Sunday, November 02, 2008

Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 6
DVD review by Sombrero Grande

You can think of the Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 6 DVD set as a cross-section of Looney Tunes cartoons and a Warner Bros. animation sampler platter. Though the DVD cover states there are 30 "cartoon classics" in this two-disc set, there are actually 38 total cartoons encased within, though labeling all of them as "classics" is a real stretch.

As a "cross-section" of Looney Tunes, this set offers up cartoons ranging in time from 1935 (A Cartoonist's Nightmare) through 1968 (Norman Normal). The bulk of the shorts are from the 1940s and '50s and cover topics from wartime America, capitalist propaganda and the baby boom to just plain ol' Looney Tunes wackiness.

The "sampler platter" idea is evident in the fact that these discs contain a light sprinkling of all the characters the Warner Bros. cartoons are known for (make that "almost all," as you'll find no trace of classic characters like Yosemite Sam, Marvin the Martian or the Tasmanian Devil on this set).

The first disc is titled "Cartoon Superstars" and features a few cartoons starring Bugs Bunny and Foghorn Leghorn, a handful of cartoons from Sylvester the Cat, Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck, and one cartoon each featuring the Road Runner and Pepé Le Pew. The second disc is called "One-Hit Wonders" and star none of the classic Looney Tunes characters, but offers up some unique and far lesser seen content.

Since it's hard to tell just from the box what cartoons specifically the set contains, I'll give you the full listing here:

Disc One: Cartoon Superstars:

1. Baby Buggy Bunny - Bugs Bunny takes in a baby, not realizing he's really a bank robber in disguise.

2. Broom-stick Bunny - Bugs Bunny tangles with a witch on Halloween night.

3. To Duck... or Not to Duck - Daffy Duck faces off against Elmer Fudd in the boxing ring.

4. Birth of a Notion - Daffy Duck runs afoul of a Peter Lorre caricature scientist when he tries hiding out in the scientist's house instead of flying south for the winter.

5. Crowing Pains - Sylvester and Foghorn Leghorn appear in this Henery Hawk cartoon, pitting the tiny chicken hawk against one another.

6. Raw! Raw! Rooster - Foghorn Leghorn's old college buddy shows up and cramps his style.

7. My Favorite Duck - Daffy Duck tries to ruin Porky Pig's camping trip. This is one of many Looney Tunes cartoons in which one character is just a complete a-hole to another for no apparent reason. You gotta love it.

8. Jumpin' Jupiter - Porky Pig and Sylvester go camping together in the desert, but their trip is interrupted by strange creatures from Jupiter (weren't these guys from Mars in another cartoon?) who abduct their whole campsite for research purposes.

9. Satan's Waitin' - A devil dog pushes Sylvester into losing each of his nine lives chasing Tweety.

10. Hook, Line and Stinker - A Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon. Not a particularly good one, though. The rather obnoxious musical score is a distraction and the gags are too obvious or nonsensical to really work. It's especially disappointing when you realize that this is the only cartoon featuring this classic pair on this set.

11. A Ham in a Role - A cartoon dog quits his Looney Tunes gig to play serious Shakespearean parts, but not if two mischievous chipmunks have a say in the matter.

12. Heaven Scent - A Pepé Le Pew cartoon, and a good one at that. "All you need is a little occupational therapy, like making love!"

13. Often an Orphan - Charlie Dog tries to convince Porky Pig to adopt him.

14. Dog Gone South - This is one of my favorite cartoons of the whole set. Charlie Dog (who knew he was such a "cartoon superstar"?) tries to take the place of a southern plantation owner's dog by repeatedly dressing the poor hound up as a "yankee."

15. By Word of Mouse - A German mouse visits America and learns all about mass production and mass consumption. Sylvester makes a few brief appearances to chase him, just enough to qualify this as a "humorous" cartoon, but by and large this is an odd piece of "edutainment" and pro-capitalism propaganda.

Disc One "Bonus Shorts":

1. Heir-Conditioned - When Sylvester inherits a fortune, his financial advisor, Elmer Fudd, urges him to invest in industry in an effort to raise the standard of living for everyone. A promotional tool for capital investment thinly disguised as a regular cartoon.

2. Yankee Dood It - Propagandist-shill Elmer Fudd returns, this time playing an elf king extolling the virtues of investing profits into new machinery to a shoe-maker. A exceptionally lame plot involving Sylvester and the "fact" that elves can be turned into mice tries to add some entertainment value to this "instructional" cartoon but just doesn't work.

3. Sniffles Takes a Trip - In this 1940 cartoon, Sniffles the Mouse heads to the country for some peace and quiet but finds life away from the city too frightening for his comfort.

4. Rabbit Rampage - A "sequel" to the classic Duck Amuck cartoon (in which Bugs Bunny wrecks havoc on Daffy Duck by serving as the malevolent animator for his latest cartoon). In Rabbit Rampage, Bugs is the victim, but the gags just don't work. The animator isn't Daffy, but slogging though this mess just to see who the animator is at the end is barely worth it. There's a reason why everyone remembers Duck Amuck and has forgotten this lame duck of a cartoon.

Disc Two: One-Hit Wonders:

1. Rocket-Bye Baby - A Martian Baby is accidentally sent to Earth, while a baby intended for human parents is sent to Mars.

2. Fresh Airdale - A kind-hearted cat watches a sinister dog named Shep get the credit for everyone else's good deeds. Evidently some cartoonist at Warner Bros. was venting some frustration here. It's also interesting to note that the cat here is the "good guy," a persona rarely dealt out to felines in Looney Tunes.

3. It's Hummer Time - It's not what you're thinking. This is essentially a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon with an anonymous black cat and humming bird serving as their stand-ins. One of my favorite cartoons of the set, this features the famous lines, "No, not 'Happy Birthday!' Not that!" and "No, not 'The Thinker!' Anything but that!"

4. Much Ado About Nutting - This is a beautifully animated Chuck Jones cartoon in which a squirrel goes to great lengths to try to crack a prized coconut open.

5. Goo Goo Goliath - A drunken stock accidentally delivers a baby intended for the Giant family at the top of the beanstalk to average-sized suburban parents.

6. The Draft Horse - An ordinary plow horse attempts to enlist in the U.S. Army.

7. Lights Fantastic - This is the most "dated" of all the 'toons in this set. It's a spoof on what must have been the most popular billboards in Times Square at the time. Only a few of the advertising icons of that era are still recognizable today, making this an odd, animated time capsule of sorts. Kids today just aren't going to "get" typewriter jokes.

8. Rookie Revue - The Looney Tunes version of "a day in the life" of the World War II era U.S. Army.

9. The Weakly Reporter - A spoof of World War II era newsreels describing inconveniences on the home-front.

10. Wild Wife - The Looney Tunes version of a 1950s housewife's day.

11. The Hole Idea - Professor Calvin Q. Calculus makes cartoon history when he invents the Portable Hole.

12. Page "Miss Glory" - A bellhop in a small town hotel falls asleep and has a Art Deco-style musical dream about working in a big city hotel.

13. Now Hear This - A sound effects-focused cartoon in which an elderly British man finds and uses one of the devil's horns as a hearing aid. Trippy stuff at the time, most likely, but today all its non-sequitors and gags feel rather forced and boring.

14. Norman Normal - A "groovy" late '60s cartoon in which Norman Normal (who seems to be channeling Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock from The Graduate) deals with some real heavy stuff, man. Like, his boss is a square, man, and, like, his dad is totally uncool, and, like, there's this party, and, like, the cartoon tries to be, like, all deep and heady and stuff, but it ends up coming off pretty lame. It's clear that someone must have been smoking something funny when they thought up this cartoon, leaving it hilarious but only in retrospect and for all the wrong reasons. Still, it's interesting to see the juxtaposition between this 1968 cartoon so soon on the set after the 1936 Page "Miss Glory," as well as the fact that it's immediately followed by...

15. A Cartoonist's Nightmare - In this black and white cartoon from 1935, an old-timey cartoonist falls asleep during a long night of drawing and is faced with all the cartoon villains he's created.

Disc Two "Bonus Shorts":

1. Wild Wild World - A "documentary" on life in caveman times. It's essentially a Looney Tunes version of The Flintstones.

2. Punch Trunk - An adorable five-inch-tall elephant wrecks havoc on the sanity of city-dwellers and circus animals.

3. Bartholomew Versus the Wheel - After a scooter runs over his tail, a dog becomes so obsessed with exacting his revenge on all wheels everywhere that he ends up stuck to an airplane wheel and flown into the Sahara Desert.

4. Sleepy Time Possum - When a young possum would rather sleep than do his chores, his father dresses up like a hunting dog to scare him out of his slumber.

All in all, Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 6 is a fine showcase for a wide array of Warner Bros. cartoons. For every dud, there's a fantastic cartoon that either you forgot about or had never heard of before.

This is a DVD set for the collector of animation history or the cartoon fan with very eclectic tastes. Folks looking specifically for "the one with Duck Dodgers" or "the one with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd singing opera" would be better off looking for a different DVD set.

Though I have several small gripes with Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 6, my biggest is that there are very few cartoons in this set I would consider true Looney Tunes "classics." Of course, by the time you get to the 6th installment of any DVD compendium, you've probably already used up all your best stuff, so perhaps it's not too bad considering there are still some scattered gems to be found.

The small gripes I have are with the packaging. The box is the same one I complained about in my Smurfs DVD set review being difficult to remove the DVD sleeve from. Also, on the front of the packaging, while for the most part all the characters on it are featured in a cartoon within (some, like Wile E. Coyote with his piano-key-grin, are even posed exactly as they appear in their cartoons), know that Michigan J. Frog's cartoon One Froggy Evening is not featured in this DVD set and his appearance on the DVD cover is a false advertisement.

If you're a Looney Tunes fan who isn't too choosy, or you're looking for a "cross-section" or "sampler platter" of Warner Bros. cartoon history, then consider Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 6 for a nostalgic trip back to Saturday mornings of long ago.


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