PART ONE - PART TWO - PART THREE - PART FOUR
Just after Christmas 2009 Warner Home Video finally revealed their Looney Tunes plans for the coming year. A brand new DVD line, Looney Tunes Super Stars, was set to launch on April 27. The line was going to kick off with two titles, Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire and Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl, priced at $19.98 each. Ad materials promised each DVD to contain fifteen cartoons "never before on DVD" that were "newly remastered from restored film elements."
Things were looking even more promising in mid-January 2010 when the label released a list of shorts that were to appear on the two DVDs. Hare Extraordinaire was scheduled to include such long-missing-in-action shorts as Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk; Hold the Lion, Please; Rabbit Every Monday; Hare Trimmed; a finally remastered version of What's Cookin' Doc?; and two cartoons that often ranked high on fans' want lists: Bushy Hare and Which Is Witch. Frustrated Fowl, meanwhile, was going to feature a number of essential Daffy titles like Daffy Doodles, Along Came Daffy, Ain't That Ducky, Tick Tock Tuckered, Quack Shot, and even the ultra-rare China Jones. But just as fans were getting really excited about these DVDs did Warner pull an about-face and retract the list of cartoons they had released, claiming that the line-ups were not accurate. The label quickly offered a "corrected" list of cartoons, with most of the collector-friendly titles removed and replaced with more mediocre cartoons from the original studio's final years in the late 1950s and early 1960s (in fact, the Bugs disc now became completely devoid of any 1940s material). It wouldn't be the last time Warner Home Video had to update announced content for a Super Stars DVD.
As if the new line-ups weren't disappointing enough, the realization soon sunk in that the Looney Tunes Super Stars DVDs were not being produced under the watchful eye of George Feltenstein but rather by Warner's family entertainment division, which wasn't interested in assembling commentaries or bonus features or anything else that would appeal to die-hard fans. The one saving grace was that Jerry Beck was being retained as a consultant on these releases, though his suggestions weren't always followed.
With fans cautiously anticipating the launch of the Looney Tunes Super Stars series, Warner Home Video peppered the rest of 2010 with one-off releases. Recognizing the need for low-priced holiday DVDs to be made available in discount stores' seasonal displays, the label dipped into the vault of vintage Looney Tunes television specials, starting with the January release of Bugs Bunny's Cupid Capers. Like with the individual DVDs of the 1980s compilation movies, the disc contained two unremastered cartoons as bonuses: Holiday Highlights and Past Perfumance.
Just a month later, February saw Bugs Bunny's Easter Funnies debut on DVD in time for the start of the Easter shopping season. In addition to a kid-friendly interactive game, an unremastered copy of His Hare Raising Tale made its home video debut as a special feature.
This string of decent releases of otherwise unremarkable productions was interrupted in mid-March by the news that the first two DVDs in the Looney Tunes Super Stars series had been delayed by four months, with the line now set to launch on August 10. Warner Home Video would never officially acknowledge what caused the delay, but with no bonus features planned for the releases there could only be one culprit: the remastering. Sure enough, those close to the label were able to indicate that the cartoons were in horrific shape--even after restoration work was supposedly completed. The fact that two DVDs of primarily post-1948 material needed an additional four months of work did not bode well for the future of the franchise.
When August 10 and the Looney Tunes Super Stars DVDs finally arrived, it was a mixed blessing to say the least. On the plus side, the two releases did keep their "revised" list of contents and each presented fifteen cartoons never before seen remastered on a Looney Tunes DVD, with a particular focus on the works of Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson. Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire contained such 1950s favorites as Mutiny on the Bunny, Bushy Hare, Hare Trimmed, Bedevilled Rabbit, and Apes of Wrath--not to mention a number of 1960s cartoons including the U.S. home video debuts of From Hare to Heir, Lighter Than Hare, and False Hare. Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl, meanwhile, contained a slightly better mix of shorts, including the 1940s classics Tick Tock Tuckered, Nasty Quacks, Daffy Dilly, and the slavery-themed rarity Wise Quackers; some fine 1950s entries like The Prize Pest, Design for Leaving, and Ducking the Devil; and a handful of 1960s shorts such as The Iceman Ducketh and the Depatie-Freleng era's Suppressed Duck. It should be noted that with the exception of Bushy Hare, all of the cartoons that were making their debuts on home video were last seen overseas in the Bugs & Friends VHS/laserdisc line, finally righting a major cartoon-collecting wrong.
One of the more extreme examples of how widescreen cropping affected the cartoons on the Looney Tunes Super Stars DVDs. The image at the top is a frame from The Million Hare as presented on Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire, while the bottom image is how the cartoon was previously seen on the Cartoon Superstars VHS release from Columbia House's Looney Tunes: The Collector's Edition series.
The 1953 dividing line that determined which cartoons were to be shown in either full frame or widescreen wasn't so much arbitrary as it was ignorant of studio history and the production process. The Warner Bros. cartoon studio didn't start eyeing widescreen framing until late 1953 after the end of a six-month shutdown of the studio. Due to production time and Technicolor processing, that meant a number of pre-shutdown (and therefore, pre-widescreen) cartoons didn't see release until well after 1953, with some not premiering in theaters until as late as 1956. Warner Home Video was basing screen format solely on release date, and as a result the DVDs presented the pre-shutdown cartoons Design for Leaving, Lumber Jack-Rabbit, Stork Naked, and Dime to Retire in widescreen despite never being intended for the format--to say nothing of the fact that post-shutdown cartoons were meant to be shown in either format.
Even from a technical standpoint, the widescreen mattes were a poorly executed mess. In a screen grab that made its way to Amazon.com's product page, Elmer Fudd's head is sliced off during a line of dialogue in Design for Leaving. A visual gag at the top of the frame is gone from Napoleon Bunny-Part. Feet and floors are missing, characters leave the screen when jumping or merely standing upright, and even names and union logos are trimmed in some opening credits. The DVDs spend a great deal of pre-menu time displaying the standard "these cartoons are products of their time" disclaimer, saying that the goal was to present the cartoons "as originally created." So why weren't they being shown in full frame--as originally created?
Needless to say, fans were livid. Negative reviews flooded the DVDs' product pages on Amazon, while a product support line at Warner Home Video was inundated with angry phone calls. Never before had such venom been directed at the studio over a classic Looney Tunes product, and the more that people discussed it, the more questions kept coming up. Why did the DVD back covers state that the cartoons were all presented in "standard" (full frame) format? Why weren't viewers given a choice on the DVDs like on a lot of other family titles? If widescreen was supposedly the "preferred" format, then why didn't Warner bother to format any of the post-1953 cartoons in the Golden Collection series that way? Were those full screen presentations of post-1953 masterpieces like One Froggy Evening, Robin Hood Daffy, and What's Opera, Doc? now considered incorrect? After almost four hundred cartoons into the catalog, why switch gears now?
The day of the DVDs' release, Jerry Beck appeared on the Stu's Show online radio show for an interview, where he spent a considerable amount of time trying to explain Warner Home Video's position--not defend it or act as their spokesperson, but merely to explain it. In a nutshell, the Super Stars releases were not meant for collectors but rather for general consumers at big-box stores like Walmart, despite the standard "intended for the adult collector" note found on the back of the Daffy case (and despite the fact that Warner bothered including shorts collectors didn't have on the Golden Collection sets). He added that he did try to talk the label out of the widescreen mattes, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Beck did assure listeners, though, that the entire full screen images of all the films were remastered, giving some small shred of hope that corrected full frame versions on DVD wouldn't be impossible.
Beck more or less became the sacrificial lamb, fielding questions from angry fans both on Stu's Show and in private via e-mail. Warner Home Video, meanwhile, remained stubbornly silent on the issue, refusing to address it at all. Nor was there any word of any sort of replacement plan being offered, something the label routinely did to pacify consumers when a mastering or otherwise technical problem came up with a release. It was clear that the majority of fans wanted a complete, full screen collection, yet Warner refused to budge.
Aesthetic preference aside, the widescreen presentation only served to magnify the substandard job that was done remastering the cartoons. Color correction was poorly done on such cartoons as Lumber-Jack Rabbit and This Is a Life?, while color saturation was too strong on Lighter Than Hare. Film dirt and the occasional splice were present on the likes of Person to Bunny, Dime to Retire, and again Lighter Than Hare. Edge enhancement marred details in The Million Hare, People Are Bunny, The Iceman Ducketh, and Mad as a Mars Hare, among others. And though the problem wasn't nearly as bad as the excessive use of DVNR on some of the earlier Golden Collection volumes, traces of digital clean-up nevertheless gave Bugs's whiskers a choppy look in many of the shorts.
No matter which side of the format debate one agreed with, there was no denying that the Looney Tunes Super Stars series got off to a disastrous start--and with a second assortment rapidly approaching, very few were feeling optimistic.
With everyone still stinging from the first two Super Stars DVDs, two brief distractions arrived before the release of the next wave. The first came in September with the DVD debut of the television special Bugs Bunny's Howl-oween Special, which included a double-dip of Hair-Raising Hare as a special feature.
October brought a special release, The Essential Bugs Bunny. Ostensibly assembled to celebrate the wabbit's seventieth birthday (without actually saying so), the two-disc set was meant not so much for collectors but rather for those with a more casual interest in the Looney Tunes characters, especially with the Christmas shopping season in full swing. The first disc contained twelve shorts all already released elsewhere, from true bona fide classics like A Wild Hare, Rabbit Fire, and What's Opera, Doc? to some rather questionable entries like 8 Ball Bunny and Elmer's Candid Camera (which is neither "essential" nor a true-blue Bugs Bunny cartoon). The second disc consisted entirely of bonus shorts and special features. The one lone new production was the featurette Bugs Bunny: Ain't He a Stinker?, a Gary Owens-narrated fluff piece that was more charming than informative. In addition to repeats of Carrotblanca and the Bugs sequence from 1949's My Dream Is Yours, the disc also featured the DVD debut of the uncut Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers (correcting a mistake from the 2003 Space Jam DVD) and the U.S. premiere of the Larry Doyle-produced Hare and Loathing in Las Vegas. Disc two also contained four television specials: double-dips of Bugs and Daffy's Carnival of the Animals and Bugs Bunny's Bustin' Out all Over and the DVD debuts of How Bugs Bunny Won the West and Bugs Bunny's Wild World of Sports. The set was originally scheduled to also include both Any Bonds Today? and an episode of The Bugs Bunny Show as part of a loose "Bugs Bunny in each decade" concept, but both were dropped shortly after being announced. In the end, the DVD provided some goodies for completists, but was hardly an "essential" purchase.
In mid-November Warner's family feature Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore was released, with the new three-minute CGI-animated Road Runner short Coyote Falls included as a bonus. While the DVD and Blu-ray releases contained the standard flat version of the cartoon, the 3-D version was released on the Blu-ray 3D edition of the Cats & Dogs movie, marking the first Looney Tunes production made available on the higher-end format. This same pattern was followed in mid-December with the DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D releases of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole, which included Fur of Flying.
The very rocky Looney year officially ended for Warner Home Video on November 30 with the second wave in the Looney Tunes Super Stars series. Like with the August assortment, two more DVDs were released side-by-side: Foghorn Leghorn & Friends: Barnyard Bigmouth and Tweety & Sylvester: Feline Fwenzy.
Fans had been pining for a Foghorn Leghorn DVD since the days of the Golden Collection series, and with discs devoted to Road Runner, Speedy Gonzales, and even Bosko and Buddy it seemed as if a Foghorn disc was all but inevitable. But alas, the series had ended before the rooster could get his due.
Unfortunately, the DVD wasn't exactly what fans of the character had in mind. With Warner's post-1953 policy now in full force, all of the truly outstanding early Foghorn shorts like A Fractured Leghorn, Henhouse Henery, and The Egg-cited Rooster were left in the vault in favor of his later, less energetic outings. Some of the more worthwhile cartoons on the DVD included All Fowled Up, Weasel Stop, Little Boy Boo, and Banty Raids, but the few gems on the disc sat alongside the likes of Fox-Terror, Weasel While You Work, and Strangled Eggs--and, even more frustrating, there was even a double-dip of A Broken Leghorn from the first Golden Collection. Only two waves into the Super Stars series and Warner Home Video was already backtracking on its promise to not repeat material.
Things weren't all that bad on the DVD, though. Warner thankfully listened to the numerous complaints that the Bugs and Daffy DVDs had received and included both full frame and widescreen versions of the cartoons on the Foghorn release. And since for whatever reason the label didn't feel that Foghorn could carry a DVD by himself, a neat selection of "and friends" cartoons rounded out the disc. Among those cartoons, the Goofy Gophers and Barnyard Dawg starred in the odd Gopher Broke, Elmer Fudd showed up in A Mutt in a Rut, and the disc ended with the two rarely seen cartoons starring Friz Freleng's Mexican crows, Two Crows from Tacos and Crows' Feat.
If Barnyard Bigmouth was at times disappointing, then Tweety & Sylvester: Feline Fwenzy was downright infuriating. Instead of presenting new-to-disc cartoons, the DVD merely repeated fifteen Tweety cartoons already available on various Golden Collection volumes. Despite there being two dozen Tweety and Sylvester shorts that had yet to be remastered and released on the format, Warner Home Video felt the better course of action was to simply offer a collection of double-dipped material. The rationale was that Warner would put the profit it made from this DVD toward further remastering work, though in all likelihood it really probably just helped the label recoup the original expense of remastering the cartoons in the first place. After all, Tweety was one of the more popular Looney Tunes characters, so there were supposedly enough general consumers to go around to purchase this DVD without ever owning previous Looney Tunes compilations, a strategy that had worked well for Warner with Scooby-Doo and Tom and Jerry releases of oft-repeated content.
Fortunately, the disc was all repeated material, allowing collectors to skip it without feeling like they were missing anything. Nevertheless, this second assortment didn't do too much to win over Looney Tunes fans who were already being vocal about their dismay over the Super Stars series. Warner Home Video was already carefully rethinking how it was going to go forward with the line. A DVD of all Bugs repeats, Bugs Bunny: Wascally Wabbit, was only released overseas, while a planned second Daffy DVD of unknown content never materialized.
Easily the best Looney Tunes home video release of the year came in December--without a single trace of Warner Bros. involvement. In the video industry, independent label Thunderbean Animation had been making a name for itself by offering high-quality releases of classic animation that had fallen into the public domain, collecting cartoons not usually on the radar of the major media companies but of special interest to die-hard animation enthusiasts. Though past Thunderbean products had included the occasional Looney Tunes short, Private Snafu Golden Classics was their first release devoted entirely to work from Leon Schlesinger Productions.
The DVD format had not usually been kind to Looney Tunes cartoons in the public domain, with a new generation of generic-sounding companies like Digiview Entertainment and EastWest Entertainment slapping edited prints onto dollar-store releases. Even the once-beloved Bosko Video had turned off fans by marring cartoons with badly matted window-box frames and company logo bugs. But for Private Snafu Golden Classics, Thunderbean's Steve Stanchfield went way above and beyond the call of duty, tracking down the best possible prints (and negatives!) of the surviving Snafu shorts--both those produced by Schlesinger and the few from other studios--and remastering them to their full black and white glory. A who's-who of animation historians provided commentaries, which were uneven at best (animator Eric Goldberg's came off as a little too cloying, pedofile John Kricfalusi's came off as bitter rambling, and there are only so many times every single person can remind the viewer that Ted Geisel was Dr. Seuss before it sounds like one's being talked down to). But in short, it was an exceptional product and the kind of release that Warner Home Video should have done themselves.
The embarrassingly generic main menu for later releases in the Looney Tunes Super Stars series.
While fans were still trying to make sense over the initial announcement, Warner Home Video quickly updated the list of contents on the compilation. The webtoons were replaced by the three CGI Road Runner shorts from the previous year, the made-for-TV productions were gone, and a couple more Larriva cartoons were added. Jones ended up only being represented by the 1994 revival short Chariots of Fur. Though the label never confirmed it, the erroneous content list was clearly created by someone who copied and pasted the list of Road Runner titles off Wikipedia, webtoons and all. Barely a month after sending out the corrected announcement, Warner decided to delay the release of the DVD, bumping it from May to October. A few fans were hoping that it meant the label was going to change the content, but in reality Warner Home Video simply had a big animation campaign in the fall that it wanted the title to coincide with--a campaign that would include the formal debut of the Looney Tunes cartoons on Blu-ray!
In the meantime, March 2011 saw the home video release of the hideous CGI-enhanced feature Yogi Bear, along with the third CGI Road Runner cartoon, Rabid Rider. Unlike with the last two movies the Road Runner was paired with, the short was only available on the Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D editions as a way to entice consumers to purchase the more expensive formats. Starting with the upcoming release of Supergenius Hijinks, however, DVD collectors would soon have many chances to own all three Road Runner cartoons together.
After a very long wait, in late August Walmart shoppers were able to get the jump on everyone else by being able to purchase Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote: Supergenius Hijinks before its October release date, the first of a number of Warner titles that would have an exclusive early-release window at the big-box retailer.
The compilation kicked off with all three of the 2010 CGI cartoons, including the DVD debut of Rabid Rider. Coyote Falls and Fur of Flying, of course, had already been released as bonuses on Warner Bros. feature DVDs, while two other double-dips appeared in the form of the 2000s shorts Whizzard of Ow and Little Go Beep. Following Chuck Jones's middling 1994 effort Chariots of Fur, the entire second half of the disc was made up of the ultra-cheap outings produced by Depatie-Freleng in 1965 and 1966, most of which were farmed out to bargain-basement studio Format Films and directed by Rudy Larriva. Though for the sake of completeness these were all new to DVD, but the monotonous blandness of such Larriva films as Out and Out Rout, Shot and Bothered, Highway Runnery, Hairied and Hurried, and others made for a very dreary, unentertaining collection. When later asked if he knew the reasons behind the cartoon selection, Jerry Beck would explain that he had advised Warner Home Video to stick with the Chuck Jones shorts, but they didn't know the difference (or didn't care)--to them, a Road Runner cartoon is a Road Runner cartoon. If only.
The tediousness of the content was reflected in the disc's presentation. Viewers were greeted with a generic main menu that looked amateurish at best, featuring a cobbled-together mix of characters in standard licensing poses against a plain orange Looney Tunes bullseye. The words "LOONEY TUNES SUPER STARS" hovered menacingly over their heads, with no textual reference to either Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, or the specific title of the DVD. This slapdash menu design would be used on the remainder of the Super Stars releases. Perhaps the one good thing that could be said about Supergenius Hijinks was that Warner Home Video again offered both full frame and widescreen versions of all the cartoons.
With Warner's fall animation promotion now unofficially underway, September 27 saw the release of another type of Looney Tunes video product. Rather than featuring classic cartoons, The Looney Tunes Show Season 1, Volume 1 was instead a single-disc DVD collecting the first four episodes of Cartoon Network's recent quasi-hit The Looney Tunes Show, just four months after the series had premiered on the network. The DVD also turned up that same day in the Looney Tunes 3-Pack Fun boxed set alongside The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie and Tweety's High-Flying Adventure, one of the few times classic Looney Tunes and The Looney Tunes Show would cross-pollinate on a home video release.
Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote: Supergenius Hijinks was officially made available everywhere on October 4. Joining the high-speed duo that day was the Blu-ray debut of Space Jam, which included all of the special features from the 2003 two-disc DVD except for the bonus cartoons.
With the Blu-ray debut of the classic Looney Tunes cartoons rapidly approaching, November 1 treated fans to a special DVD release with the two-disc The Essential Daffy Duck. A follow-up to last year's Essential Bugs Bunny, this new Daffy edition similarly repeated a lot of material from various Golden Collection volumes. Such expected double-dips included The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, Book Revue, Duck Amuck, Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century, Ali Baba Bunny, Robin Hood Daffy, and others. One of the collection's few highlights was the long-awaited DVD debut of Daffy's first cartoon, 1937's Porky's Duck Hunt. The black and white Tex Avery short had been intended for the Golden Collection series for quite some time, but unfortunately the film elements were in such a state of disrepair that additional time was required to remaster it properly.
The second disc's content was a decidedly mixed bag. Shorts previously scattered across various DVDs as bonus features like The Duxorcist, Night of the Living Duck, and Superior Duck were all included, as was an additional double-dip of Daffy Duck for President. The DVD offered the U.S. premiere of Larry Doyle's medicore Duck Dodgers in Attack of the Drones. In addition to a newly produced fluff piece titled Ridicule Is the Burden of Genius, the rest of the disc's special features was mostly repeated TV material--including the prime time specials Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-citement and the new-to-DVD Daffy Duck's Thanks-for-giving, the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Duck Dodgers, Jr." (already released on DVD), and the Duck Dodgers episode "The Green Loontern" (last seen as an extra on Green Lantern: First Flight). Once again, "essential" was a very subjective term being used.
Not wanting to take the same chances it did when it launched the Golden Collection series on DVD, Warner Home Video loaded the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One Blu-ray with all of the expected "essential" titles, including What's Opera, Doc?
As expected, the introductory disc in the collection was arranged in typical "all-star" fashion. Warner Home Video learned from its PR nightmare of 2003 and included all of the obvious "essential" cartoons on this release such as One Froggy Evening, Robin Hood Daffy, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, and of course What's Opera, Doc? Some fans complained that the reliance on the characters' "greatest hits" meant a lot of double-dipping in the grand scheme of things, but in the label's defense this was still a new disc format and some territory had to nevertheless be covered again. (Surely nobody felt that the Golden Collection releases were double-dips of material last seen on VHS, for example.) In fact, the only short on the first disc that hadn't been previously released on DVD was Lovelorn Leghorn, a welcome debut after the glut of later Foghorn cartoons on the Barnyard Bigmouth DVD. Meanwhile, Pepé and Speedy were represented with the expected and oft-repeated For Scent-imental Reasons and Speedy Gonzales, respectively, and the Road Runner series was again starting at the beginning with Fast and Furry-ous and Beep, Beep--very familiar ground that definitely fueled people's frustration and once again exhibited the dangers of restarting a series again and again with each new video format.
In addition to a handful of major one-shot cartoons from various eras of the studio, the second disc offered a unique feature by presenting the complete filmographies of select supporting characters. Instead of spacing cartoons out over several volumes, the concept allowed fans of cult characters to be able to own everything all at once, a gimmick Warner had toyed with in the past with Taz and Marvin VHS releases but never on any larger scale. Surely, both Taz and Marvin were fully represented on this collection, but so were Ralph Phillips, Witch Hazel, and Marc Anthony and Pussyfoot. It wasn't a perfect system, as some oversights did slip under the cracks (such as Hazel's cameo of sorts in Transylvania 6-5000, Ralph's appearance in either Adventures of the Road-Runner or the cut-down Zip Zip Hooray, and Marc and Pussyfoot in Cat Feud), but the intentions were nevertheless good. Plus, it presented the later Taz and Marvin cartoons in full frame, correcting (in part) the major aspect ratio problem from the first Looney Tunes Super Stars DVDs. Marvin, Taz, and Ralph also prompted three new Behind the Tunes featurettes found on the set.
The set's third disc was all bonus material, much of it repeated from the Golden Collection series but still a few fantastic surprises along the way. Continuing the volume's particular focus on Chuck Jones, the on-camera greeting Jones shot for the first Golden Collection release was included, as were Chuck Amuck: The Movie and Chuck Jones: Extremes & Inbetweens - A Life in Animation in their entirities (the latter's companion piece, A Chuck Jones Tutorial: Tricks of the Cartoon Trade, was offered elsewhere on the set). John Canemaker's interview featurette Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood, which had premiered back in 2009 on the Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection DVD, was making its debut on a Looney Tunes release. A batch of Jones rarities were also featured, including all of the previously released government films, the home video debut of the 1955 Air Force reenlistment short A Hitch in Time, and his MGM one-shots The Dot and the Line and The Bear That Wasn't--not to mention the 1944 FDR campaign cartoon Hell-bent for Election that Jones had directed for a nascent version of the UPA studio.
One non-Jones highlight was the home video debut of 1968's extremely rare The Door, an experimental anti-war cartoon co-produced by Bill Cosby that was acquired by Warner Bros. and released theatrically as a part of its Looney Tunes cartoon package. The Blu-ray in fact marked the short's first legitimate release since its original theatrical run.
The remainder of the third disc's special features of note were modern-day bonus cartoons presented in standard definition, ostensibly meant to further complete Marvin and Taz's respective filmographies. The edited version of Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 1/2th Century was included, as were the made-for-TV shorts Fright Before Christmas (with its 1990s title card) and Spaced Out Bunny (with no title card), plus the mid-90s Chuck Jones efforts Superior Duck and Another Froggy Evening. Though not a theatrical or television cartoon, the 1996 Marvin the Martian in the Third Dimension--a groundbreaking 3-D production that had been making the rounds at theme parks and was an attraction at the flagship Warner Bros. Studio Store in Manhattan--was included in 2-D, making it the film's first television release. Additional bonus cartoons included Jones's From Hare to Eternity, the U.S. premiere of the Larry Doyle-produced Museum Scream with Tweety and Sylvester, and the first official release of Father of the Bird, a solo Sylvester cartoon that was originally intended for release back in 1997 with the Bill Murray comedy The Man Who Knew Too Little but had inexplicably remained unreleased until now.
Also released that same day was the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One: Ultimate Collector's Edition, retailed for $79.98 and limited to 36 thousand numbered units. Unlike Warner Home Video's other Ultimate Collector's Edition releases that usually contain additional content or exclusive bonus discs, this release was merely the standard Platinum Collection digibook housed in a larger boxed set with a number of unimpressive Looney Tunes tchotchkes (a shot glass, a tin sign, and a mini sericel). A neat idea for memorabilia collectors, but hardly necessary.
Reviews for the collection were glowing, with only minor quibbles coming from hardcore Blu-ray technophiles. If consumers had any real gripes, it was that they wished the Blu-ray-exclusive content was also made available on standard DVD for those who didn't have the premium format yet. It was a request that would come back to haunt fans.
After such a monumental release as the first ever Looney Tunes Blu-ray, anything after that would seem like small potatoes. Sure enough, that's more or less what arrived in early December with the DVD release of The Looney Tunes Show Season One, Volume 2, presenting four more episodes from the Cartoon Network series.
The year, and Warner's animation promotion, ended with a pair of DVD releases on December 27. First up was the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 1-6 gift set. Assembled in a vein similar to "complete series" boxed sets of television shows, all six volumes of the Golden Collection series were repackaged into streamlined, slimmer keepcases and housed together in a newly designed slipcase. Value-priced at $144.92--or forty-one cents for each cartoon in the discs' main programs--the boxed set was intended for newer Looney Tunes fans to quickly jump-start their DVD collections, though one must question the marketing logic of releasing a gift set after the Christmas shopping season.
Pepé le Pew, seen here tip-toeing through the tulips in A Scent of the Matterhorn, became the first major Looney Tunes character to have his entire filmography released on disc.
The year 2012 started with an oddity via the mid-January release of the Looney Tunes Showcase Volume One, a single-disc Blu-ray sold for $24.98. Meant to be a lower-priced alternative to the Platinum Collection series, the compilation was merely the first disc from the recently released first Platinum Collection set, duplicating both the cartoons and all of the special features. Erroneously marketing it as the Looney Tunes' "debut collection" on the format, Warner Home Video hoped that a Looney Tunes Showcase series would become as viable as the family-friendly Spotlight Collection line had been on DVD. Unfortunately for the studio, consumers simply gravitated more to the larger Platinum Collection release, and even then, sales so far weren't strong enough to suggest support for two competing, extremely similar Looney Tunes collections on Blu-ray. The Looney Tunes Showcase series ended as quickly and abruptly as it had begun.
The idea of rehashing material for cheaper releases continued in early March with a pair of DVDs, both priced at $9.97. Destined for bargain bins at supermarkets and discount stores, The Best of Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes Unleashed were made up entirely of double-dipped cartoons, with only three shorts found on each collection! The Best of Bugs Bunny contained The Million Hare, Napoleon Bunny-Part, and Knighty Knight Bugs; while Looney Tunes Unleashed had Apes of Wrath, Stork Naked, and Bad Ol' Putty Tat. Cheaply produced, the discs simply used existing DVD transfers for the cartoons, meaning that The Million Hare, Napoleon Bunny-Part, Apes of Wrath, and Stork Naked were all presented in the cropped widescreen format as seen on their respective Looney Tunes Super Stars compilations.
Two more titles came a week later, this time actually containing unreleased (albeit newly produced) Looney Tunes material. The penguin-themed animated film Happy Feet Two was released on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D, with all formats containing the newly produced CGI Tweety cartoon I Tawt I Taw a Putty Tat (not to be confused with the classic 1948 cartoon I Taw a Putty Tat). Unlike the 2010 Road Runner shorts, this new effort starred the voice of Mel Blanc as Tweety and Sylvester via the 1950 Capitol Records recording of the song "I Tawt I Taw a Putty Tat" (with June Foray also on hand to record new dialogue as Granny). Also released was The Looney Tunes Show Season One, Volume 3 on DVD, containing four more episodes from the Cartoon Network series.
The Looney Tunes Show also figured into Warner's next release with The Looney Tunes Show 3-Pack Fun boxed set in early May. The set merely collected the three previous Looney Tunes Show discs.
When it came time to go back to focusing on the classic Looney Tunes, fans were subjected to more repeating--not with specific cartoons, but with an entire compilation! Trying to recoup some of the costs of remastering the cartoons for Blu-ray, in July Warner Home Video issued a standard DVD version of the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One. Retailing for $26.99, the DVD edition of the collection differed in one major way from its high-definition counterpart: the set contained just two discs instead of three. The Blu-ray's third disc of special features was missing, making such rarities as The Door, A Hitch in Time, and Father of the Bird exclusive to the more expensive format.
Fans were left both angered and bewildered, and those who had been complaining about double-dipping when the Blu-ray edition was released now had an even more legitimate gripe. Out of the fifty cartoons available on the two-disc set, only six were entirely new to DVD while another four were finally presented in full frame on the format. That left forty cartoons that most collectors already had, with some cartoons like 8 Ball Bunny and Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century making their fourth appearance on DVD at this point. When fans were begging Warner to release the Blu-ray-specific material on DVD, most would have preferred a specially assembled compilation as opposed to a straight-up port full of double-dips--and even then, they still didn't get what they wanted in terms of the bonus content.
Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs and the other entries in the infamous "Censored 11" roster of banned cartoons were this close to being given their own collector-minded DVD release. Cartoons were remastered, discs were programmed, and Warner Home Video was planning to announce the title at Comic-Con International, but at the last minute, the label backed out.
As if the year couldn't be any more depressing for Looney Tunes fans, early August brought yet another Looney Tunes Show release. The two-disc The Looney Tunes Show: There Goes the Neighborhood DVD acted as a "season one, part two" collection, offering the final fourteen episodes of the program's first season. Although the series was renewed for a second season on Cartoon Network, There Goes the Neighborhood nevertheless became the final Looney Tunes Show DVD release in the United States.
After an underwhelming first half of 2012, Warner Home Video was able to redeem itself with a trio of quality Looney Tunes releases--not to mention an additional surprise coming from Warner Archive! August saw one the most unique Looney Tunes video products ever assembled by the studio, Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection. Simultaneously released on DVD for $26.99 and Blu-ray for $34.99, the two-disc set collected the entire filmographies of Sniffles and the team of Hubie and Bertie.
Mouse Chronicles had started life as an entry in the Looney Tunes Super Stars line, but somewhere along the way the team behind the Platinum Collection series took over production of the title and gave it the care rarely seen in smaller Looney Tunes releases. A number of original title sequences were restored, commentaries were recorded, and a new featurette titled Of Mice and Pen was produced. Sniffles was rarely given any serious attention during the Golden Collection series, only squeaking by (pun intended) as an unremastered extra on the final volume. So the fact that the character would be front and center on such a release was amazing in of itself. Hubie and Bertie, meanwhile, had had a little more exposure on past releases, but there were still a number of cartoons with the duo that had so far been unreleased. It was another case of the very few double-dips being excusable for such a complete compilation. As if the nineteen mostly 1940s shorts in the main program weren't enough to satisfy fans, the collection also offered eleven unremastered bonus cartoons covering practically every era of the studio. Among the bonus selections were such Friz Freleng one-shots as The Country Mouse and The Lyin' Mouse, Tex Avery's charming The Mice Will Play, Chuck Jones's Mouse-Warming, Daffy and Speedy in It's Nice to Have a Mouse Around the House, and even Merlin the Magic Mouse from the Seven Arts era.
Despite being a thorough treat for classic-cartoon lovers, unfortunately the collection didn't sell in the numbers Warner was hoping for. The label's extra steps in polishing up the compilation into a collector-friendly release were less as a favor to fans but more as a dry run to see how general consumers reacted to a collection framed almost entirely around a director's name. Whether or not a "Chuck Jones collection" sold well was going to determine if Warner Home Video should move forward with another, often asked-about animation release: that of the Tex Avery MGM shorts. Sadly, the overall lukewarm response to Mouse Chronicles left the Avery library in home video limbo (for the time being)--but Avery was nevertheless still on the minds of those behind the scenes.
Mouse Chronicles served as something of an appetizer to the mid-October release of the anticipated Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume Two, issued on both DVD and Blu-ray. Like with the first volume, the collection's third disc of bonus material was exclusive to the Blu-ray edition, priced a little more reasonably than its predecessor at $44.98. The format for the first two discs remained the same, with the first disc highlighting the major Looney Tunes stars and the second focusing on one-shots and complete filmographies of supporting characters.
The first disc had a generous helping of major classics that didn't appear on the first volume including A Wild Hare, Long-Haired Hare, Show Biz Bugs, Book Revue, Porky in Wackyland, You Ought to Be in Pictures, Back Alley Oproar, Tabasco Road, and others. Completists were also delighted to see some shorts that were completely new to disc like Birdy and the Beast, The High and the Flighty, and What Makes Daffy Duck? Some selections were a little less inspired than others, with characters like Pepé and Road Runner merely getting the next cartoons in their respective series, but in general an attempt was made to keep collectors on both disc formats satisified.
More goodies were found on the set's second disc, which kicked things off with a Facebook-decided "fan's choice" of Wabbit Twouble before running off all three entries in Chuck Jones's iconic "wabbit season trilogy." Complete filmographies were devoted to Jones's cowboy baddie Nasty Canasta, Bugs's racing competitor Cecil Turtle, Bob Clampett's pint-sized A. Flea, and even lovably dopey Beaky Buzzard. Special attention was also given to the evolution of Bugs with a showcase of four of the five cartoons featuring the pre-Wild Hare version of the character, including the home video debut of Porky's Hare Hunt and the world premiere of the restored Hare-um Scare-um with its original ending that was cut before its 1939 release!
The Blu-ray's third disc of special features relied heavily on recycled material from the Golden Collection series, but there were some surprises along the way. Following the first volume's focus on Chuck Jones, Tex Avery was finally given time to shine. A brand new documentary was produced titled King-Size Comedy: Tex Avery and the Looney Tunes Revolution, while the disc also featured the home video debut of the 1988 television special Tex Avery: The King of Cartoons. A selection of Avery's excellent MGM cartoons was included--albeit mostly unremastered and in standard definition--such as Red Hot Riding Hood, Swing Shift Cinderella, King-Size Canary, Symphony in Slang, Magical Maestro, and others. Friz Freleng was also highlighted with the 2006 Friz on Film documentary and the MGM Captain and the Kids cartoons last seen on Golden Collection Volume Six. That volume's World of Leon Schlesinger compilation of rarities also returned, as did unremastered copies of the 1929 Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid pilot and the early shorts Sinkin' in the Bathtub and It's Got Me Again! Finally, all of the Private Snafu and Mr. Hook cartoons that were made available as bonuses throughout the Golden Collection series were reused for this collection.
Due to a very quick, minor blackface gag, I Taw a Putty Tat remains the last truly outstanding Sylvester and Tweety cartoon yet to be properly remastered for DVD or Blu-ray release. The short has so far only been seen as a part of the Bugs Bunny Superstar movie, released on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four boxed set and then individually through Warner Archive.
Warner Home Video's final Looney product of the year came in November with the latest edition in the Looney Tunes Super Stars series. Getting his first authorized home video release in two decades, Porky got the star treatment in Porky & Friends: Hilarious Ham, a wonderful collection consisting of a whopping eighteen cartoons (an all-time high for the Super Stars line). Apart from double-dips of Wagon Heels and Boobs in the Woods, the DVD contained many of the remaining color Porky cartoons not yet released on disc, including classics like Tom Turk and Daffy, One Meat Brawl, Curtain Razor, and Arthur Davis's excellent late 1940s shorts such as Mouse Menace, The Pest That Came to Dinner, and Riff Raffy Daffy. Like on 2010's Foghorn DVD Barnyard Bigmouth, the "friends" selections leaned heavily on Robert McKimson material such as the odd one-shot Corn Plastered, Elmer in Dog Gone People, and both Bunny and Claude cartoons from the final years of the studio.
Hilarious Ham marked a significant shift in direction in the Super Stars series. In addition to the increased number of the cartoons found on the disc, a majority of them were made before 1953, obliterating the major restriction that hindered previous titles in the line. More importantly, the DVD contained only full screen versions of the cartoons, with the novelty of the cropped widescreen versions having worn out their welcome (if it could be called that) long ago. Things were looking up for the Looney Tunes Super Stars releases, but it might have been too little too late to save the line from extinction.
After such an amazing fourth quarter, things were looking bright for Warner product in 2013. A number of welcomed releases were on deck for the first half of the year, covering both classic cartoons and television animation--and a "greatest hits"-style set was being marketed to casual fans as part of the studio's ninetieth anniversary promotion.
First up was the mid-February arrival of Duck Dodgers: Dark Side of the Duck for $19.97, a two-disc DVD collection that was the first stand-alone home video release of the Duck Dodgers series. Containing all thirteen half-hour episodes from the Cartoon Network program's first season, the set also featured the original Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century cartoon as a bonus.
The highlight of the year, however, came in April with the latest release in the Looney Tunes Super Stars line: Sylvester & Hippety Hopper: Marsupial Mayhem. Collectors of entire series--and those who enjoyed the Pepé DVD Zee Best of Zee Best--were in for another treat, as the DVD contained all thirteen Hippety Hopper cartoons in order--along with the five non-Hippety cartoons starring Sylvester and Sylvester Jr. Only one cartoon on the whole disc was a true double-dip, as the rest were either completely new to DVD or had only been previously released as unremastered bonuses. It was a DVD marketed to general consumers but had the die-hard fans and completists in mind: the 1948 Hop, Look and Listen had its non-"Blue Ribbon" title sequence restored; care was taken to remaster the audio of 1964's Freudy Cat, as television broadcasts of the past decade had featured a mangled, overdubbed music track for foreign distribution; the cartoons were all presented in full frame; and even the cover featured newly created McKimson-styled artwork with Sylvester, Junior, and Hippety all squaring off. Hippety Hopper had never really been a favorite of Warner Bros.' marketing or home video divisions, so to see this much finesse on a DVD devoted to him was nothing short of miraculous.
In a perfect world, it would have meant only good things were to come. But alas, it marked the official end of the Looney Tunes Super Stars line. Though some instant-video download packages would be released under the banner, and older DVDs in the series would be repackaged in multi-disc sets, that was all, folks. Marsupial Mayhem became the final Super Stars release of new material.
Warner Home Video returned to its Looney Tunes TV vault in May with the two-disc Taz-Mania: Taz on the Loose on DVD, the first U.S. Taz-Mania home video release in two decades. Formatted and priced similarly to Duck Dodgers: Dark Side of the Duck, the DVD presented the first thirteen episodes of the Fox Kids series in broadcast order.
In addition to mining its animated television productions, Warner Home Video was also helping the main Warner Bros. company celebrate its ninetieth anniversary with a whole line of multi-disc boxed sets. In addition to massive sets like the Best of Warner Bros.: 100 Film Collection on DVD and the Best of Warner Bros.: 50 Film Collection on Blu-ray, a number of genre- and franchise-specific collections were also released throughout the year. Of course, the Looney Tunes characters were represented with the two-disc Best of Warner Bros.: 50 Cartoon Collection - Looney Tunes on DVD for $26.99. Although there was no doubt some value in offering a "best of" collection to casual fans of the cartoons, for die-hards and completists there was nothing new to attract them to the set; just umpteenth repeats of the likes of Rabbit of Seville, One Froggy Evening, Duck Amuck, Speedy Gonzales, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, and so many others. Even the set's few special features were the oft-recycled three 2010 CGI Road Runner shorts Coyote Falls, Fur of Flying, and Rabid Rider.
The label soon returned to two video lines it had started earlier in the year, with Duck Dodgers: Deep Space Duck coming in late July followed by Taz-Mania: Who Let the Taz Out?! in early August. Each two-disc collection showcased their respective series's next thirteen episodes in broadcast order. As of this writing, this was the last Taz-Mania DVD released so far, but Warner wouldn't completely abandon Duck Dodgers.
Released at the same time as Who Let the Taz Out?! was a new off-shoot of the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection series last seen back in 2008. Priced at $9.97, the one-disc Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Cinema Favorites was essentially the second disc from the larger 15 Winners/26 Nominees collection, with such shorts as A Wild Hare and Walky Talky Hawky among the repeated highlights. It would be the first in a very long string of releases from Warner that were merely pared down from bigger sets.
As if things weren't starting to look grim enough already, word came down in August that Warner Home Video would be delaying the third volume of the Platinum Collection, bumping it from the holiday season until sometime in 2014. Behind the scenes, Warner Bros. was drastically cutting the budget allocated for remastering the Looney Tunes cartoons for home video. Die-hard fans and collectors were no longer looked at as the intended audience for any future releases, and certainly any future Blu-ray collections would heavily utilize shorts already remastered in high definition back during the Golden Collection days.
The final Looney Tunes release of the year was the extremely disappointing Looney Tunes Super Stars 3-Pack on DVD for $19.97. The boxed set merely lumped together the older Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire, Foghorn Leghorn & Friends: Barnyard Bigmouth, and Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote: Supergenius Hijinks DVDs from the line--including, in the case of the Bugs disc, the cropped widescreen cartoons.
Apart from two anticipated releases later in the year, 2014 was something of a year of deja vu. Cartoons and entire DVDs were repeated, recycled, repackaged, and resurrected. The earlier volumes of the Golden Collection series were a particularly favorite source for this endless stream of cannibalization. Warner Home Video had little interest in further restorations of the cartoons, and whatever profit the label made from all these double-dips was instead going toward recouping their initial investment of remastering the shorts in the first place.
The onslaught of repeats started in mid-February with a pair of releases. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Golden Gems collected the remainder of the cartoons from the 2008 Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection: 15 Winners/26 Nominees set, offering the likes of Mouse Wreckers, Sandy Claws, Tabasco Road, Nelly's Folly, and others--and completing exhausting all material from the original Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection series. The one-disc Looney Tunes Center Stage Volume 1 for $9.97, meanwhile, was simply all of the cartoons from the third "all-star" disc of the first Golden Collection volume.
Seemingly unhappy repurposing only the Academy Awards Animation Collection and Golden Collection series, in March Warner dusted off the long-dead Spotlight Collection line. Priced at $26.99, the four-disc Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection Double Feature lumped together the Spotlight Collection 2 and the Looney Tunes Movie Collection. More recycling courtesy of the Spotlight Collection would come later in the year.
The endless parade of Looney Tunes repeats continued in April with the launch of Warner Home Video's sorta-new And Friends line of DVDs. Inspired by a very similar series Warner's UK division had great success with--casually known as the "Big Face" collection--the DVDs were meant to be budget-priced specifically for "big box" stores like Walmart and Target to fill their video shelves with. Each DVD retailed for $9.97 but were more often than not sold for around the five-dollar mark--as such, no new content was being offered for such a bargain. Typically each DVD's content was taken almost verbatim from a disc off a larger, pricier boxed set.
In the initial assortment, such expected characters were spotlighted: Tom and Jerry and Friends Vol. 1, Scooby-Doo! and Friends (oddly placed punctuation and all), Elmo and Friends, and Batman and Friends (he has friends?) and Superman and Friends from their respective animated series. And what repeat-filled Warner kiddie line would be complete without some retreaded favorites from the Looney Tunes library? A trio of Looney volumes were included in the first batch: Bugs Bunny and Friends, Daffy Duck and Friends, and Tweety Pie and Friends.
All three releases were simply taken from various discs throughout the Golden Collection series, minus those discs' special features. Bugs Bunny and Friends was the first disc of the first Golden volume (with one odd omission), Daffy Duck and Friends was the first volume's second disc, and Tweety Pie and Friends was the third disc from the second Golden Collection.
The next month brought a double-dose of Looney reruns. On May 6 Warner issued Looney Tunes Center Stage Volume 2, containing all of the cartoons from the fourth disc of the first Golden Collection set. With this release, the main programs from all four discs in the first Golden Collection volume had been repurposed for individual budget DVDs--and all in the span of just three months.
Just a week later, the recently rejuvenated Spotlight Collection line was given a shot in the arm with the unnecessary Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 8. The first disc focused entirely on Bugs, with most of the cartoons coming from the Golden Collection Volume Two, while the second disc was primarily an "all-star" compilation rehashing various cartoons from the second, third, fourth, and fifth Golden Collection sets. Warner wasn't done with the Spotlight Collection yet, as mid-June saw the release of the Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection Double Feature Vol. 2, a four-disc set collecting the fourth and fifth volumes of the original series.
With an entire half-year devoted to recycled material, it was a bit of a relief when the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume Three finally arrived on Blu-ray on August 12. As great as it was for fans to have a new collection of remastered Looney Tunes, the joy was bittersweet. It had become pretty clear that Warner Home Video had little interest in continuing the Platinum Collection series after this volume, and the label was even promoting the new release as the final entry in the line. If that wasn't disappointing enough, this third volume was reduced to a two-disc set, while both of its predecessors had a third disc chock full of bonus content.
Warner's lack of enthusiasm was also reflected quite well in the set's programming. While all of the cartoons were new to Blu-ray, the complaint of perceived double-dips came up again. Sure enough, of the fifty cartoons in the collection, only three were entirely new to disc while a fourth was newly remastered. Bugs dominated the first disc, with the remaining cartoons being one-shots or starring secondary characters. In addition to a heavy amount of Daffy and Porky, disc two was mostly an all-star compilation with a scant few one-shots thrown in at the end.
Some Academy Award nominees like Chuck Jones's Nelly's Folly made numerous appearances on disc in 2014 due to a prevalent Oscar theming in both the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume Three and single-disc repackages from the Academy Awards Animation Collection series.
The single special feature newly produced for the Platinum Collection Volume Three was That's All Folks!: Tales From Termite Terrace, a benign talking-heads feature where Warner Bros. crew members reminisced about the studio. The rest of the set's paltry bonuses were all taken from previous releases. The feature-length documentaries Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices, Drawn to Life: The Art of Robert McKimson, Tish Tash: The Animated World of Frank Tashlin, and Unsung Maestros: A Directors Tribute were all Golden Collection repeats. Less exciting were the reused Bugs Bunny: Ain't He a Stinker? and Ridicule Is the Burden of Genius fluff pieces from The Essential Bugs Bunny and The Essential Daffy Duck, respectively. And as if Warner's collector-intended Looney Tunes releases were coming full circle, the complete 1975 Boys from Termite Terrace miniseries--last seen on the first Golden Collection--returned. Most telling of all that the end had arrived, though, was that for the first time in the Platinum Collection series, no actual bonus cartoons were included, Warner's or otherwise.
After only three releases and 150 cartoons, Warner Home Video had again given up on any kind of Looney Tunes video line for collectors; in only half the time it took the label to abandon the Golden Collection series--and at a fraction of the cost, too! Sure enough, apart from a collection of the unwatchable Gene Deitch Tom and Jerry cartoons that was already in the works, Warner was completely done with compilations catered to die-hard animation fans. Further releases would be intended solely for general audiences. If collectors also bought them, great, but it was no longer going to be a determining factor.
But some divisions of Warner Bros. weren't done with the Looney Tunes franchise on Blu-ray just yet. In mid-October Warner Archive issued the James Cagney classic Yankee Doodle Dandy on the format as part of the imprint's collection of limited edition pressed Blu-ray discs--typically for movies the studio feels wouldn't be able to support an international retail release. Porting over many of the special features from the film's two-disc DVD, the new Blu-ray edition also included Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid and Yankee Doodle Daffy, with the latter making its debut in 1080p high definition. With the future of quality Looney Tunes releases now heading into the hands of Warner Archive, it was regarded as a good omen that the Archive's first title to incorporate individual Warner Bros. cartoons had also been one of the first Warner Home Video DVDs to do the same back in 2003.
With the year winding down, November brought a pair of DVD releases in time for the holiday season. As expected, the two-disc Platinum Collection Volume Three was put out on the format. With so much material taken from the Golden Collection series, it was extremely difficult for fans to justify the $26.99 retail cost just for four "new" cartoons. A little more welcomed was the long-awaited DVD debut of Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island, marking the movie's first home video release in two decades. Though it was devoid of any special features--not even an off-the-shelf Daffy and Speedy cartoon, for crying out loud--it nevertheless completed the series of 1980s compilation features on the format.
A feature film was also the focus of Warner's final Looney Tunes release of the year, with Looney Tunes: Back in Action squeaking out on Blu-ray in early December. Offering something of a coda to the label's Looney Tunes products on the format, Warner Home Video threw a bone to extreme completists by including all six of the Larry Doyle cartoons that were produced at the time of the movie. Though most of them had already been included as bonuses on past releases, Cock-A-Doodle Duel and My Generation G-G-Gap were nevertheless making their North American premieres on this disc.
There was a very slim shred of hope that 2015 wasn't going to simply be more of the same from Warner Home Video, especially as the year was Bugs Bunny's historic seventy-fifth birthday. But unlike in 1990 when Warner Bros. readily and happily marketed the heck out of the rabbit and his fiftieth, the studio had no intention whatsoever of noting his current milestone. Part of it was that Time Warner didn't want their animated properties to be perceived as "old" (and therefore, unmarketable to children), while the corporation's legal department was terrified that acknowledging the character's debut would open the door to allow people to try to figure out when certain films or depictions would potentially enter the public domain. (It should be noted that such paranoia has only applied to the Looney Tunes characters, as corporate sibling DC Comics had no problem commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversaries of their Superman and Batman characters just the year or two before.)
Unfortunately, very little new was on the horizon. For that matter, very little old was, too!
As perhaps a harbinger of the depressing year ahead, Warner Home Video's first offerings of the year were the mid-February reissues of the single-disc Looney Tunes: Stranger Than Fiction and Looney Tunes: Reality Check. Both had been mercilessly out of print for several years, yet for whatever reason the label felt that the webtoon-filled compilations were due for a comeback. Fans were not amused.
A brighter spot in April again came from Warner Archive, which released the classic Busby Berkeley musical 42nd Street as another of its limited edition Blu-rays. Among the disc's special features were two 1933 Merrie Melodies: an unremastered copy of Young and Healthy and the 1080p HD debut of the remastered Shuffle Off to Buffalo last seen on the Golden Collection Volume Six DVD. Once again, things were looking up over at the Archive.
Over at Warner Home Video proper, however, repeats were still the order of business. Late May saw the release of Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces, a single-disc DVD for $19.97. Instead of merely porting over a Golden Collection disc or cobbling together a random "all-star" collection, the themed DVD presented eighteen (what else?) musical cartoons, with such expected favorites as One Froggy Evening, I Love to Singa, and of course What's Opera, Doc? All oft-used double-dips, sure, but ironically it resulted in a nicer "greatest hits" compilation than most of what Warner had offered in the past year.
More typical of Warner's rehashes, though, was 4 Kid Favorites: Looney Tunes Collection, a four-disc set released in June for $14.99. Previously only the Baby Looney Tunes had been utilized in the label's 4 Kid Favorites series (and Space Jam and Back in Action were often found on Warner's main 4 Film Favorites volumes), making the first true-blue Looney Tunes title in the collection somewhat noteworthy. Unfortunately, the set was lackluster even for a video line based on repackaged material. In addition to reusing the Tweety's High-Flying Adventure and Daffy Duck's Quackbusters DVDs, the set also included the budget compilations Looney Tunes Unleashed and The Best of Bugs Bunny--amounting to just three cartoons per disc, and most of which were cropped "widescreen" shorts from the first Looney Tunes Super Stars releases. Fans again were not amused.
Warner Home Video's year for the Looney Tunes ended rather abruptly with the August 4 DVD release of Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run, the first direct-to-video Looney Tunes movie in almost a decade. Produced by the team behind The Looney Tunes Show, the 72-minute production revolved around Lola Bunny inventing a new perfume that doubles as an invisibility spray, forcing cabdriver Bugs to protect her from the likes of Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, and Marvin the Martian, who all want the spray for their own sinister purposes. Whatever. The disc's special features were all double-dips, such as the CGI Tweety cartoon I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat and the very overused three CGI Road Runner shorts from 2010.
Private Snafu and a Japanese general are on each other's tails in No Buddy Atoll, one of the U.S. Army training films remastered by Thunderbean Animation for its Private Snafu Golden Classics DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Warner's penchant for recycling and repackaging material continued into 2016, first with January's release of Sylvester and Friends Vol. 1 for $5.98. Another entry in the studio's And Friends line of budget releases, the title wasn't an actual Sylvester compilation but rather simply the second disc from 2008's The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries: The Complete First Season. Many months would go by with a whole lot of nothing--even less than nothing, as in April with the title Wabbit.: A Looney Tunes Prod.: Hare-Raising Tales, a two-disc set offering the first twenty-six half-hour episodes of Cartoon Network's recent reboot series Wabbit (before its rebranding as New Looney Tunes), with some of the collected episodes having not even aired yet. It got to the point where the only "highlight" was the HD debut of Bacall to Arms on Warner Archive's Blu-ray of To Have and Have Not in July.
Cartoon fans were then subjected to a dreary triple dose of repeats in October, marking an end to another very quiet Looney Tunes year. First up was the awkwardly titled Music Triple Feature: Tom and Jerry/Scooby-Doo!/Looney Tunes 3-DVD Collection, in which last year's Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces was already being repackaged alongside two unrelated older releases: Tom and Jerry's Musical Mayhem and the direct-to-video movie Scooby-Doo!: Music of the Vampire. Released on the same day was a Looney Tunes Double Feature that lumped 2011's The Looney Tunes Show: Season 1, Volume 1 with 2009's Daffy Duck's Quackbusters. And all this was quickly followed a week later by the Looney Tunes Triple Feature: Looney Tunes 3-DVD Collection, joining together The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie, last year's Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run, and Looney Tunes Center Stage Volume 1 (itself the repurposed third disc from the first Golden Collection).
After two years of seemingly endless reissues and repackages, it was becoming clearer and clearer that Warner Home Video was unwilling to invest any more resources to create new product for the Looney Tunes franchise--and the label's 2017 slate wasn't looking any better. Meanwhile, though, another Time Warner division was getting ready to reintroduce Bugs and the gang to the age of streaming after nearly a decade in limbo.
Back in 2009, Turner Broadcasting reacquired the rights to air the post-1948 Looney Tunes on Cartoon Network and Boomerang (the pre-1948 cartoons, of course, were always in Turner's control). Part of the arrangement was that in addition to broadcast rights, Turner also acquired the streaming rights to the cartoons. The Looney Tunes library was last seen digitally as part of the In2TV streaming site, one of the projects resulting from the AOL Time Warner merger at the beginning of the century. Despite the ample product offered and attempts to appeal to pop-culture junkies, streaming video was still seen as little more than a computer-centric novelty and In2TV was unable to make much of a name for itself, even after adjusting its browsing model to more closely resemble YouTube. By mid-2009 the service had been dissolved as Time Warner was in the process of unbuckling itself from AOL.
With no dedicated outlet of their own for online video, it's doubtful that Cartoon Network had any solid plans for the streaming rights to the shorts. It was likely just looked at as a nice bonus to the deal. But as such services as Netflix, Hulu, and even outliers like Warner's own Warner Archive Instant came into prominence throughout the next decade, Cartoon Network's deal kept the Looney Tunes from appearing on any such platforms--it was an exclusivity without much reason or use. And with no clear avenue in sight, this also meant that Warner Bros. couldn't even justify the costs of remastering further cartoons under the pretense that they were readying them for digital use.
In April, though, Cartoon Network launched the Boomerang streaming service, offering a couple of relatively low-priced subscription plans for cartoon fans ready to "cut the cord" from traditional cable. Developed as a collaboration between Turner Broadcasting and Warner Bros. Entertainment (but not, curiously, the home entertainment division), Boomerang promised not only new series but also unlimited access to the Hanna-Barbera, Turner Entertainment, and Warner Bros. Animation archives.
Those hoping for something catering to adult cartoon buffs and historians akin to Warner Archive Instant or Turner Classic Movies' FilmStruck, however, were in for a big disappointment. The Boomerang web site proudly declared the service to be family-friendly and intended for all ages, even going so far as inviting parents to alert them if they "found an episode with offensive content." Though the service offered nearly complete runs of the likes The Flintstones, The Jetsons, the Famous Studios color Popeyes, and even The Looney Tunes Show, among others, its selection of classic Warner Bros. animation was relatively limited. Only series with major stars were featured (the most "obscure" characters offered were the Goofy Gophers), and even then the expected "risky" shorts like Horse Hare, Wise Quackers, etc. were nowhere to be found; no one-shots or miscellaneous shorts (perhaps the "deepest cut" available was No Barking only because of the Tweety cameo); no "controversial" characters like Speedy Gonzales; and of course, no black and white cartoons were being shown (not even in the various colorized versions).
Although Boomerang would be using the remastered versions of cartoons that had been prepared for DVD and Blu-ray--including the full frame versions of the Bugs and Daffy shorts that were cropped into widescreen on the first two Super Stars releases--the remainder of the Warner Bros. cartoons offered on the app would simply be taken from existing broadcast masters, many of which were close to twenty years old and were still in standard definition. It presented something of a mixed bag in terms of quality as pristine-looking shorts sat alongside muddy-looking and time-compressed versions of others--an issue compounded by the fact that neither Turner nor Warner were willing to spend money to clean up additional cartoons for the service. In all fairness, having quick access to over three hundred Looney Tunes cartoons to watch instantly was certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it was definitely not going to be the backdoor solution to getting more cartoons remastered for home video, as many had hoped.
And hope was certainly needed, as on the physical media side things were looking dire. February saw the release of a second Looney Tunes Double Feature, this time inexplicably coupling the webtoon compilation Stranger Than Fiction with The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie--marking not only the third time the latter had been repackaged into a multi-title set but also the second time in just four months! Older discs were also the name of the game in June via the Looney Tunes Super Stars Vol. 2, a three-pack that collected Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl, Tweety & Sylvester: Feline Fwenzy, and Porky & Friends: Hilarious Ham. And yes, the Daffy shorts were still cropped into widescreen.
With such a stagnant lineup trickling out, perhaps the biggest surprise of the year came in August when Warner Archive announced the rapidly approaching mid-September release of Porky Pig 101, an unprecedented five-disc set collecting ALL of the black and white Porky cartoons and then some. Produced by Jerry Beck and Warner Archive head (and Looney Tunes home video veteran) George Feltenstein, the collection would be the Archive division's first classic theatrical cartoon compilation...and the result of a five-year journey from drawing board to disc.
To fully appreciate the Herculean effort it took to get any kind of "complete" Looney Tunes collection out through Warner Archive, one must understand the internal red tape the division is entangled in. Though it is technically an imprint of Warner Home Entertainment and though everyone employed under both divisions are serving the same corporate interest and bottom line, Warner Archive nevertheless doesn't have carte blanche to every Warner Bros. production. This is especially true in the case of the studio's "evergreen" family brands like Looney Tunes, DC Comics, or Hanna-Barbera, where Warner Home Video's family entertainment group gets priority to release such properties to retail--a sort of right of first refusal, if it so chooses. Only then can Warner Archive come in and release such a product under their banner. When it comes to the Looney Tunes library the process gets even more drawn out because each individual cartoon has to be considered separately. Feltenstein and Warner Archive have to essentially start at 1930's Sinkin' in the Bathtub and go down the list and run each title by Warner Home Video proper to see what the bigger brother wants to hang onto for consideration of possible release.
Beck and Feltenstein sat down and mapped out a few potential projects they felt they could realistically pitch to Warner Home Video, including one idea involving year-by-year collections. But ultimately it was decided that a compilation of all of the black and white Porkys would be a good first release from Warner Archive: something featuring a major mainstream character that would nevertheless still appeal to the die-hard film nuts that have become the Archive's most dedicated consumer base--and something it was doubtful Warner Home Video ever had designs on for general retail.
Now that a project had been decided upon, one more major hurdle needed to be cleared: the legal department. Though nothing in the Porky catalog ever became as notoriously controversial to the general public the way, say, the "Censored 11" or Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips were, there were still a large number of those circa 1940 shorts that featured various ethnic stereotypes--cartoons such as Africa Squeaks, Scalp Trouble, Porky's Phoney Express, Robinson Crusoe Jr., and others that hadn't been seen uncut (or at all) in any official capacity in decades. It was merely the fact that they were in black and white and were passed around by television syndicators that didn't bother to heavily scrutinize them that allowed them to fly under the proverbial radar for so long. While Warner's legal team was going through each title with a fine-tooth comb, a new X factor threatened the fate of Porky as newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump routinely took to television and Twitter to denigrate women, Mexicans, and Native Americans--and the Warner lawyers were becoming concerned that a DVD with politically incorrect cartoons would feed into a culture of intolerance and bigotry, especially online where Warner Archive's marketing and popularity thrived. Beck would later reveal that if the legal department had waited much longer to clear the Porky cartoons, or if in the meantime Trump had unexpectedly said or done something blindingly hateful, then it would have easily spelled the end of the compilation without debate--and so poor little Porky was racing for his life against dying physical media, skittish lawyers, and even an increasingly unstable president.
Fortunately, historical significance prevailed and Porky Pig 101 was green-lit for release. All ninety-nine black and white Porky Pig cartoons were to be included along with two essential color shorts: Porky's debut in I Haven't Got a Hat and Chuck Jones's history-lesson classic Old Glory. There would of course be some double-dipping, as about half of the cartoons had already either been remastered for past Looney Tunes collections or were included as unremastered bonuses on Warner feature releases, but still eleven shorts were new to DVD while another thirty-nine were completely new to home video. Almost all of the studio's major directors were to be represented including not only Jones but also Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, and Frank Tashlin, showing a veritable evolution of the Schlesinger studio's style as the shorts went on. The Porky Pig 101 title served as a perfect double-meaning as both the total cartoon count and to suggest a history lesson itself in the development of the Warner Bros. cartoons. Behind the scenes, the title also took on something of a third meaning, as the release was being looked at as the start of what could be accomplished through Warner Archive for the studio's classic animation holdings. If Porky Pig 101 was to do well, then eventually the sky would be the limit as to what they could release, with all the unspoken questions as to what that would include.
But the embarrassment of riches and excitement over what-ifs were soon tempered by the revelation that due to the miniscule budget allocated to Warner Archive for this release, the sixty-three Porky cartoons that had yet to be remastered from the original negatives would remain so, but at least new transfers were to be made from high-quality vault prints and fine grain positives (the final master prints that create the eventual dupe negatives for distribution). The new transfers would be presented as-is based on the available materials, so this meant that long-suspected dawn-of-television edits to such shorts as Porky the Wrestler and Porky's Movie Mystery would not be restored; while such key shorts as The Blow Out, Porky & Daffy, and Mel Blanc's historic inaugural performance in Picador Porky were not going to be remastered for posterity. Jerry Beck went on Stu's Show to assure fans that the utmost care was still being taken in the transfer process and that any damage to soundtracks would be fixed along the way, stressing that the shorts will nevertheless look and sound as good as they possibly can without actually going to the negatives. It was a guarantee that would come back to haunt Beck.
"How 'bout me, Porky?" Much like Porky taking a chance on the little rabbit in Frank Tashlin's Porky's Building, fans took a leap of faith with Warner Archive's Porky Pig 101 collection. Unfortunately, the set left many looking as depressed as Porky does here.
Some of the "new" transfers done for Porky & Daffy and Porky's Hero Agency looked almost identical to when they were used as special features, making it not only a toss-up as to which version was better but also ultimately questioning the need and expense of even creating new transfers for them--while others like Fish Tales and Africa Squeaks appeared to simply be taken from older, analog-television broadcast masters. Or in the case of Shanghaied Shipmates, the "new" mastering was so carelessly done that part of the cartoon looked pixelated. And perhaps most baffling of all, a new unremastered transfer was done for Patient Porky, even though the cartoon had already been fully restored and remastered in HD for the Golden Collection Volume Five!
Apart from the varied quality of the transfers, many of the other cosmetic alterations on the set were the result of cuts made to the shorts back when they were sold to Guild Films in 1955 for television syndication, with most of the damage being directed at the main Looney Tunes title sequence and its iconic theme song, "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down." In order to mask references to Warner Bros., Guild Films tacked on their own opening title card, slicing off the opening WB shield zoom and the first few bars of the theme in the process. Over the years attempts had been made to halfheartedly "restore" the cartoons and undo the Guild Films replacements and cuts, usually by gluing on opening titles and "That's all, Folks!" end tags from other films. In some cases, Warner Archive left the cartoons practically as-is, so Porky & Daffy, Kristopher Kolumbus Jr., Ali-Baba Bound, Slap Happy Pappy, Porky's Bear Facts, We, the Animals- Squeak!, and The Henpecked Duck are all featured with the Guild-clipped opening sequence. References to Guild Films were thankfully gone, but no effort was made to restore the rest of the titles, which supposedly exist only on the negatives.
In other cases, though, it appeared that Warner Archive did attempt to "fix" the opening sequences by dubbing in full renditions of the title music taken from other shorts. Unfortunately even this wasn't a flawless solution because music was transplanted from films of different release years, so there would be such anomalies as a 1940s version of "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" placed onto a 1930s cartoon, etc. Westward Whoa, Porky's Ant, Porky's Prize Pony, Notes to You, Robinson Crusoe Jr., and Porky's Cafe all have Frankensteined versions of the opening theme music, with some edits to the soundtrack being sloppier than others.
Most of the flubs found on Porky Pig 101 could in the most charitable terms be described as peripheral--annoying exclusions or alterations to the opening and end titles, but nothing yet that had actually interfered with the bodies of the cartoons (and in some cases nothing that hadn't already been done on past Warner releases). But as fans dug deeper into the collection, they discovered that the biggest and most jaw-dropping vandalism occurred when as many as ten cartoons had their unique title-card music replaced with cues from other shorts, at times covering up dialogue and bleeding into opening scenes--with the music from Porky's Tire Trouble especially overused as it was dubbed onto eight of them!
Typically music gets replaced on a home video release when the studio can no longer clear the copyright for a song or there becomes an unforeseen issue with publishing royalties. Not only do such problems not affect the Warner Bros. cartoons--as the studio's past use of its publishing catalog was grandfathered in royalty-free as part of the terms of selling its music division in 2004--but in some of these instances the Porky's Tire Trouble music was used to replace not only the public-domain staple "The William Tell Overture" but also its own melody, as Naughty Neighbors uses a different arrangement of the same song! (The tune is "Monday Morning" by Frank Worrell, made popular by Artie Shaw and Helen Forrest.) Instead, this appeared to just be some lazy attempt to fix audio problems--and perhaps worst of all, either nobody bothered to check what was being done and stop it, or they decided it didn't matter because these are just old cartoons.
For the die-hard, gotta-have-them-all Looney Tunes collectors this set was being marketed to, the curious excessive dubbing gave the impression that--apart from George Feltenstein and Jerry Beck--nobody working on the product really did care. For as much as the set claimed to highlight the development of the major Warner Bros. directors, it rather hypocritically ignored their collaborations with Carl Stalling to pick the right type of music to open the shorts--setting up mood or even a punchline, such as in The Lone Stranger and Porky where "The William Tell Overture" is obviously being used to establish the idea of a Lone Ranger spoof. For Naughty Neighbors, the dubbing was so ham-handedly done that in order to fill out the time over the establishing intertitle, one begins to hear the final few seconds of "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" again before the Porky's Tire Trouble music starts a second time. Considering how essential music was to all the 1930s Warner Bros. cartoons still unreleased on DVD, this careless revisionist editing made many leery about what Warner Archive would do for an encore if Porky Pig 101 proved that they could successfully release cartoons without bothering to remaster them properly.
But furthermore, how did nobody notice that the patched-in Porky's Tire Trouble music was also covering up The Lone Stranger's opening line of dialogue? (The Lone Stranger exclaims, "Hi-ho, Silver!") If it was a matter of fixing damaged audio, why didn't Warner Archive just pull soundtracks from the affected shorts' broadcast masters or colorized versions? Why were such shorts as Porky & Daffy, Kristopher Kolumbus Jr., Naughty Neighbors, Porky the Giant Killer, Notes to You, and Porky's Cafe able to be presented more complete on past home video releases than they were here? To quote a cartoon from a different era, "It just don't add up!"
"Mistakes were definitely made," Beck offered in one of his few candid moments when discussing the issues on Stu's Show, and it was his only concession to the numerous quality control problems. Otherwise he was defensive, almost combative to the idea that the product was not up to everyone's (even subdued) standards. It had always been very easy for Beck to take a more detatched role when problematic releases came up in the past, quick to blame issues on a nameless and faceless Warner Home Video--excessive Golden Collection DVNR was the fault of people doing the remastering, various concerns with the Super Stars discs were the fault of a family entertainment division that didn't care or know better, etc. But with so few people working under the aegis of Warner Archive, there was little place the buck could be passed to without stepping on toes.
Reviews from film and pop-culture authorities like Leonard Maltin and Mark Evanier (close working associates of Feltenstein and Beck, which was surely just a coincidence) suddenly popped up online in quick succession, not only praising the set but all making a specific point to downplay the various errors and issues everyone else had with the release. Fringe Warner Archive producers and animation authors--though not ones that focus on Warner Bros. cartoons, it should be noted--took to Stu's Show and social media to try to trivialize the criticism directed at Porky Pig 101, claiming umbrage that such attention to detail should be given to mere cartoons (a sentiment that Stu's Show host Stu Shostak concerningly agreed with, considering how he often has railed against minute cartoon matters such as voice work in CGI reboots or which WWE/Hanna-Barbera direct-to-DVD crossover is better than the other). Meanwhile, a number of noted Warner animation scholars like Mark Kausler, Michael Barrier, and particularly Thad Komorowski (who took on the thankless task of cataloging all of the errors in the set, much to the ire of Warner Archive) were among the loudest and most influential critics of Warner Archive's treatment of the shorts. As Barrier assessed the schism on his web site, "The idea seems to be that if you're a fan of the Warner cartoons, you should accept whatever scraps are tossed your way without complaining, and cartoon fans, being for the most part pathetic toadies, have been all too eager to comply."
If there was any silver lining, it was that Warner Archive was listening loud and clear, even if they weren't going to go on record anywhere. And for a five-disc set of black and white cartoons that sold for close to fifty dollars, sales were surprisingly strong. There was not going to be any replacement discs or reissue of the set, but going forward, George Feltenstein pledged that if any future classic animation releases are done through the Archive they would only use newly remastered prints. As Beck summed it up, "That's one lesson we've learned."
If 2017 was ultimately a year filled with mixed emotions for cartoons fans, then 2018 would start indifferently before building to a crescendo with a couple of surprises--some bad, some wonderful. Things got started with a whimper with January's release of Looney Tunes Let Loose, a triple feature set repackaging the Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run and Tweety's High-Flying Adventure direct-to-video movies alongside the first disc of Taz-Mania: Taz on the Loose.
More recycling was in order in June with the Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection Volumes 1-3, a three-disc set combining (what else?) the first two Spotlight Collection volumes with the Looney Tunes Movie Collection. As if mere repackaging and reusing discs wasn't enough, this time each two-disc Spotlight Collection volume was squashed onto a single dual-layer disc.
After nearly a year of such repackaged inanity, fans were surprised but puzzled by the October release of DVD editions of the Stars of Space Jam, the five-title series of character compilations first released on VHS back in 1996 to promote the Space Jam movie. Marking the first time Warner Home Video just straight-up ported over a Looney Tunes cassette line to disc, the raison d'etre for this "new" collection was vague to the point of baffling. Surely, rumors persisted that a long-in-development Space Jam 2 with LeBron James was always seemingly days away from shooting, but the label's marketing materials made no attempt to tie these to the impending production. If anything, the DVDs seemed more like an attempt to simply cash in on the Space Jam movie brand that had thrived in recent years via retro t-shirts sold at big box stores and Hot Topic and the like. The fact that each title was only being sold for $9.97--meaning they were actually intended for Walmart and Target's five-dollar dump bins--more or less confirmed that Warner was merely looking for a quick buck, and such intentions definitely showed with the cartoons.
In a DVD series where three-fourths of the entire content had already been remastered and released elsewhere, obviously it was expected that past Golden Collection and Super Stars masters would be used where applicable. On the plus side, this also meant that Apes of Wrath, Person to Bunny, Bedevilled Rabbit, Ducking the Devil, and Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare--cartoons that were cropped into widescreen on the first two Super Stars releases--would be corrected and presented in full frame. But in a case of "one step forward, two steps back," the cartoons that did suffer were (perhaps not surprisingly) the handful that hadn't yet been remastered for DVD release, with various bad results.
Despite a remastered digital copy of Tree Cornered Tweety sitting in the vaults since 2001's Japanese line of I Love Tweety DVDs (top image), for the Stars of Space Jam collection Warner Home Video spent the time and money transferring an even older, washed-out VHS master (bottom image).
If the Stars of Space Jam releases left much to be desired, then Warner Archive would soon redeem the studio's commitment to its classic animation properties with an excellent release in December. Perhaps not surprisingly, not a single Looney Tunes character was in sight--the savior would in fact come from an even more unlikely source. A source packed with spinach!
Despite being one of the most popular cartoon characters of the twentieth century, and despite his constant presence on television since the 1950s and on public-domain video releases since the 1980s, Popeye hasn't had the best of luck as an official home video property. The classic theatrical cartoons had been a victim of everything from frequently changing ownerships to misplacement of original film elements to even King Features' adamant insistence that they sign off on any release despite having no actual stake in the cartoons themselves. All of this made the idea of "official" Popeye video releases something of a mirage--even the King-controlled 1960s and 1980s television cartoons had only made scattershot appearances on home video. Jerry Beck and George Feltenstein had been able to work some licensing magic and produce three above-average DVD sets through Warner Home Video proper, compiling all of the sailor's black and white theatrical shorts. But when those collections had run their course in 2008, the later 1940s and 1950s color shorts remained in a bit of a holding pattern. For the longest time Warner Bros. wasn't even going to consider touching the cartoons until a long-in-development CGI Popeye feature was produced at Sony, hoping that the heightened visibility of such a movie would increase sales for a brand that was otherwise considered questionably relevant (and one that Warner Bros. didn't even own outright). But while pre-production of Sony's film stalled to the point of being on life support, Warner Bros. took an unprecedented initiative for the studio's entire library. It was going to start future-proofing its films by scanning all of its titles anew in 4K resolution, and the first animated property to undergo such care were going to be the color Popeyes.
Upon hearing of this plan, Beck and Feltenstein realized that this was their final opportunity to get more Popeye released on home video. Beck advised Warner Bros.' imaging laboratory on which fourteen cartoons to scan (Beck told them to go in order versus the original plan of just picking titles at random), and Feltenstein would release the scans as-is through Warner Archive on Blu-ray and DVD. Even without any further remastering done, the 4K Popeye scans were something of a revelation--a night and day difference after not only what had been broadcast for decades but also compared to the blatant mediocrity of Warner Archive's own Porky Pig 101 set from the year before. And like in the past, Warner Home Video and Warner Archive were going to look at sales of Popeye the Sailor: The 1940s Volume One to determine if there was any audience left for quality releases of classic animation. For really the last final ultimate time this time, a lot was riding on this one cartoon release.
Thankfully, even as a one-disc collection with just the shorts and no bonuses, Popeye was universally well received and sales greatly exceeded expectations. Warner Archive was not only going to move forward with more Popeye, but the division was finally going to give some attention and (proper) care to the other classic theatrical animation titles in the Warner library. In the meantime, they didn't completely forget about the Looney Tunes collectors out there, as just a week after Popeye's grand return came a Blu-ray of the 1940 Errol Flynn classic The Sea Hawk. Among its extras was Porky's Poor Fish, making its HD debut in 1080p resolution.
Warner Archive spent the bulk of 2019 remastering more Popeye cartoons, releasing two further collections throughout the year in order to finish the character's 1940s filmography before giving the sailor a break. But it was back to the reissue and repackage well at boring old vanilla Warner Home Video.
Early June saw not one but two curiously pointless releases. First was Looney Tunes Center Stage, a retitling and reconfiguring of an older three-disc set that itself merely collected The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie, Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run, and Looney Tunes Center Stage Volume 1. Released alongside it was the Stars of Space Jam Collection Volume 1, a DVD that took all five of last year's Stars of Space Jam budget titles and squeezed them all onto one disc.
Once again, tiny bright spots came from Warner Archive. While unremastered standard-definition copies of the Merrie Melodies Honeymoon Hotel, Young and Healthy, One Step Ahead of My Shadow, and Sittin' on a Backyard Fence were used as extras on the Footlight Parade Blu-ray in July, August offered better cartoon treatment via the iconic Bette Davis classic Jezebel. Featured on that Blu-ray was the 1080p HD debut of Tex Avery's Daffy Duck in Hollywood. Unbeknownst to everyone, the stage was being set for more high definition goodies for Avery fans.
Amazingly, apart from all the dedicated Looney Tunes titles over the years, there are still numerous miscellaneous releases out there featuring the characters. Bugs's many modern-day cameos on such series as Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and even Batman: The Animated Series have been released by Warner Home Video, while his appearance in the independent short A Political Cartoon has been made available on Kino's Cartoongate! VHS. Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote were seen on Shout! Factory's The Best of the Electric Company DVDs, and of course the entire gang has been featured on all of the various releases of Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit--and that's still just scratching the surface!
The future of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts on home video remains murky, much like the industry itself. Physical media sales continue to slip, while studios big and small struggle to find ways to properly exploit their libraries on streaming and instant-video platforms.
The Looney Tunes library is in a particularly sticky spot given its sheer size and other factors. There are still just north of five hundred shorts yet to be remastered for DVD or Blu-ray release, and at approximately $15,000 to remaster a single cartoon, Warner Home Video would need a major reason to go too deep into the catalog--and following the uproar over Porky Pig 101, the label and all of its divisions refuse to use off-the-shelf copies or broadcast transfers for a main disc program ever again, especially in the era of high-definition television. Even then, Warner's legal department has deemed far too many entries in the series to be too "controversial" for general retail release. So no matter what, much arm-twisting would be necessary to get the machine going again for regular, new Looney Tunes home video product.
After almost four decades of video releases, fans remain hungry for more, still wanting to amass a complete, fully authorized, uncut collection. With Warner Bros. fully owning all the films and refusing to sublicense them to a third party distributor, it's all in their tangled corporate hands--either by relenting and passing the rest of them off to Warner Archive or by waiting for another innovation in home entertainment.
As the home video market has faced a number of twists and turns, the Warner Bros. cartoons have (reluctantly) been along for the ride, surviving two tape formats and three major disc formats. It's a clear testament to the quality and longevity of the cartoons and characters that they continue to find an audience with each new format. Bugs, Daffy, and the gang will no doubt continue to be a viable property on home video, however it evolves--no doubt until the bitter end of the industry itself.
But what does that mean for the dedicated fans waiting in the wings? Can they remain so patient? Will cartoon lovers young and old one day be able to own all thousand-plus Looney Tunes to cherish and share with their families?
Ehhhh, it's a possibility!
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.