Next to laughing gas, there’s no giddier high than watching vintage Warner Bros. cartoons. And no, Doc, we don’t mean the refined, droll, comedy-of-manners fare the studio perfected in the ’50s. We mean the weawwy scwewy stuff — the raw, early, hyperkinetic work of fledgling directors elated at smashing the cuddly Disney mold.
Plenty of tape compilations have sampled the Warner characters’ formative years, but there’s never been one so sweeping, or cheap (at least per cartoon), as five-disc Looney Tunes set. It packs in nine hours of nitro-laced mayhem, with each of 70 ‘toons — more than a third of them not available on tape — instantly accessible in numbered disc ”chapters.” This collection also has something more valuable than sheer volume: true programming savvy. Without any alternate-soundtrack commentary, animation scholar Jerry Beck and producer George Feltenstein have framed each of the 10 disc sides as a themed mini-retrospective, deftly tracing the development of one style, period, director, or character.
One of the funniest sides features seven shorts built around ever-sharper caricatures of Hollywood celebs. (The capper is ”Slick Hare,” a Bogie send-up with waiter Elmer Fudd scrambling to serve him ”fwied wabbit.”) Four more sides define the styles of Warner’s star auteurs: Tex Avery’s penchant for puns and one-liners, Bob Clampett’s surreal nightmare settings, Chuck Jones’ way with wide-eyed expressions, and Friz Freleng’s love of musical parody.
It’s a generous package, though there are blemishes. The earliest short is from 1931, not ‘33, despite the title. Sometimes the image looks cropped at the edges. And why were several cartoons pictured on the box omitted from the discs? Oh, well. In such a huge, smartly choreographed slapstick survey, it’s okay if the disc programmers slip on a banana peel or two. A