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WHY WAS THIS DONE? - THE OUTRAGE - THE AFTERMATH
WHAT CAN BE DONE? - AFFECTED CARTOONS
SCREEN COMPARISONS


Our site's original homemade banner announcing the two new Looney Tunes DVD compilations. We were filled with so much hope then.
On August 10, 2010, Warner Home Video released the first two titles in its brand new line of Looney Tunes Super Stars DVDs: Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire and Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl. Anticipation was high, as each DVD contained fifteen cartoons never before offered on the format--including a number that were completely new to home video in the United States. Warner's ad materials were proclaiming that all of the cartoons were "newly remastered from restored film elements," giving fans hope that the franchise was in good hands after the demise of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series. But something was definitely off in the land of Looney Tunes....

Despite the back covers claiming that everything was being presented in "standard" (full frame) format, ten of the cartoons on each disc--two-thirds of the entire content--were in fact cropped into anamorphic widescreen, allowing the image to fill an entire HDTV screen...or, if viewed on a standard-definition set, appear "matted" into letterbox format. This technique resulted in the removal of the tops and bottoms of each cartoon--clipping off visual gags, characters' heads and feet, and other visual information.

We consider such alterations to these films as edits, no different than if scenes were removed for political correctness. Warner video releases always prided themselves on presenting the Looney Tunes cartoons as uncut (often boasting such on packages), so it's time for the studio to finally correct this blemish on one of its most beloved video franchises.

In 2008 Warner Home Video had gone HD happy. DVD sales were down, while Blu-ray sales were climbing. The studio was convinced that consumers were only interested in hi-def, so it made some hard and fast decisions to cater to that market.

Specifically, it was decided that going forward, only Warner Bros. films released after 1953 were to be remastered and released on home video, as that had been the year the studio formally switched to widescreen production. The shortsighted logic was that only widescreen movies would benefit from the widescreen aspect ratio of high-definition television sets--even though at the time only ten million Blu-ray players had been purchased in the United States versus the nearly 264 million DVD players that had been sold thus far.

This new edict left the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies library in a bit of a limbo. The Warner Bros. cartoons were always produced in Academy (full frame) ratio, from the 1929 Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid pilot all the way to 1969's Injun Trouble. The main Warner studio's switch to widescreen in 1953 had little effect on how the cartoons were being produced, even as other animation studios like MGM went to full-blown Cinemascope production. How the cartoons were being screened, however, was another story.

In June 1953 Warner Bros. actually shut down the cartoon studio during the height of the 3-D craze, owing to an "uncertainty as to whether future product be 2-D or 3-D," according to an article in Variety. The majority of the staff was laid off through the end of the year, with only a bare bones version of Friz Freleng's unit remaining on hand. The cartoon studio's backlog of unreleased product meant the release schedule would continue uninterrupted for the time being, as thirty-eight shorts were already completed and ready to go while another twenty were merely waiting to go into post-production (music and editing). By the time Warner Bros. announced a resume of cartoon production at the end of the year, the 3-D fad was already dying a slow death.

The December 12, 1953 issue of Boxoffice detailed the Warner cartoon studio's plans to cater to both widescreen and Academy ratio.
When Boxoffice magazine reported on the return of cartoon production, it added that producer Edward Selzer also announced the installation of new studio equipment in early January 1954, including swivel desks for the animators and an improved camera setup.

"This new equipment will make it possible to turn out cartoons for a 1.75 to 1 screen ratio," the article explained, adding that the shorts will be "also suitable for a 1.33 to 1 screen."

So when Warner Bros. cartoons went back into production in 1954, the new shorts were being produced for both widescreen and full screen, with animation being done in the latter format just as it always had been done. It was then up to individual theaters to project and frame the shorts to their respective needs.

Fast-forward to Warner Home Video's new "widescreen only" rule and the dilemma of what to do about future Looney Tunes releases--especially since a number of pre-1953 shorts were already remastered and awaiting release. It was decided that the "dual aspect ratio" announcement was enough of a loophole to allow the label to continue remastering cartoons for future compilations.

Unfortunately, nobody anticipated that Warner Home Video would take that loophole to its utmost conclusion and actually present the cartoons cropped into widescreen.

Characters' heads were sliced off while speaking; sight gags, signs, and other visual information were clipped; body parts would now leave the screen when characters jumped or simply stood upright. After decades of these cartoons being shown in full frame on television (and previous home video formats), these new widescreen versions looked ill-executed and awkwardly cramped.

The December 4, 1953 issue of Daily Variety pointed out that post-1953 Warner cartoons will be suitable for both widescreen and "standard" showings.
It was all the more frustrating because of Warner's hard decision to crop anything released theatrically after 1953 regardless of when it was actually produced. The cartoon studio's aforementioned backlog meant that many pre-shutdown (and therefore, pre-widescreen) cartoons wouldn't see a release until well after 1953--with a select few even having to wait as late as 1956 to debut in theaters. These shorts' inarguably intended screen formats were ignored on these DVDs simply because of their release dates, a marketing decision rather than an artistic one.

That's sort of the crux of the issue here: art is not only being ignored but also covered up. The studio's layout artists, background painters, and animators composed these images for the Academy ratio, and the action and movements were intended for those dimensions. In live action, shooting in "open matte" (filming in full frame with the intent of cropping the image into widescreen) is sometimes a necessary condition of budgets--and seeing those entire full frame images often lead to exposing unintentional, otherwise covered-up film flubs such as in Reservoir Dogs and (famously) Pee-wee's Big Adventure. That is not the case with these cartoons; if the "open matte" area was to be covered up then one would see animation errors, production codes on the cels, and other flubs at the tops and bottoms of the screen. The crew certainly wouldn't have bothered to add detail to the backgrounds in these portions of the screen, but they did--so they certainly thought the whole image was intended to be seen, which is especially noteworthy considering how important the background design was to the visual appeal of the shorts in this era of the studio's history.

(In researching all of the shorts released after 1953, only two contain quick animation goofs that would have been covered by a widescreen matte: Apes of Wrath and A-Haunting We Will Go.)

Looney Tunes fans have yearned for a complete collection on home video for decades, and after six, four-disc boxed sets it seemed like such a possibility was becoming more and more realized. But to suddenly switch aspect ratios after nearly 400 shorts into the library seemed like a cheat, as if something was missing--especially after years of Warner Home Video proudly proclaiming that the full screen versions were "uncut" and unaltered.

And it wasn't as if widescreen formatting was a new technique. The concept of "anamorphic widescreen" on DVDs was well established long before the first cartoons were being remastered. A number of fans admitted that if there had been a concerted effort to present the post-1953 shorts in widescreen from the get-go then they would have reluctantly gone along with it--but the entire Golden Collection series and all miscellaneous releases up to that point showed all of the cartoons in full frame. All of the true masterpieces of the post-1953 era--What's Opera, Doc?; Robin Hood Daffy; One Froggy Evening; three Oscar winners including Birds Anonymous; etc.--were all presented in full screen. So, were all of those versions incorrect? It was like a record label reissuing a musical group's back catalog only in stereo and then suddenly and arbitrarily switching only to mono.

(It should also be noted that the shorts haven't been screened in widescreen in any Warner-produced theatrical revival, festival, or compilation movie for the last four decades.)

And the big question remained: Why didn't Warner Home Video give consumers a choice in aspect ratio, like it had done for the majority of its "family" titles? A dual-layered disc would have easily been able to hold both versions. The widescreen shorts would have been available to view as a historical curiosity, while purists would be able to view the full screen versions whenever they'd like. And again, per the studio's own directive back in the day, the cartoons were meant to be shown in either format, so why suddenly drop the format that fans had already spent years and hundreds of dollars collecting?

Angry calls were made, extremely negative reviews were left on Amazon, and sales for these two titles were abysmal. And though Warner Home Video never publicly acknowledged the controversy, the label nevertheless immediately took steps to learn from their mistake.

Warner Home Video's somewhat misleading pre-menu option screen, as seen on Foghorn Leghorn & Friends: Barnyard Bigmouth.
Starting with the very next wave of Super Stars releases, every newly remastered post-1953 cartoon was now being presented in both widescreen and full screen, allowing the viewer to make their choice on a special options menu as soon as the disc loads.

Three Super Stars releases--Foghorn Leghorn & Friends: Barnyard Bigmouth, Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote: Supergenius Hijinks, and Pepe le Pew: Zee Best of zee Best--offered the choice of aspect ratios. By the time the next title in the series came out, Porky & Friends: Hilarious Ham, a startling discovery was made. Widescreen versions were completely absent from the disc, despite text on the back cover indicating that they were included. Full screen versions had finally won out, but the Super Stars series as a whole was barely surviving, with lazy quality control, sloppy menu design, and lackluster cartoon selection plaguing what could have been a very promising product line. Only one more Super Stars title would come out, Sylvester & Hippety Hopper: Marsupial Mayhem, before the series uncerimoniously ended; once again, all of the cartoons were presented in full frame.

While the Super Stars series struggled to find its voice, the more collector-friendly Platinum Collection series of Blu-rays catered to the die-hard fans with commentaries, behind-the-scenes features, and other bonuses that were once the norm on Looney Tunes DVD releases. And as a clear sign of what collectors wanted, all of the cartoons from all eras were presented in full frame, including a couple of shorts that were cropped in that first Super Stars wave!

Despite Warner's attempts to rectify the situation going forward, there is nevertheless almost two dozen cartoons lost in the shuffle that were only presented cropped into widescreen--and sadly, a couple of these cropped versions have since turned up again on other releases. This problem needs to be fixed while physical media is still around.

The most important thing you as a consumer can do is let Warner Home Video know that you want to see the corrected versions released, either through a replacement disc or an all-new compilation.

To be very clear, the entire full frame images of the films were remastered. The transfers were cropped afterward while the discs were being authored. Warner does not need to be convinced to spend additional money to remaster them again, just to release them as they were originally remastered!

In the past, Warner Home Video readily corrected issues on general retail releases that only concerned a select few--especially in the realm of aspect ratios.

In August 2001 the label faced criticism when it only offered a special edition DVD of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in full screen. Enough consumers complained to the point that Warner quickly released a "special widescreen edition" just three months later--offering a choice. And a number of the studio's Stanley Kubrick movies have been made available in both director-preferred full screen editions and theatrically correct widescreen editions, so Warner is no stranger to respecting artistic intent.

Warner had previously offered replacement discs to make amends for mistakes on releases for Superman: The Movie, the 1960s Batman series, Popeye boxed sets, and yes, even Looney Tunes compilations. There is definitely a precedent for the studio wanting to do right by die-hard fans.

And it's important to reiterate that the entire full frame images of these films have already been remastered, so it would cost Warner nothing to "fix" these cartoons on future releases.

If you'd like to write a physical, heartfelt, good ol' fashioned snail mail letter, Warner Home Video's general address is below. Time and time again it has been shown that personal physical letters carry a great deal of weight when trying to contact a big, faceless corporation.

write to the studio at:
Warner Home Entertainment
Attn: Family Entertainment
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522

More direct, immediate messages can be conveyed to the studio on Twitter. There is no guarantee that anyone with any authority will reply or even read your tweet, but it will nevertheless make your feelings known, and being posted publicly might make more people aware of the situation.

tweet the studio at:
@WBHomeEnt

In addition to Warner Home Video proper, one other entity that should be made aware of the issue is Warner Archive, the label's imprint of specialized, collector-minded, burn-on-demand releases. Warner Archive is a little more interactive on social media than their faceless big brother, and it would not be outside the realm of possibility for a "corrected" compilation to be handled through them.

tweet Warner Archive at:
@WarnerArchive

The studio can also be indirectly contacted through its Facebook page, although it's even less likely that anyone would read messages there than they would on Twitter. Warner's page does not have a "post on their wall" type of function where people can post random messages whenever--so you would have to "follow" their page, wait until they post something related to a home video release (don't be picky on the genre), and then respond in the comments section of the post.

you can follow the studio on Facebook at:
warnerbrosent

(Warner Home Video also used to maintain a specific Facebook page for its "classic animation" releases, but it has more or less been abandoned.)

#FinishTheWabbit
And you're of course under no obligation to, but if you do plan to post messages on social media, feel free to incorporate our site's #FinishTheWabbit campaign, where we're trying to urge Warner Home Video to get the rest of Bugs Bunny's catalog remastered and properly released (uncut and uncropped).

If you'd like, include the hashtag "#FinishTheWabbit" in your Facebook and Twitter messages, or you can also post our #FinishTheWabbit graphic that lists the sixty classic Bugs cartoons still left to release.

A direct link to our image for your saving or posting needs can be found here: http://www.dohtem.com/bugs/bugs60left.jpg

Hopefully, if enough people politely tweet, write, and protest, Warner Home Video will see that there is enough of a market out there to release corrected versions.

Unfortunately, such a technical, specific issue has affected what are usually regarded as some of the worst cartoons of the classic Warner Bros. studio era, but they are still nevertheless representing what is inarguably the greatest animation franchise ever. History, especially film history, should never be presented incomplete.

The following are the cartoons that were cropped on the two DVDs, including listings of where each one had been previously made available in full screen. Cartoons that have since been corrected on subsequent disc releases are noted, and cartoons that were in production before the 1953 studio shutdown--and therefore before any widescreen production whatsoever--are also noted.

Lumber Jack-Rabbit (1953) (pre-shutdown cartoon)

Wince Upon a Time (WHV Laserdisc, 1994)
Marvin the Martian: 50 Years on Earth! (WHV VHS, 1998)
Marvin the Martian: Space Tunes (WHV VHS, 1999)

Design for Leaving (1954) (pre-shutdown cartoon)

Elmer Fudd's Comedy Capers (WHV VHS, 1986)
Superior Duck (WHV VHS, 1998)

Stork Naked (1955) (pre-shutdown cartoon)

Looney Tunes Video Show #5 (WHV VHS, 1982)
Daffy Duck: Tales From the Duckside (WHV VHS, 1992)
Duck Victory: Daffy Duck Screen Classics (WHV Laserdisc, 1993)
Superior Duck (WHV VHS, 1998)

This Is a Life? (1955)

Yosemite Sam's Yeller Fever (WHV VHS, 1993)

Dime to Retire (1955) (pre-shutdown cartoon)

Daffy Duck's Madcap Mania (WHV VHS, 1988)

Napoleon Bunny-Part (1956)

Bugs & Friends (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1998)

Bedevilled Rabbit (1957) - CORRECTED!

A Salute to Mel Blanc (WHV VHS, 1985)
Hare Beyond Compare (WHV Laserdisc, 1994)
Stars of Space Jam: Tasmanian Devil (WHV VHS, 1996)
Stars of Space Jam (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1997)
Looney Tunes the Collector's Edition: All-Stars (WHV/Columbia House VHS, 1999)
Taz's Jungle Jams (WHV VHS, 2000)
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One (WHV Blu-ray, 2011) - FIXED!
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One (WHV DVD, 2012) - FIXED!

Ducking the Devil (1957) - CORRECTED!

Stars of Space Jam: Tasmanian Devil (WHV VHS, 1996)
Stars of Space Jam (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1997)
Taz's Jungle Jams (WHV VHS, 2000)
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One (WHV Blu-ray, 2011) - FIXED!
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One (WHV DVD, 2012) - FIXED!
Best of Warner Bros.: 50 Cartoon Collection - Looney Tunes (WHV DVD, 2013) - FIXED!

Apes of Wrath (1959)

Stars of Space Jam: Bugs Bunny (WHV VHS, 1996)
Stars of Space Jam (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1997)
Taz's Jungle Jams (WHV VHS, 2000)

People Are Bunny (1959)

A Night at the Movies 1959: The Young Philadelphians (WHV VHS, 1982)
Bugs & Friends (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1998)

Person to Bunny (1960)

A Night at the Movies 1960: Ocean's 11 (WHV VHS, 1982)
Stars of Space Jam: Daffy Duck (WHV VHS, 1996)
Stars of Space Jam (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1997)

From Hare to Heir (1960)

Bugs & Friends (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1998)

Lighter Than Hare (1960)

Bugs & Friends (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1998)

Daffy's Inn Trouble (1961)

Bugs & Friends (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1998)

The Million Hare (1963)

Bugs & Friends (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1998)
Looney Tunes the Collector's Edition: Cartoon Superstars (WHV/Columbia House VHS, 2001)

Mad As a Mars Hare (1963) - CORRECTED!

Bugs & Friends (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1998)
Marvin the Martian: 50 Years on Earth! (WHV VHS, 1998)
Marvin the Martian: Space Tunes (WHV VHS, 1999)
Looney Tunes the Collector's Edition: Wabbit Tales (WHV/Columbia House VHS, 2001)
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One (WHV Blu-ray, 2011) - FIXED!
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One (WHV DVD, 2012) - FIXED!

Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare (1964) - CORRECTED!

Bugs Bunny: Truth or Hare (WHV VHS, 1992)
Stars of Space Jam: Tasmanian Devil (WHV VHS, 1996)
Stars of Space Jam (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1997)
Taz's Jungle Jams (WHV VHS, 2000)
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One (WHV Blu-ray, 2011) - FIXED!
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One (WHV DVD, 2012) - FIXED!

The Iceman Ducketh (1964)

Bugs & Friends (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1998)

False Hare (1964)

Bugs & Friends (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1998)

Suppressed Duck (1965)

Bugs & Friends (WHV Japan Laserdisc, 1998)

How bad is the cropping? View the gallery below to see for yourself. In most cases, the full screen images are from older VHS releases or television broadcasts, hence the lower resolution and faded colors. For the sake of comparison we have placed the widescreen images into a "letterbox" format so you can see exactly what is present and what is missing from each version.

For more examples, please check out cartoon historian and film restoration artist Thad Komorowski, who posted a detailed message about the issue on his blog back when the DVDs first came out. Some of Thad's screen shots even famously made their way onto Frustrated Fowl's product page on Amazon. Thad knows a thing or two about preserving and respecting correct aspect ratios in classic animation, as he would later take Olive Films to task over incorrect framing on their Betty Boop releases (to the point where the label listened).


Daily Variety article scan courtesy of Bob Furmanek. Be sure to check out the 3-D Film Archive, where Bob and Jack Theakston detail the history of the widescreen format, particularly how various Hollywood studios adapted to the change.

Cartoon production timeline is according to Thad Komorowski via his amazingly researched WB Production Number Project.


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