoon released on DVD in the United States! One of the off-shoots of DVD technology was the short-lived DVD-Audio format, which Warner Music's various subsidiaries were pushing at the time. Essentially the DVD equivalent of a typical compact disc, DVD-Audios usually contained audio and visual bonus features related to a given album in order to "enhance" the experience for the listener.
One Warner Music label that was experimenting with DVD-Audio was former indie pioneer Rhino Records, which Time Warner had fully acquired back in 1998. Among Rhino's flagship assortment of oldies collections, Monkees reissues, and movie soundtracks was its Kid Rhino imprint that focused on releases related to Scooby-Doo, the Powerpuff Girls, and other Warner-related cartoon characters. Kid Rhino's 2001 DVD-Audio of Crash! Bang! Boom!: The Best of WB Sound FX was on the surface little more than a "special edition" version of the title's original 2000 CD release, but one special feature made it all the more worthwhile. Since the album was a tribute to the various sound effects used in Warner Bros. cartoons over the years, the DVD-Audio's video extra was Chuck Jones's abstract, sound-effect-fueled one-shot Now Hear This. Despite being simply an off-the-shelf broadcast copy with no new mastering done to it, it nevertheless became the first Looney Tunes cartoon made available on a Region 1 DVD.
With 2001 being such a DVD-focused year for Looney Tunes, it was perhaps no surprise then when I Love Tweety Vol. 3 was released in Japan in November. Ten more Tweety cartoons were selected along with Bugs in Water, Water Every Hare. Another above-average mix of Tweety shorts was featured on the DVD including Red Riding Hoodwinked, Canary Row, The Rebel Without Claws, Room and Bird, and others. I Love Tweety Vol. 3 marked the final release in the Japanese series, even though there were still ten post-1948 Tweety cartoons left to mine including such classics as Birds Anonymous, Tweety and the Beanstalk, and Hyde and Go Tweet.
While Warner Home Video was trying to figure out what to do with the Looney Tunes franchise, 2002 started with a heartbreaking loss with the passing of Chuck Jones in February. At some point shortly before his death, Jones had filmed a video greeting intended to be used on a Looney Tunes DVD, explaining directly to the camera how the cartoons had become beloved to generations and a vital part of Americana. For whatever reason, Warner had neglected to bring Jones in to record audio commentaries for any of his work, a concerning sign of how unprepared the studio was to deliver the cartoons on DVD.
With no DVD release of any kind in sight, in April Warner Home Video quickly reissued the A Salute to Chuck Jones VHS from the old Golden Jubilee series. It wouldn't be the last release from the label that year to honor Jones.
In the meantime, though, a curious announcement came and went with little to no fanfare. In the August 24 issue of Billboard, it was announced that Warner Home Video would release a title called Bugs Bunny's Golden Carrot Collection onto DVD on October 22. No other information was available--not the content, the price, nothing! For those who may have thought it was a hoax or something, Warner Bros. did file a trademark for such a title. But when October 22 did finally arrive Bugs was nowhere to be seen on DVD. By 2006 the trademark for the title was deemed as abandoned.
Baby Taz and Baby Bugs share a piano-playing fantasy in Baby Looney Tunes: Musical Adventures, one of a pair of nightmare-inducing VHS releases intended to cash in on Disney's wildly successful Baby Einstein line.
Much of the attention at the beginning of 2003 was directed not at home video but rather at the big screen, specifically the impending release of Looney Tunes: Back in Action, due in theaters in November. While not a sequel to Space Jam, the multimillion-dollar feature was produced in the same hybrid style, only this time putting the animated Looney Tunes characters in the live action real world--with Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, and Steve Martin serving as the human stars. Celebrated comedy director and Looney Tunes fan Joe Dante handled the overall direction, while Disney animator Eric Goldberg supervised the animation. Warner Bros. was planning to make Looney Tunes: Back in Action its big holiday release, and the studio was pulling out all the stops to market the heck out of it. One particular division at Warner Bros. was hard at work preparing something to promote the new movie.
While ad campaigns were being devised and licensing deals were being signed, one exciting bit of news was the announcement of a new series of Looney Tunes theatrical shorts to be produced and released before future Warner Bros. films. Headed by The Simpsons producer and Back in Action writer Larry Doyle, the new crew hoped to mix classic production values with contemporary gag-writing and modern concepts and stories. It was expected that one of the new cartoons would be ready for release in tandem with Back in Action.
In the meantime, fans hoping for some new compilations of classic Bugs and Daffy were instead subjected to a triple-dose of Baby Looney Tunes in February. First up was a pair of utterly bizarre VHS releases: Baby Looney Tunes: Backyard Adventures and Baby Looney Tunes: Musical Adventures. Priced at $12.95 each, the thirty-minute videos weren't related to the quasi-popular Baby Looney Tunes animated series that was running on Cartoon Network; rather they were intended to complement the show in a non-competitive way.
Instead of using animation, these were live action videos in which children "interacted" with creepy puppet versions of Baby Bugs, Baby Tweety, and Baby Taz. The programs were co-produced by educational-video company Child Smart, which had signed a deal to provide content for a new video line Warner Home Video was launching called Warner Bright Kids, which the two Baby Looney Tunes releases were meant to unofficially kick off.
The company's typical productions tried to ape the extremely successful Baby Einstein products with Jim Henson-style puppets. Their Baby Looney Tunes videos, however, were far less inspired, if that was possible. The puppets, though performed adequately, were stiff mounds of expressionless foam, moving less like Muppets and more like if Yoda had been fossilized. Bugs and the gang appeared in bumpers to introduce the main segments, in which babies were amateurishly videotaped at odd angles holding props related to the program's subject matter--while cheap production music and limited graphics akin to animated gifs did the rest. In actuality, Child Smart simply recycled footage it had shot back in 2000 for two unreleased videos titled simply Backyard Adventures and Musical Adventures, with the Baby Looney Tunes puppet sequences merely tacked on.
Perhaps not surprisingly, no further Baby Looney Tunes videos were produced. Child Smart would soon go out of business, and the Warner Bright Kids campaign would quietly end.
Just a week after Bugs, Tweety, and Taz's terrifying puppet debut came yet another release from the Baby Looney Tunes franchise, only this time in a slightly more palatable form. Marking the first ever release directly related to the Cartoon Network series, The Baby Looney Tunes' Eggs-traordinary Adventure was offered on both VHS and DVD--at a time when it was still unclear what the future held for the babies' adult counterparts on the latter format. Billed as the characters' "premiere movie," the direct-to-video cartoon barely ran an hour in length. To pad the running time, both formats contained extra material, namely the Baby Looney Tunes episodes "Flower Power" and "The Magic of Spring" and a couple of original music videos.
Two potential packaging designs for the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, as shown during the Warner Home Video online survey. The classier, prestigious look of the slipsleeve seen at the bottom would be eschewed in favor of the more general design of the lunchbox-style tin seen at the top, right down to the color scheme of the individual discs. Physically, the set wouldn't be packaged in either a slipsleeve or tin but rather in a standard digipak.
The bulk of the survey attempted to gauge reactions to a variety of proposed packages for the cartoons on DVD, including examples of potential packaging and cover artwork. For each proposal that was shown, the survey boasted, "This is the first time Looney Tunes have been available on DVD and special bonus material will also be included."
One speculative title was the single-disc Looney Tunes Hit Reality, which would have been priced at $19.95. The survey claimed it would "contain 20 hilarious all new Looney Tunes cartoons featuring your favorite characters starring in spoofs of reality TV shows such as Survivor, Iron Chef, Fear Factor [comma needed] and more." As intriguing as the idea of "all-new Looney Tunes cartoons" might have been for some consumers, the reality was that the cartoons were merely just the Flash-animated video segments that had been featured on the Looney Tunes web site at the time.
Another single-disc DVD to possibly be sold for $19.95 was The Bugs Bunny Carrot Collection, no doubt a retitled version of the unreleased Bugs Bunny's Golden Carrot Collection that Billboard had announced back in August. Whatever it was going to be called, the DVD would "contain 14 very cool and entertaining classic cartoons featuring everyone's favorite - Bugs Bunny - to be enjoyed by your whole family."
In addition to the two single-disc DVDs, the survey also brought up two much more attractive-sounding multi-disc sets. A two-disc Looney Tunes Premiere Collection would be made available for $26.95 and "contain 28 classic Looney Tunes cartoons, including the episodes that introduced each character. These cartoons have been restored and remastered to their original quality." The inclusion of the characters' introductory cartoons and the overall "premiere" theming made the collection sound very much like the "Firsts" side on the first Golden Age of Looney Tunes laserdisc set, only this time with the entire Warner Bros. cartoon library to pull from.
But of all the proposed titles, clearly the most interesting was the four-disc Looney Tunes Golden Collection to be priced at $69.95. Though the intended retail price made some survey participants pause, the set would nevertheless "contain 60 of the best classic Looney Tunes cartoons. These cartoons include the best of favorite characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, and the episodes that introduced each character." Like with the hypothetical Premiere Collection, the cartoons on this set would also be "restored and remastered to their original quality." Strangely, such a claim wasn't made for The Bugs Bunny Carrot Collection.
After a very long spring of little-to-no information, mid-July finally brought the news that everyone was waiting for. Described as a "momentous home video event," Warner Home Video officially announced the grand debut of Looney Tunes on DVD. Set for October 28, five individual releases were planned to target the broadest range of consumers possible. According to the label's press release, the four-disc Looney Tunes Golden Collection was being offered for the "ultimate collector," while the two-disc Looney Tunes Premiere Collection was being made available for the "more nostalgic" casual fans. Also coming out on the same day were the single-disc collections Looney Tunes: Reality Check and Looney Tunes: Stranger Than Fiction, both featuring Flash webtoons from the Looney Tunes web site, and a new two-disc special edition of Space Jam. Curiously missing from the announcement was The Bugs Bunny Carrot Collection from March's survey, or any single-disc release of classic shorts for that matter.
Warner Home Video was offering a variety of different kinds of packages because the label honestly wasn't sure who would be purchasing the DVDs in October and which configuration they would prefer. Were consumers going to flock to the four-disc set with all the bells and whistles and special features, or were they just going to be happy with the cartoons on the bare-bones two-disc collection? Warner's plans for the franchise going forward were going to depend greatly on the sales of each release.
Two potential cover designs for Looney Tunes Hit Reality, as shown during the Warner Home Video online survey. The more traditional cover at the left would eventually be used, although the DVD itself would be titled Looney Tunes: Reality Check.
A handful of cartoons were used a month later for a whole wave of special editions, billed under the banner of Warner Legends. Similar to the old A Night at the Movies VHS line from two decades ago, classic Warner Bros. features were given a treasure trove of extras, including trailers, newsreels, and cartoons to recreate the "night at the movies" experience. Three titles were available in this wave, released individually and as a Warner Legends Collection boxed set with a bonus disc. The Adventures of Robin Hood: Two-Disc Special Edition included Katnip Kollege, Rabbit Hood, and Robin Hood Daffy; Yankee Doodle Dandy: Two-Disc Special Edition featured Yankee Doodle Daffy, Yankee Doodle Bugs, and Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid; while The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Two-Disc Special Edition contained Hot Cross Bunny and 8 Ball Bunny.
When October 28 finally arrived, anticipation from cartoon and film enthusiasts was at a fever-pitch. Whether pre-ordered online or purchased at a big-box retailer, it was clear that the Looney Tunes were going to have a very good debut on DVD.
For die-hard fans, the prize was the four-disc Looney Tunes Golden Collection. Though the $64.92 suggested retail price might have given some consumers second thoughts, the amount of content--both in the main program and in the special features--made it well worth the price (and of course, many retailers initially offered the set on sale anyway). The set was the brainchild of George Feltenstein and Jerry Beck, who not only repeated but also topped many of the decisions that made their Golden Age of Looney Tunes laserdisc sets from MGM/UA such a hit with collectors.
The boxed set relied heavily on the former post-1948 library for a very simple reason: Warner Bros. had always kept the master elements of those shorts in relatively good shape, so they required a mininum amount of restoration. The pre-1948 titles, however, had traded hands so many times and had been subjected to so many different forms of editing, duplicating, and mangling that additional time and expense was required to bring them back to their original Technicolor glory. Warner Home Video was not abandoning those early classics, but they needed more time in order to do right by them. Of the fifty-six cartoons in this first volume's main program, only nine were from the pre-1948 library.
Two potential cover designs for the Looney Tunes Premiere Collection, as shown during the Warner Home Video online survey. The design on the right would eventually win out.
The final two discs were "all-star" compilations featuring most of the major Looney Tunes characters. Disc three was made up almost entirely of Chuck Jones material (save for two by Bob Clampett), while disc four highlighted the works of Friz Freleng and, to a lesser extent, Robert McKimson. A number of cartoon stars were represented with their debut films, such as Elmer Fudd in Elmer's Candid Camera, Marvin the Martian in Haredevil Hare, the Tasmanian Devil in Devil May Hare, and the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote in Fast and Furry-ous, to name a few. The Oscar-winning cartoons For Scent-imental Reasons and Speedy Gonzales were included, as were such celebrated character showcases as Canned Feud, The Foghorn Leghorn, Lumber Jerks, and Tortoise Wins by a Hare. There was even room for the zany McKimson one-shot Early to Bet, making its debut on home video.
The selection of cartoons was, for the most part, a good introductory mix; suited for the general audience Warner Home Video hoped to attract. Every major star got a chance to shine. Nothing in the cartoons was too risqué or controversial, apart from a comically outrageous suicide gag or two--no blackface gags or other stereotypes. Almost all of the cartoons would have been able to air on Saturday morning television intact, and that's what the label was going for: a safe debut to appeal to the masses in the hope they would come back for rarities and racier films in future volumes. The downside to this strategy, however, was that it was a little too middle-of-the-road for the die-hard fans. In addition to the small amount of pre-1948 material included, no black and white short was a part of the main program, while Tex Avery wasn't represented at all (apart from his key, albeit uncredited, role of starting the production of Wabbit Twouble). While these fans had to swallow such bitter pills as the tamer remake Dough for the Do-Do as opposed to the original Porky in Wackyland, goodies awaited them in the boxed set's numerous special features.
And what special features! Each disc on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection was jam-packed with audio extras, television specials, and other odds and ends; enough to make any serious fan of Warner Bros. animation salivate. In addition to the fifty-six cartoons on the main program, two bonus cartoons were also included: the 1991 Blooper Bunny, with optional commentary by co-director Greg Ford (making him the only Looney Tunes director to newly record an audio commentary for DVD release), and the original 1929 pilot short Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid that sold the concept of Looney Tunes to Leon Schlesinger and then to Warner Bros. The latter was presented as "From the Vaults," which was Warner Home Video's way to get around having to remaster certain rarer films and just release them as-is. Ford also participated in numerous audio commentaries as a cartoon historian, as did such colleagues as Michael Barrier (who utilized his archive of recorded interviews with numerous members of the Looney Tunes crew) and Jerry Beck--even comedy legend Stan Freberg provided commentaries for such shorts as Rabbit's Kin and Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears (which, ironically, he didn't actually perform on!). Many cartoons also had music-only tracks to allow one to hear the great Carl Stalling and Milt Franklin scores, while each disc also had a photo gallery of stills and lobby cards.
But that was just the beginning. The on-camera introduction Chuck Jones had shot just before his death was finally used. Rare trailers from mid-1950s theatrical compilations were included, as were the animated Bugs Bunny sequences from the Warner Bros. features Two Guys from Texas and My Dream Is Yours. John Canemaker's documentary The Boys from Termite Terrace was split between two discs, unearthed for the first time since originally airing on CBS in 1975. A series of featurettes, called Behind the Tunes, were seen throughout the discs, with bite-sized episodes focusing on the major characters, Carl Stalling, and Mel Blanc. A sub-menu was devoted entirely to The Bugs Bunny Show, offering a reconstruction of the extremely rare bridging animation for the episode "A Star Is Bored" (using a mix of surviving color and black and white elements) and Mel Blanc's home-recorded voice sessions for the episode "The Astro-Nuts." A new feature-length documentary tracing the history of the studio was produced, titled Irreverent Imagination: The Golden Age of Looney Tunes and narrated by Stan Freberg. Meanwhile, the one-hour Cartoon Network special Toon Heads: The Lost Cartoons was also included, serving as a sort of primer for the numerous, wonderful special features that would turn up on future volumes...should sales warrant them.
Visually, the cartoons looked stunning; bright and colorful and looking as if they were newly produced. Many of the shorts on the set had suffered in the past from poor or time-compressed prints on television and even home video, making these remastered versions a much-welcomed improvement. And thankfully, all of the cartoons were presented uncut, another sign of good things to come.
While the visual presentation received no complaints, a technical error affected the audio of a few of the cartoons such as Rabbit Fire, Early to Bet, and High Diving Hare. For whatever reason, the soundtracks were mixed at a lower pitch than intended, resulting in a deeper, slower-sounding audio track. Though still played at normal speed, voices in particular had a sluggish, dopey quality to them.
Two potential cover designs for The Bugs Bunny Carrot Collection, here titled as merely The Bugs Bunny Collection. Ultimately, this title would never see the light of day, while a single-disc Bugs Bunny compilation wouldn't be released until 2010.
The Looney Tunes onslaught continued that day with the Space Jam: Two-Disc Special Edition, also being offered for $26.99. In addition to the commentary track from the previous DVD edition, the two-disc set also featured a new behind-the-scenes featurette, Seal's "Fly Like an Eagle" music video, and a selection of bonus cartoons, marking a first for a Space Jam release. The shorts picked weren't from the classic years of the studio, however, but were instead reunion cartoons done in the last two decades. The late 1980s shorts Night of the Living Duck and The Duxorcist were joined by Chuck Jones's 1995 Another Froggy Evening, 1992's Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers, and the 1989 television special Bugs vs. Daffy: Battle of the Music Video Stars. Unfortunately, Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers and Battle of the Music Video Stars were both inexplicably edited, with Bunny Snatchers removing all traces of Yosemite Sam. Battle of the Music Video Stars also suffered from a horrendous audio mix intended for international distribution, in which new music cues were dubbed over all of the dialogue, rendering it practically inaudible. It would take several years for Warner Home Video to correct one of these mistakes.
The only single-disc Looney Tunes releases on this day were Looney Tunes: Reality Check and Looney Tunes: Stranger Than Fiction, sold for $19.98 each. Containing Flash-animated webtoons that spoofed reality shows and popular movies, the only bonus features found on the discs were "deleted scenes" from the webtoons and the aforementioned Back in Action DVD-ROM content. Sadly, there was no single-disc compilation being offered of classic Warner Bros. cartoons, but amazingly, considering the significance of the franchise's debut on DVD, Reality Check and Stranger Than Fiction were the only two titles in this entire assortment also released on VHS.
With such a bounty of releases available, it was nevertheless going to be impossible to satisify everyone. The cover artwork and menu designs for all the DVDs left much to be desired, relying on decade-old licensing art with nary the sheen or prestige of the sample artwork from the March survey. A number of consumers also couldn't understand or accept the "catch all" nature of the compilations, instead wanting everything released in chronological order.
"If we went chronologically," George Feltenstein said to the press, "we would never see any of the great cartoons because Warner Bros. cartoons really didn't come into their own until the mid- to late-'30s, and even those cartoons aren't the Looney Tunes that people are most familiar with."
Perhaps the biggest general gripe from consumers was that the sets didn't contain all of the classic cartoons they were expecting, with What's Opera, Doc? and One Froggy Evening being the two most notable exclusions that angered folks. At no point did Warner Home Video ever suggest that those two titles were going to be available in the October 28 wave, but at the same time a lot of confusion and frustration was created by the fact that the Looney Tunes Golden Collection didn't list the cartoons that were included anywhere on the packaging, while the Looney Tunes Premiere Collection had Michigan J. Frog featured among the other characters on the front cover.
"We held back some of the jewels for future releases," Feltenstein explained, stressing that if the first volume was loaded with all of the major classics, "what would we do for an encore?"
With over a thousand cartoons spanning four decades, there was still a lot left over to assemble quality sets from. Jerry Beck once said that he was easily able to map out ten potential four-disc volumes in his head (a comment that unfortunately led a few fans to infer as some sort of guarantee of ten eventual volumes). George Feltenstein meanwhile said that future volumes were going to be the same kind of mix, drawing from all eras of the studio's filmographies.
"About 300 of them are excellent," he added. "300 of them are very good. 300 are good, 100 of them are OK, and 100 of them are lousy."
Feltenstein and other representatives from Warner Home Video urged fans to be patient. They knew there were still cartoons that people wanted to own, and if the label could have released more with the same level of care and attention they deserved, they would have. But the meticulous remastering and restoration involved took time, especially in the case of the 1940s shorts that were subjected to "Blue Ribbon" retitling upon reissue. If at all possible, Warner wanted to restore lost titles and other missing elements, with Feltenstein naming A Wild Hare as a particular one he wanted to do right by.
Despite the gripes and growing pains, response to the Golden Collection was huge, sales were far exceeding expectations, and Warner Home Video put plans into place for a second volume. The initial four-disc set was also being readied for international release, with some countries getting it as-is and others breaking up the discs into four separate releases.
With a plan in place for more dedicated Looney Tunes collections in the future, Warner Home Video started feeling more and more comfortable including cartoons as bonuses on related releases. Though any newly restored cartoons were being saved for the eventual next Golden Collection volume, unremastered shorts began turning up in the craziest places. Right out of the gate, in November two Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall DVDs--Dark Passage and To Have and Have Not--contained bonus Looney Tunes cartoons: Slick Hare and Bacall to Arms (respectively). This was followed a week later by a pair of Dr. Seuss releases, The Best of Dr. Seuss featuring Horton Hatches the Egg and In Search of Dr. Seuss with the Private Snafu short Spies (marking the first time a Snafu cartoon was seen on a Warner release). This see-sawing between off-the-shelf shorts as bonuses and then bigger compilations with remastered films would go on for several years, allowing fans to amass quite a collection of Warner Bros. cartoons on DVD.
In the middle of a continuing stream of Warner Bros. classics with bonus cartoons, one significant release came in early March 2004 with the home video debut of Looney Tunes: Back in Action, just four months after its rather embarrassing and short-lived theatrical run. In addition to a VHS version (making it the final Looney Tunes product on the format), two DVDs were issued: one in widescreen and one in full frame.
In addition to the usual batch of feature-film special features (trailer, deleted scenes, etc.), the DVD editions also contained a brand new Looney Tunes short, Whizzard of Ow starring Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Produced by Back in Action writer Larry Doyle, the cartoon was intended as a part of the new series of shorts Warner Bros. was financing with an eye toward theatrical release. None of the six cartoons Doyle and his team completed would make it to theaters, while Whizzard of Ow was the only one to see any kind of contemporary American release--albeit screened at Wal-Mart stores to promote Back in Action's theatrical run. The other Doyle cartoons--Duck Dodgers in Attack of the Drones, Cock-A-Doodle Duel, Hare and Loathing in Las Vegas, Museum Scream, and My Generation G-G-Gap--were soon made available on a bonus disc with the Region 4 DVD release of Back in Action in Australia. It would be several more years before any of those five were released in North America.
The inclusion of the masterpiece One Froggy Evening on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two boxed set brought about many sighs of relief.
Like with the first volume, Bugs again dominated the first disc of this new set. Classics such as The Big Snooze, Tortoise Beats Hare, and Bugs Bunny Rides Again were seen with such underrated shorts as French Rarebit, Baby Buggy Bunny, and Hyde and Hare. Numerous cartoons had commentaries by the likes of June Foray, Clampett animator Bill Melendez, and animation historians like Greg Ford, Michael Barrier, and of course Jerry Beck. A mid-1970s interview with Tex Avery reminiscing about his days at Warner Bros. was included, as was the first half of the 1985 NBC special The Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary Special, marking the program's first ever home video release (part two was included elsewhere in the collection). And like on the previous volume, Bugs Bunny Show-related special features were a highlight, including a reconstruction of the episode "Do or Diet" and Mel Blanc's recording sessions from "No Business Like Slow Business" (featuring the only known time he had voiced Slowpoke Rodriguez).
The Golden Collection series continued to be curated by George Feltenstein and Jerry Beck, but this second volume showed that the pair didn't have carte blanche to the library the way they had over at MGM/UA with the Golden Age of Looney Tunes laserdiscs. Warner Bros. had remastered a number of Road Runner and Tweety cartoons for international release, and the home video division insisted that they be included on this new set. (The masters of the Tweety shorts in particular were the exact same ones used in Japan for the I Love Tweety series.) So disc two became primarily devoted to Road Runner, while disc three focused on Sylvester and Tweety. Since Fast and Furry-ous had already been included on the first Golden Collection, the next eleven Road Runner shorts in release order were presented, repeating the strategy used back on laserdisc and frustrating fans of the series who were hoping for some home video debuts like Beep Prepared or War and Pieces. The Tweety and Sylvester disc, meanwhile, was a little less linear, jumping around a bit to showcase Room and Bird, Gift Wrapped, A Bird in a Guilty Cage, Tweetie Pie, and Kitty Kornered, among others. The two discs also contained an assortment of "and friends" selections, with Road Runner sharing the stage with such Chuck Jones gems as Mouse Wreckers, The Dover Boys at Pimento University, and A Bear for Punishment; while Tweety became roommates with Daffy and Porky via Baby Bottleneck, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, and Porky in Wackyland.
If the content of the Road Runner and Tweety discs were a tad underwhelming, they made up for it with their bonus features. In addition to commentaries and music-only tracks, two new Behind the Tunes documentaries were produced to spotlight Treg Brown and Bob Clampett. The animated openings to the Saturday morning programs The Porky Pig Show, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, and The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show were featured, while the thought-to-be-lost complete 1962 TV pilot Adventures of the Road-Runner was unearthed. Perhaps the oddest surprise was the inclusion of a brand new short, Daffy Duck for President. Based on Chuck Jones's storybook of the same name and originally planned to be produced when he was still alive, the cartoon was newly created just for this boxed set. Maybe not coincidentally, the release date for Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two just happened to also have been Election Day.
On the surface, the volume's fourth disc was billed as another "all-star" compilation, but in fact it was themed around some of the studio's classic music and show-biz cartoons. You Ought to Be in Pictures was featured, as were Three Little Bops, Tex Avery's I Love to Singa, Hollywood Steps Out, a restored Have You Got Any Castles?, Show Biz Bugs, Book Revue with its restored title sequence, Rhapsody Rabbit, and others. Most importantly, the great public-relations crime of the first volume was corrected with the inclusion of both One Froggy Evening and What's Opera, Doc? The two cartoons also received the bulk of the disc's bonus content, with each getting a commentary, a music-only track, and its own Behind the Tunes featurette. Even more attention was given to What's Opera, Doc? with a second commentary cobbled together from interviews with Chuck Jones, Michael Maltese, and Maurice Noble--plus a fantastic audio track consisting solely of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan's recording sessions, outtakes and all. Two rarities were also highlighted on the disc, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng's live action monkey short Orange Blossoms for Violet and Jones's Oscar-winning documentary cartoon So Much for So Little.
Despite the wealth of special features, rare finds, and fan favorites, two major technical problems soured the overall experience for viewers. A small number of cartoons throughout the set, including The Big Snooze and Gorilla My Dreams, suffered from artifacts of digital video noise reduction, or DVNR for short. The digital clean-up technique is primarily used on live action productions as a quick way to remove traces of dirt or excess grain to create a smoother picture. Unfortunately, when DVNR is applied to animation, the programs that are used erroneously mistake black ink outlines as dirt and remove those as well, often giving cartoon characters a blurry or "smudgy" look, especially in moments of outrageous motion. Meanwhile, a handful of cartoons on the set's fourth disc--such as Book Revue, A Corny Concerto, and I Love to Singa, among others--were incorrectly scanned into interlaced video instead of the DVD-standard progressive-scan format, resulting in a delayed frame rate and a general flickering quality to the shorts. Though there was little Warner Home Video was willing to do to fix the DVNR effects since they occurred during the remastering process, the label would eventually offer replacement discs to correct the interlacing issues.
Another loud, yet not nearly as vital, complaint was growing from the more fanatical members of the animation community, particularly those who followed the ill-informed gospel of Ren and Stimpy creator and child molestor John Kricfalusi. Their main gripe was that the restored cartoons found on the Golden Collection volumes were--believe it or not--too colorful! After years of watching the shorts, especially the pre-1948 ones, on local television via beaten-up 16 mm prints, they were upset that the DVDs didn't try to recreate that visual experience. In all fairness, some of the colors on the cartoons did run a little "hot," but Warner Home Video was interested less in baby-boomer nostalgia and more in presenting the cartoons like they had never been seen before after years of abuse; perhaps not since the original camera negative. Kricfalusi and his band of sycophants often derided the sets for what they referred to as "miscoloring," but it's very likely they would have been unhappy with anything that wasn't a faded or red-tinted print with splices throughout--and they probably missed not seeing a local weatherman host dressed as a ship captain, too!
With Warner Home Video investing so much money in remastering the cartoons and producing new bonus features, it stood to reason that the label would want to get the most for their money. Though last year's Looney Tunes Premiere Collection hardly broke any sales records, Warner nevertheless saw the value in continuing to offer a lower-priced alternative to general consumers. The studio delivered by turning the two-disc collection into a series of its own, with Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 2 coming out the same day as Golden Collection Volume Two (the Looney Tunes Premiere Collection set was also retitled and repackaged as Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection: The Premiere Edition to reflect the new name). Like before, this bare-bones set simply contained the cartoons from the third and fourth discs of the larger collection.
As fans settled in for another long year before the next Golden Collection, the first half of 2005 offered more cartoons as bonus features on Warner Home Video DVD releases of classic movies, with a particular focus on cartoons produced in the 1930s. Such examples included A Star Is Hatched appearing on the Bringing Up Baby: Two-Disc Special Edition and a number of black and white shorts being used throughout the label's awesome Warner Bros. Pictures Gangsters Collection.
In February the first animation-specific title of the year was released, and a very special one at that. Working with sister company Turner Classic Movies, Warner Home Video released the one-disc Academy Award-Winning Classic Cartoons exclusively to Barnes & Noble stores to tie in with the Academy Awards ceremony to be held at the end of the month. In addition to four MGM cartoons, three Warner Bros. Oscar winners were included: Tweetie Pie, Knighty Knight Bugs, and Birds Anonymous, the latter two of which were new to the format. It wouldn't be the last time TCM utilized classic cartoons on its branded releases, nor would it be the last time Warner Home Video would celebrate the Oscar-winning cartoons in its library.
On October 25, the four-disc Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three was finally made available. The new set signaled a dramatic change in the direction of not only the Golden Collection series itself but also how Warner Home Video was presenting any classic animation on DVD. For the first time since the series began, the slimmest possible majority of the shorts in the main program were from the pre-1948 library; thirty-one of the sixty cartoons. More and more attention was also given in the special features to topics that interested die-hard animation fans, specifically with Behind the Tunes featurettes about the black and white cartoons, the World War II era, and one devoted entirely to director Frank Tashlin.
But most significantly, Warner Home Video was starting to test the waters of including edgier material on its collections. Each disc in the set began with an on-camera introduction by Whoopi Goldberg, who explained that some of the featured cartoons may contain racist or cultural stereotypes that were commonplace at the time they were made. She stressed that such depictions were wrong then and still wrong today, but to edit or otherwise withhold them from release would be a disservice to history, akin to pretending that those stereotypes never existed in the first place. A new disclaimer also appeared on the back of the packaging, stressing that the set was "intended for the adult collector and may not be suitable for children." Though it was unlikely that a Golden Collection volume was going to contain, say, Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs anytime soon, Warner wanted to make sure that as they went deeper and deeper into the catalog that the occasional blackface gag or Speedy Gonzales cartoon wasn't going to cause the same headaches MGM/UA endured a decade ago over Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips. The "adult collector" disclaimer would appear on the packages of most of Warner Home Video's future classic-animation releases, while Goldberg's clip would be replaced by an on-screen title card that more or less conveyed the same sentiment.
Bugs Bunny once again took center stage on the first disc, with the majority of the cartoons on the compilation coming from the 1940s. Pre-1948 classics like Hare Tonic, Acrobatty Bunny, A Hare Grows in Manhattan, and The Wabbit Who Came to Supper were just some of the highlights. The post-1948 selections on the disc, meanwhile, were among the best of the best: Arthur Davis's Bowery Bugs, Robert McKimson's Rebel Rabbit and Hillbilly Hare, and the iconic "wabbit season trilogy" was finally completed on DVD with Duck! Rabbit, Duck!, with the series even getting its own Behind the Tunes featurette.
Disc two spotlighted another Warner Bros. cartoon motf: the Hollywood parody. Genre spoofs like Thugs with Dirty Mugs and celebrity take-offs like Porky's Road Race and The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos were paired with cartoons centered around movie studios (Daffy Duck in Hollywood, Hollywood Capers) and inside theaters (The Film Fan, She Was an Acrobat's Daughter). Even the studio's later television-themed shorts were featured such as Wideo Wabbit and the Jack Benny-starring The Mouse That Jack Built. The set's third disc focused on Porky and other cartoon pigs. In addition to Porky's debut in I Haven't Got a Hat, a number of his black and white shorts were included like Porky's Romance and Porky Pig's Feat, as were pairings with Daffy such as Rocket Squad and the masterpiece Robin Hood Daffy. Another "all-star" compilation made up the fourth disc, which included such essential entries as the Oscar-winning Birds Anonymous, To Beep or Not to Beep, Rabbit Punch, and two first appearances: Foghorn in Walky Talky Hawky and Pepé in Odor-able Kitty.
Golden Collection Volume Three's special features ran the gamut of the studio's history. Chuck Jones's extremely rare 1943 government film Point Rationing of Foods and the 1963 Philbert television pilot made their home video debuts. The 1989 Chuck Amuck: The Movie premiered on DVD split between two discs, as did an edited version of the 1990 TNT special What's Up, Doc?: A Salute to Bugs Bunny. Jones's 1967 MGM one-shot The Bear That Wasn't was featured as part of a focus on Frank Tashlin, who wrote the storybook the cartoon was based on. More Behind the Tunes mini-docs were produced about Pepé le Pew, Birds Anonymous, and even one about how the cartoons were being restored for DVD. Another episode of The Bugs Bunny Show, "The Honeymousers," was reconstructed, while Mel Blanc's recording sessions from the "Ball Point Puns" episode were also featured. Three key Private Snafu shorts were included (albeit from prints of questionable quality): Snafuperman, Rumors, and Spies. Two more theatrical shorts were included as unremastered "from the vault" bonuses, Sinkin' in the Bathtub and It's Got Me Again! Considering the former was the very first Looney Tunes cartoon ever released and the latter was the studio's first Oscar nominee, the decision to not remaster them for posterity was curious at best. As if all the filmed content wasn't enough, the set also included a physical bonus item: a mini-sericel of the gang, which was Warner Home Video's pack-in du jour for its animation releases at the time.
Instead of another Spotlight Collection volume that simply recycled the third and fourth discs of the larger set, Warner Home Video's family-friendly option this time was something a little more attractive to all fans. The two-disc Looney Tunes Movie Collection featured the DVD debuts of two of the classic compilation films, specifically The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie and Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales. The bonus features were charming vignettes depicting child actors discussing their favorite Looney Tunes moments and, like the Golden Collection volume, the set also contained a mini-sericel. In the future, Warner Home Video would regard the Movie Collection as "volume three" of the Spotlight Collection series, despite not featuring the latter title anywhere on the package.
The year ended just as it had begun, with an out-of-the-blue retailer exclusive. Moms and dads picking up Robert Zemeckis's hideous motion-capture disaster The Polar Express at Wal-Mart in November were treated to a bundled bonus DVD. The unimaginatively titled 4 Classic Cartoons was just that (sort of), while its generic-looking cover seemed like something from a public-domain company if not for a piece of Daffy clip art on it (and even then...). The use of the word "classic" was definitely debatable, as the DVD mostly contained unrestored cartoons with Daffy and Speedy squaring off: Snow Excuse, A-Haunting We Will Go, and the made-for-TV The Chocolate Chase (with its CBS Saturday morning title card, itself a rarity), with Robert McKimson's 1963 one-shot Bartholomew Versus the Wheel thrown in as well. The selections were made by Jerry Beck, who had originally picked them for a reissue of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that was never realized. Beck was actually under very tight restrictions from Warner Home Video: in addition to picking shorts with a candy or chocolate theme to tie in with Willy Wonka, they also had to be cartoons not planned for a Golden Collection volume. Beck was as surprised as anyone that the compilation he came up with was eventually paired with The Polar Express, and it wouldn't be the last time the label would take his work and run with it in a different direction long after the fact.
At the start, 2006 was poised to be a rather uneventful year in the history of home video. With the Looney Tunes settling in as a dependable DVD franchise, Warner Home Video would spend the better part of the year using the cartoons on a variety of releases. They would become favorites among the bonus features on the label's line of Signature Collection boxed sets of classic movies, while at the same time also appearing with contemporary films like August's release of March of the Penguins. In March Warner expanded its Looney Tunes line for the first time since its 2003 launch with two volumes of episodes from the Baby Looney Tunes series, Playday Pals and Let's Play Pretend.
"How jolly can you get?" Chuck Jones's iconic Robin Hood Daffy became one of the first three Looney Tunes cartoons released in high definition, albeit on the soon-to-be-obsolete HD DVD format.
In the meantime, though, Warner Home Video was interested in bringing out a number of its celebrated titles in high definition. In September, just five months after HD DVD's launch, the studio offered its 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood as a single-disc release in the new format. Taking all of the content from the movie's Two-Disc Special Edition DVD from 2003, among the bonus features were three Looney Tunes shorts: Katnip Kollege, Rabbit Hood, and Robin Hood Daffy, all presented in 1080p resolution and becoming the first Warner Bros. cartoons made available on a high definition disc. (A Blu-ray release of Robin Hood would eventually come in 2008.)
With two high-definition formats fighting each other for an audience, back on the standard DVD front November 14 was something of a mini-Looney celebration not seen since the initial 2003 launch with three different titles available to purchase. The anchor release was the much-anticipated Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four, another four-disc boxed set that went even deeper into the catalog than ever before.
Bugs dominated the first disc for the fourth and final time in the Golden Collection series. Made up entirely of post-1948 films, such essential entries as Mississippi Hare, Operation: Rabbit, Sahara Hare, 8 Ball Bunny, Rabbit Hood, and Knighty Knight Bugs were making their Golden Collection debuts. Among the disc's special features was a spotlight on Looney Tunes soundtrack favorite Raymond Scott, the DVD debut of Bugs Bunny Superstar (the first half, anyway), Chuck Workman's excellent 1989 compilation short 50 Years of Bugs Bunny in 3 1/2th Minutes, vintage trailers, commentaries, and of course the annual unveiling of rediscovered Bugs Bunny Show material (specifically the "Ball Point Puns" episode and Mel Blanc's recording sessions for "Foreign Legion Leghorn").
Director Frank Tashlin was the focus of the second disc, getting his first Warner Home Video compilation with Merrie Melodies like Little Pancho Vanilla, Now That Summer Is Gone, Booby Hatched, and others; two excellent 1940s Daffy cartoons, Plane Daffy and The Stupid Cupid; and a handful of great black and white Porky shorts such as The Case of the Stuttering Pig, Porky's Railroad, Porky the Fireman, Porky's Poultry Plant, and others. Recreations of two of Tashlin's storybooks--Little Chic's Wonderful Mother and Tony and Clarence--were among the special features. Other bonuses included the second half of Bugs Bunny Superstar (which in turn was able to sneak onto the set unremastered copies of otherwise unreleased cartoons like I Taw a Putty Tat and What's Cookin' Doc?) and off-the-shelf copies of some more Private Snafu shorts for the Army: The Goldbrick, The Home Front, and Censored. One particular highlight on the disc was The William Tell Overture, a very short Daffy and Porky cartoon directed by Dan Haskett that was being touted as a "New 2006 Short" but in actuality was already completed in 1991 and had premiered edited into that year's Bugs Bunny's Overtures to Disaster TV special.
Disc three was devoted entirely to Speedy Gonzales, giving the character his first dedicated compilation since the Golden Jubilee VHS series back in 1985. With Speedy only represented twice on past Golden Collection volumes, the disc was able to present an almost complete filmography of the character from his debut in Cat-Tails for Two through the closing of the original animation studio in 1964; 1963's Mexican Cat Dance being the only, curious holdout. Even three noteworthy shorts from the later Depatie-Freleng era--Pancho's Hideaway, The Wild Chase, and A-Haunting We Will Go--were included, marking the first post-1964 titles to appear remastered in the Golden Collection series. The disc's special features included a new Friz Freleng documentary titled Friz on Film and Chuck Jones's two U.S. Army recruitment-related films of the mid-1950s: 90 Day Wandering and Drafty, Isn't It? The set's fourth disc was feline-themed, featuring Sylvester in such shorts as The Unexpected Pest and the Oscar-nominated Mouse and Garden; the Marc Anthony and Pussyfoot pairings Kiss Me Cat and Cat Feud; the two cartoons starring Robert McKimson's overweight moocher Dodsworth; and such celebrated one-shots as Pizzicato Pussycat, Swallow the Leader, and Arthur Davis's screwy Dough Ray Me-ow.
A blackfaced Bugs faces Sam's whip in a politically incorrect moment from Southern Fried Rabbit, seen on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four. As the Golden Collection series went on, bolder and bolder choices were being made as to the cartoon selection.
If the Golden and Spotlight sets weren't enough, November 14 also saw a brand new single-disc release. Bah Humduck!: A Looney Tunes Christmas became the first new direct-to-video Looney Tunes "movie" since Tweety's High-Flying Adventure at the start of the decade. Essentially a by-the-book Looney Tunes version of A Christmas Carol with Daffy in the Scrooge role, the 45-minute production was harmless fun and tried to work in as many characters as possible. Typical of most seasonal titles, the DVD would see an annual reissue for many years to come. And just to make the release date even extra-special, the Looney Tunes gang also figured into Warner Home Video's big HD DVD release of Casablanca via the obligatory Carrotblanca as an extra.
Mid-March 2007 set the stage for the better part of a very diverse year with two barely related releases. A third volume of Baby Looney Tunes episodes, Puddle Olympics, was released, as was Loonatics Unleashed: Season 1, containing the first thirteen episodes of Kids' WB's Batman Beyond-esque action cartoon. Two weeks later, the acclaimed documentary March of the Penguins was offered on both HD DVD and Blu-ray. Both formats included 8 Ball Bunny in high definition as a bonus, becoming the first Looney Tunes cartoon to be released on Blu-ray.
Baby Looney Tunes and Loonatics Unleashed also figured into a joint release in August with a fourth volume from the former series, Tooth Fairy Tales, and the second and final season of the latter. A month later, September brought the U.S. DVD debut of the 2000 direct-to-video movie Tweety's High-Flying Adventure.
All of these Looney-related releases were leading up to the October 30 unveiling of Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five, another four-disc set of sixty cartoons and some amazing bonus features. For the first time in the Golden Collection series, Bugs no longer had complete control over the first disc, forcing him to share space with Daffy. Shorts starring the both of them such as Ali Baba Bunny and A Star Is Bored were seen alongside Bugs cartoons like Buccaneer Bunny and Transylvania 6-5000 and Daffy outings like Stupor Duck, A Pest in the House, and Hollywood Daffy.
Disc two celebrated another recurring Looney Tunes trend: the fairy tale spoof. Such obvious examples as Bewitched Bunny, Tweety and the Beanstalk, and Paying the Piper were paired with 1940s one-shots like The Bear's Tale and Foney Fables and even odds and ends like the rarely seen 1964 swan song from the original studio, Señorella and the Glass Huarache. The set's third disc was devoted to Bob Clampett, compiling not only almost all remaining color Clampett cartoons but also such key black and white shorts as The Daffy Doc and Patient Porky. The black-and-white theme continued with the final disc of the collection, "Early Daze." Though primarily a Porky disc featuring some outstanding cartoons like Porky's Double Trouble, Porky's Preview, Wholly Smoke, and Porky's Poppa, the disc also highlighted Daffy with Scrap Happy Daffy and even an early 1930s Merrie Melody, I've Got to Sing a Torch Song.
The set's special features were numerous and fantastic. The 2000 PBS documentary Chuck Jones: Extremes & Inbetweens - A Life in Animation was split between the first two discs, while a bonus from the original Extremes & Inbetweens DVD--A Chuck Jones Tutorial: Tricks of the Cartoon Trade--was also included. Two more Private Snafu shorts, Coming!! Snafu and Gripes, were featured, as were all three of the surviving Hook cartoons: The Return of Mr. Hook, The Good Egg, and Tokyo Woes. Behind the Tunes featurettes focused on such topics as Private Snafu, Looney Tunes fairy tales, Robert McKimson, and even an overview of all of the lesser known directors over the years. More Bugs Bunny Show rarities were added, including the "Bad Time Story" episode, Mel Blanc's recording sessions for the "What's Up, Dog?" episode, and a suite of commercials and sponsor tags for the series. The Bob Clampett disc featured not only the rare director's cut of Hare Ribbin' but also a very non-Clampett bonus: never-before-heard recording sessions for a new main title theme that Milt Franklyn was working on at the time of his death in 1962. As if the sixty-plus cartoons weren't enough, the set's fourth disc also contained the DVD debuts of three classic Looney Tunes television specials: Bugs and Daffy's Carnival of the Animals, Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales, and Bugs Bunny's Bustin' Out all Over.
As usual, the four-disc set was released alongside a smaller two-disc version, Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 5. With the uncut Clampett and black and white cartoons from Golden Collection Volume Five out of the question, the family-friendly set utilized the bigger collection's first two discs.
With fans once again facing a long year between boxed sets, February 2008 arrived with a treat to tide everyone over. Since the Academy Awards were once again fast approaching, Warner Home Video released two compilations spotlighting the Oscar-winning and -nominated classic animation in its library. Unlike the Barnes & Noble exclusive Academy Award-Winning Classic Cartoons DVD from three years before, these new collections were assembled under the guidance of George Feltenstein and Jerry Beck. Each cartoon was restored and remastered with the same care as those in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection volumes, new bonus material was prepared, and a handful of animation historians were on hand to provide commentaries.
The one-disc Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection: 15 Winners was exactly that. The five Oscar-winning Looney Tunes cartoons--Tweetie Pie, For Scent-imental Reasons, Speedy Gonzales, Birds Anonymous, and Knighty Knight Bugs--were featured, as was the studio's Oscar-winning animated documentary So Much for So Little. Apart from Warner productions, all seven Tom and Jerry cartoons to win an Academy Award were also included, not to mention the MGM one-shot The Milky Way and Chuck Jones's MGM opus The Dot and the Line.
The bigger, heartier cartoon portions, however, were served on the three-disc Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection: 15 Winners/26 Nominees. In addition to the Looney Tunes and MGM properties, Warner also pulled from the Fleischer Studios productions that it owned. That meant that for the first time in history, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Droopy, Popeye, and Superman were all sharing space on the same authorized home video release--arguably representing all of the best non-Disney animation that was produced in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
All of the Oscar winners were found on the set's first disc, while the remaining two were devoted to nominees and special features. Of the non-Warner offerings, all six Oscar-nominated Tom and Jerry cartoons were featured, as were Tex Avery's Blitz Wolf and Little Johnny Jet, Michael Lah's One Droopy Knight, Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, the debut Fleischer Superman cartoon, and others. The Warner Bros. nominees, though, were particular highlights on the collection, as many of them had yet to appear remastered on a Golden Collection. In addition to such returning favorites as Tabasco Road and Walky Talky Hawky, debuts included Rhapsody in Rivets, Sandy Claws, From A to Z-z-z-z, High Note, Nelly's Folly, Now Hear This, and restored, non-"Blue Ribbon" versions of Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt and A Wild Hare.
The set unfortunately wasn't a complete chronicle, as a number of Warner nominees were not included. A few of them, such as Mouse and Garden and two Speedy cartoons, were found on Golden Collection volumes, while others such as Detouring America and Greetings Bait were used as unremastered bonus features on other Warner releases. Meanwhile, two key Oscar nominees, Sylvester's debut in Life with Feathers and Beep Prepared with Road Runner, had yet to show up on disc anywhere.
With animation fans temporarily satiated, Warner Home Video switched back to general audiences with a family-friendly release in September. The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries: The Complete First Season contained the first thirteen episodes of the Emmy-nominated Kids WB series on two discs, marking the show's first home video release in North America after being a VHS favorite in Europe in the late 1990s. With other Looney Tunes-related programs like Taz-Mania and Duck Dodgers waiting in the wings, it was clear the label was taking steps to expand the Looney Tunes DVD franchise beyond the core shorts.
As for those very shorts, the October 21 release of Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six was a bittersweet event. Four more discs offered sixty newly remastered cartoons, including a number of rarities and fan favorites; but sadly, the sixth volume would also be the series's last. Though Warner Home Video never specified such in any of its promotional materials, Jerry Beck confirmed the end of the line long before its release date. The one silver lining to the disheartening news was that Warner still had a plan in place to continue remastering sixty cartoons a year, and that future releases wouldn't be "double-dipping" material from the Golden Collection series. The label knew there was still a consumer interest in the classic Looney Tunes films, but the reality was that later volumes in the Golden Collection series weren't selling in the numbers needed in order to justify producing multi-disc sets with newly assembled bonus materials.
With only sixty (official) slots in this ultimate collection, and with some essential material still needing to be covered, space was limited. The set's first disc was no longer Bugs-themed but rather an "all-star" compilation with such gems as Hare Trigger, My Favorite Duck, Bear Fear, Dog Gone South, and a restored Crowing Pains with its original title sequence. Disc two focused primarily on wartime material, collecting some noteworthy titles like Herr Meets Hare, Russian Rhapsody, and the rarely seen uncut version of The Ducktators. (Unfortunately, as approprate as it would have been content-wise, Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips was still too much of a hot-button issue to be included on this collection.) Bosko and Buddy were spotlighted on the third disc in what the packaging called a "long-overdue Warner compilation" with the likes of Congo Jazz, The Booze Hangs High, Buddy's Beer Garden, and some very early Merrie Melodies. The Golden Collection series's absolute final disc contained nothing but celebrated one-shots including Horton Hatches the Egg, Chow Hound, The Hole Idea, Page Miss Glory, and even Norman Normal, marking the U.S. home video debut of a cartoon from the late 1960s Seven Arts period.
With the Golden Collection series coming to an end, Warner Home Video next turned to some of the odds and ends left in the vault. A complete, vintage episode of The Road Runner Show would be included on the Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 2 two-disc set.
The remaining space on the discs was taken up by off-the-shelf transfers of television specials and "bonus cartoons," almost none of which were given any sort of remastering. The two specials chosen, Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court and Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-citement, were also the only two still unreleased on disc to consist entirely of new animation. The bonus shorts, meanwhile, were a mixed bag. A collection of Friz Freleng's black-and-white Captain and the Kids cartoons for MGM were featured, as was the occasional quasi-classic like Punch Trunk and Rabbit Rampage. The rest of the unremastered bonus selections were the likes of Sniffles Takes a Trip, The Fighting 69 1/2th, Confusions of a Nutzy Spy, I Like Mountain Music, How Do I Know It's Sunday?, Sleepy Time Possum, and Wild Wild World, among others--sure to please completists to an extent, but hardly must-have picks. As if the selection didn't already leave something to be desired, one particular choice, Norm McCabe's black and white fan favorite Hop and Go, used a foreign TV transfer that muted out all of the dialogue with intrusively overdubbed music cues taken from other cartoons. The once-celebrated and highly praised Looney Tunes Golden Collection ended with traces of desperation and lazy quality control.
And like in the past, a two-disc Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 6 was also released. Although ostensibly using the first and fourth discs from Golden Collection Volume Six, the set did a lot more swapping out and rearranging than its predecessors had, pulling a number of cartoons from the bigger collection's second and third discs--and even a couple from Golden Collection Volume Two for good measure! Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 6 also marked a first for the series by including bonus cartoons, specifically some of the unremastered shorts from the larger set.
After six volumes, the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series released 356 remastered titles in its main program, plus an additional thirty-nine Warner Bros. cartoons of varying quality as bonus features--not to mention a slew of miscellaneous related productions. For many fans, it was starting to look like they might actually see the entire Looney Tunes library released within their lifetime.
The lingering question, though, was how. Retail sales weren't just disappointing for the Looney Tunes but for DVDs in general. At the end of 2008 sales of discs were down over $2 billion what they had been the year before, the result of a variety of factors including the Bush-era recession, online pirating, and market saturation of the format. Warner Home Video product was especially hit hard, seeing a 24 percent drop in sales. The one source of optimism was in regard to high definition, as sales of format-war winner Blu-ray tripled what they were in 2007--still not reaching the $1 billion mark yet, but enough to make a number of studios, Warner in particular, go hi-def crazy.
With Warner focusing more on high definition and Blu-ray, an edict came down that only films released after 1953 were to be remastered, as that had been the year that Warner Bros. officially switched to widescreen. The home video department's somewhat shortsighted thinking was that only post-1953 productions would truly benefit from the aspect ratio of high definition televisions. This left the Looney Tunes library in a bit of a no man's land, as the shorts were always produced in the full frame "Academy" ratio, even after 1953. In fact, a number of pre-1953 cartoons were already undergoing remastering when the new order was put into effect.
A loophole was thankfully soon discovered, one that coincided with the temporary shutdown of the cartoon studio in mid-1953 during the height of the 3-D craze. When the studio reopened later that year, a studio press release at the time indicated that going forward, movie theaters would be able to show the cartoons either in Academy ratio or in a matted widescreen format by covering up the tops and bottoms when projected. It was enough of a technicality to justify further remastering of the Looney Tunes, but of course only those released after 1953. What could possibly go wrong?
In the meantime, there were enough productions ready to go to make up a decent release calendar for the transitional year of 2009. Almost all of the titles planned for the year were geared primarily for general audiences, but die-hard fans and collectors were still treated to the occasional surprise or two.
Although the opening to The Porky Pig Show was included as a bonus on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two boxed set, the program's memorable closing sequence finally saw a release on the Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 1 collection.
Back on the retail front, April saw The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie come to DVD for the first time. Retaining the cover art and title motif from when the film was last reissued on VHS during the Looney Tunes Presents series, the single-disc release also featured three 1990s cartoons making their DVD debuts: Box Office Bunny, From Hare to Eternity, and (appearing for the first time ever on home video) Pullet Surprise.
While Warner Home Video was trying to figure out what to do with the Looney Tunes franchise, in May the label launched a brand new line targeting older cartoon fans. With baby boomers and Gen Xers in mind, the Saturday Morning Cartoons series attempted to recreate the fun and variety of Saturday morning with a potpourri of the various shows Warner Bros. owned, including those produced by Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, and other studios. Two collections were released in the first wave, one spotlighting cartoons from the 1960s and another focusing on the 1970s. The quality of the prints that were used varied wildly depending on the show, but the DVDs gave collectors rare looks at programs unreleased on home video--or looks at original title sequences and sponsor tags that weren't included on certain shows' official DVD releases.
The two-disc Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 1 relied heavily on Hanna-Barbera productions including Top Cat, The Magilla Gorilla Show, Space Ghost and Dino Boy, The Quick Draw McGraw Show, The Flintstones, and others. Despite their major presence on television during the highlighted decade, the Looney Tunes were only represented on the set with a reconstructed episode of The Porky Pig Show, one that featured the cartoons Often an Orphan, Mice Follies, and The Super Snooper (minus their title sequences).
More Looney-centric releases came in the second half of the year, first with the DVD debut of Daffy Duck's Quackbusters in August. Like with The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie, Quackbusters arrived with three new-to-DVD cartoons: Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 1/2th Century (the official, "short" version), Superior Duck, and the 2000 short Little Go Beep, which had not only never been released on home video but had also never been seen on television!
With the Golden Collection series gone for good, the October 13 release of the two-disc Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 7 might have come as a bit of surprise. But alas, it was just more cannibalizing of the now-defunct Golden series, with the first disc containing five Bugs cartoons from the first Golden Collection and most of the Road Runner shorts from the second volume, while the second disc was merely a whittled-down version of the "all-star" compilation from the third Golden Collection.
Bugs makes a surprise appearance on an episode of The Porky Pig Show via bridging animation originally produced for The Bugs Bunny Show, included on the Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 2 two-disc set.
The set also contained another pieced-together episode of The Porky Pig Show, this one with the cartoons Scaredy Cat, Baton Bunny, and Feather Dusted (and including a super-rare bumper with Bugs taken from a Bugs Bunny Show episode). The two-disc collection's final surprise was a complete episode of The Road Runner Show with not only its unique bumpers by Robert McKimson but also the shorts Zip 'n Snort, The Jet Cage, and The Wild Chase--all taken from the episode's broadcast print, complete with their rare Road Runner Show title cards! And of course, the show's memorable 1960s theme song by Barbara Cameron was present.
Meanwhile, the two-disc Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s Volume 2 mainly focused on the dreary half-hour offerings of the time such as The New Adventures of Gilligan, Sealab 2020, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, and Filmation's The New Adventures of Batman with Adam West. Perhaps the biggest highlights of this ilk were a complete episode of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (taken from a severely beaten-up print) and the original incarnation of Hanna-Barbera's The Tom & Jerry/Grape Ape Show. For Looney Tunes fans the set contained an example of CBS's The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, oddly shown as a half-hour program even though it never appeared that way on Saturday morning. Four cartoons were featured with their Bugs Bunny/Road Runner title cards: Duck! Rabbit, Duck!; For Scent-imental Reasons, Stop! Look! and Hasten!, and Hare-way to the Stars. (In May 2010, one final release, Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s, came out, but it contained no Looney Tunes-related material.)
As fun and unique as all these random releases were, fans were still craving more compilations of classic cartoons on DVD--and with Warner Home Video still supposedly remastering cartoons for disc, it seemed that an announcement was all but imminent.
After all, people love Looney Tunes, so what's the worst that could happen?
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.