The timing for Warner Archive’s Looney Tunes Collector’s Choice Vol. 2 couldn’t be better. Our friends at Max recently put out an announcement that their entire selection of classic Warner cartoons would be leaving the service, only to almost immediately follow up with a retraction saying that statement was made in “error”. More likely the response was swift and scathing enough to walk back sinking the service even further. The original cartoons are evergreen classics that just can’t be kept down, and as I wrote in my review of Vol. 1, we’re in a bountiful era where they’re readily available to the general public again. So they’ll remain intact on Max (for now) and also be available on Boomerang, and they’re still broadcast almost daily on MeTV. Even the Discovery Family Channel is getting into the act with a weekday Looney Tunes block.
However, this hoopla does illustrate a point we all often stress: streaming is a means for the studio to be in complete control and anything and everything can go away at any given time. Physical media ownership puts you in control, which is why these collections catered to rounding up all the cartoons not available on disc are wonderful to have and worth supporting — warts and all.
Looney Tunes Collector’s Choice Vol. 2 offers a total of 25 classic Warner cartoons. Five more than the first volume, and a wider array, this time spanning from the late ‘30s to early ‘60s. Films by Tex Avery and a single black-and-white cartoon by Norm McCabe are added to the mix of cartoons from Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin, Bob McKimson, and Art Davis. (Bob Clampett remains absent, but as noted before, almost all of his classic color cartoons were already released on Blu-Ray.)
The selection of Chuck Jones cartoons here offers a career-spanning overview that highlights the director honing his style to perfection (and sometimes missing the mark in the process). There are several cartoons with stories written by Mike Maltese when he first started out, showing he still had a lot to learn about the craft. Many are directed by Friz Freleng and illustrate just how much Maltese had to gain being paired exclusively with a more sympathetic director.
Or, to put it another way, there aren’t as many bona fide hits as the first volume. Which is to be expected given the outright classics have almost been exhausted by this point in the high-definition era. But as a means of getting as much of the Warner cartoon library out as possible, this single disc succeeds just fine. And that is what we collectors want. There are enough genuine classics to satisfy everyone, and the remaining potpourri exemplifies how no other studio’s output was ever as rewarding. There’s always a forgotten favorite to be found, and even their duds are still better than the competition’s average.
Presentation-wise, Vol. 2 earns the same marks as Vol. 1: except for two newly restored cartoons (Brother Brat and Ghost Wanted, which both look superb), these are the same masters seen on Max and MeTV. “Photoshop titles” are still here, zoomed-in to remove the worst errors. Many of the pre-1948 titles still recycle audio from the “Dubbed Version” Turner versions made in 1995. (This carelessness results in The Eager Beaver being slightly out-of-sync, consistent with the version that appears on streaming services and MeTV.)
On the positive side, the picture quality is mostly jaw-dropping across the board (with two exceptions), showing a level of detail never thought possible with careful restoration that retains the original animation and artwork.
Since it’s almost all pre-existing masters, everyone knew what to expect, so there’s no room for much disappointment. When or if the time comes for more careful inspection, though, these issues all need to be appropriately addressed. With all of this said, however, it’s hard to not sympathize with the tiny Warner Archive department’s position that they can either put these mostly more than satisfactory transfers out, or not put out any Looney Tunes.
So… onto the cartoons themselves! Presentation is strictly alphabetical, which makes the sampling a bit more random and a “party mix” than the first disc, which was grouped by character. And, as always, the opinions expressed below are exclusively my own.
Behind the Meatball (1945, Frank Tashlin)
Frank Tashlin continues a genre of wartime canine comedies he started when he ran the Screen Gems cartoon unit (Dog Meets Dog, The Bulldog and the Baby), showing how much the Warner environment, with a better crew and Mel Blanc, benefitted all the directors. “Let me explain—…”
Brother Brat (1944, Tashlin)
Tashlin reportedly hated Porky Pig, but all of the cartoons he did with the ham are pretty great. This one, long requested to be restored (it’s the last color Tashlin besides “The Major Lied Til Dawn” – and the only remaining Tashlin featuring a “star” character – that hasn’t seen release in the digital era), has him babysitting a burly riveter’s psychotic son.
Catty Cornered (1953, Friz Freleng)
There’s no denying a lot of the Friz Freleng-Warren Foster Tweetys run on auto-pilot, but this is an ingeniously layered entry with Tweety bird-napped and held for ransom by gangster Rocky, with Sylvester attempting to “rescue” him. It exemplifies the attention to characterization missing from many later cartoons, and which is almost certainly absent from the many attempts at other studios to mimic Freleng’s two-character comedy style. Flawless timing throughout.
Cross Country Detours (1940, Tex Avery)
Going through Tex Avery’s Schlesinger years, every viewer is bogged down by an onslaught of spot-gag cartoons, mostly of the travelogue variety, which are a far cry from his best work. However, this 1940 entry is an exceptional gem, where every gag is uniquely funny (the best being “a close-up of a frog croaking”). Avery put a lot of extra work into this one, as evidenced by how much live-action reference footage he shot, the most notable bit, of course, being a stripper for the lizard.
Daffy’s Southern Exposure (1942, Norm McCabe)
First of a trio of Daffy Duck cartoons directed by Norm McCabe that try to make the mallard less unhinged and something more recognizable as a cartoon star, here in the time-honored role of the animal who didn’t prepare for winter. Like many Max restorations of the black-and-white titles, this one looks a little over-processed in comparison to the surrounding color titles, but is still perfectly watchable.
I often wonder how good McCabe could’ve gotten had he continued after he returned from the service and wasn’t hampered by the demands of a low-budget, all-black-and-white unit (just see how Clampett soared when he broke free). His Daffys, The Ducktators, and especially Confusions of a Nutzy Spy are all classics. His last cartoons show he was on the same page as Jones regarding graphic design with his layout artist Dave Hilberman. Ultimately, Warners violated the law that said employers were supposed to give men returning from the service their exact job back (the one that allowed Myron Waldman and Tom Johnson to return as head animators at Famous Studios and ultimately led to Jim Tyer leaving). They did offer McCabe a job animating again but he turned them down (Norm said in later years that if he wasn’t unlearned, he’d have fought harder to get the director job back).
Ding Dog Daddy (1942, Freleng)
A horny dog (voiced by Pinto Colvig) tries to bang a statue. Overwritten dud most noteworthy for the phenomenal backgrounds painted by Paul Julian.
The Eager Beaver (1946, Chuck Jones)
Frantic entry with beavers “damning” a river, and Jones starting to learn the comedic value of using less drawings to get from pose to pose.
Fair and Worm-Er (1946, Jones)
The ultimate chase cartoon: worm chases apple, bird chases worm, cat chases bird, dog chases cat, dogcatcher chases dog, wife chases dogcatcher, mouse chases wife, Pepe Le Pew chases everyone. Ingenious in its sharp posing and writing, the Jones-Maltese partnership fully matured.
Fin ‘N Catty (1943, Jones)
Jones figuring out that a neurotic feline in pantomime (this time one with aquaphobia trying to catch a goldfish) can bring out the best in character acting and posing.
From Hand to Mouse (1944, Jones)
A cynical twist on the fable of the lion and the mouse that’s a little talky but also quite thought provoking. “Why is the mouse such a prick?” “Why is the lion so stupid?”
Ghost Wanted (1940, Jones)
Playing off the “non-sinister sprit” theme popularized by the Topper films, this Jones outing is merely a special effects bonanza with the added bonus of Tex Avery voicing the fat ghost. The most interesting thing about it came some four decades later. Century-long cartoon veteran Izzy Klein wrote a Cartoonists Profile piece for the animation union newsletter that detailed Casper the Friendly Ghost’s origins. Jones wrote in a snotty letter chiding Klein for not crediting Ghost Wanted in any way. Klein and Dave Tendlar (who despised Casper), in kind, fired back their amazement that he had a hand in the creation of a character at a studio he never worked at.
Greetings Bait (1943, Freleng)
The Wacky Worm returns in this Oscar-nominated outing. The cost of the underwater effects prompted Leon Schlesinger to decree no more of them: so the following year, Bob Clampett obliged by having Hare Ribbin’ pointlessly take place mostly underwater. Most notable for being the first Warner cartoon release that Carl Stalling incorporated Raymond Scott music into.
Hamateur Night (1939, Avery)
Fan favorite entry with Egghead and the fat laughing hippo (voiced by Tex himself) tormenting the m.c. (voiced by Phil Kramer) and performers of a two-bit talent show.
Hare-Breadth Hurry (1963, Jones/Maurice Noble)
The final, and most bizarre, pairing of Wile E. Coyote and Bugs, with the latter filling in for an injured Road Runner. A cartoon as burnt out as the bird allegedly is. The irony is Jones panned Bob Clampett’s Bugs as too aggressive, and yet Jones’ chatterbox Bugs here treats the Coyote with undisguised active contempt. Arguably the worst of all of Jones’s cartoons – but a real curio…
A Hick, a Slick, and a Chick (1948, Art Davis)
Hick mouse Elmo wins back his gal Daisy Lou from Blackie by skinning a cat through sheer drunken stupidity. The Art Davis unit offers some of Warners’ last vestiges of bouncy, lively animation (largely by Emery Hawkins) that’s just a sheer delight to watch and study. Also features one of the all-time greatest, most satisfying punches in cartoon history. “Don’t get nosey, junior!”
A Hound for Trouble (1951, Jones)
“Atsa-matta for you!” The final Charlie Dog cartoon, and maybe the best remembered. Paisan Mike Maltese voices the sickened customer (and the angry passerby). This cartoon made acclaimed film critic Manny Farber’s list of best films of 1951.
Hiss and Make Up (1943, Freleng)
Dog versus cat, and a non-partisan canary, in an early template for that defining characteristic of “mature” Warner cartoons: violent animals that just hate each other on principle. Notable for introducing the spinster character that would eventually become Freleng’s Granny.
I Wanna Be a Sailor (1937, Avery)
The earliest cartoon on this collection, with Avery’s style still in embryonic form and not quite as free as his black-and-white Looney Tunes could be, given there were more executive eyeballs on the more expensive Merrie Melodies. Still, he purposefully makes the cutesy bird characters, the kind so prevalent in the competition’s cartoons, as obnoxious as possible.
The Leghorn Blows at Midnight (1950, Bob McKimson)
Foghorn Leghorn “officially” overtakes Henery Hawk as the star character in this unnoteworthy, but nonetheless funny, entry.
Lickety-Splat (1961, Jones/Levitow)
The closest a Warner cartoon came to a Kubrick movie (and ‘60s Kubrick at that). Starts as a normal Road Runner cartoon, but Wile E. Coyote’s overambitious dynamite dart scheme ends up haunting him for the rest of the cartoon. One of the best in the series that shows Jones could still deliver even this late in the game.
One Meat Brawl (1947, McKimson)
Director McKimson comes into his own with the big jowls, pinched heads, hammy acting, random physical beatings, and jaded leads that defined the joys of his late ‘40s work with Warren Foster and Manny Gould. Clampett left and Art Davis took over his unit during production, so Davis’ animation of Grover Groundhog dancing stops mid-scene and is taken over by the inimitable Rod Scribner.
The Penguin Parade (1938, Avery)
Again, as with I Wanna Be a Sailor, a well-designed musical cartoon more charming than it is funny. Looking at Avery’s filmography (and this goes through to MGM), you’ll find Avery quite often did cartoons to “cool off” after going completely nuts on a previous one, before going nuts all over again (in this case, he had just made Daffy Duck and Egghead).
Rabbit Rampage (1955, Jones)
Notorious follow-up to the immortal Duck Amuck, which Jones and Maltese recognized immediately (privately) as one of their masterpieces… So it begs the question, regarding making this cartoon: “WHY!?” Unfailingly unfunny, save the bit with distorted Bugs. “Continue to draw me like this, buddy, and we’ll both be outta woik!” One of the first to go back into production when the studio reopened, with Ben Washam animating the entire cartoon while things were getting reorganized.
The Rebel Without Claws (1961, Freleng)
Bloodless latter day Tweety noteworthy for being one of the only utterances of a cuss word in a Warner cartoon, in reference to the musical Damn Yankees. Still gets a surprising amount of uncensored airplay these days, probably due to the fact that we never actually see a Confederate flag.
The Wacky Worm (1941, Freleng)
The first cartoon with the irritating Jerry Colonna-inspired Wacky Worm… and you’ll be glad Friz only did two of them! While the picture quality of most of these restorations done around 2020 is just fine, this one really could use a complete revision as it looks genuinely awful. It always seems to be a rule that the films that need the most restoration attention are usually among the weakest.
In all, despite its issues, Looney Tunes Collector’s Choice Vol. 2 is another hit for the Warner Archive classic animation collection. Die-hards can at least appreciate that these mostly exemplary restorations are accessible beyond lowly rips off broadcast and streaming platforms. Any given fan will find at least a dozen all-time favorites here and probably a few they didn’t know they had. With the selection of character-centric shorts whittling down (only Daffy, Tweety, Sylvester, and Foghorn have a significant number of unreleased titles left), future volumes are going to get more and more interesting as they’re filled with more obscure offerings—so these discs are right at home with the Warner Archive Collection. A complete-in-one collection will probably never happen, so let’s get whatever we can while we can.