A Gold Mine of Cartoon Classics


No one can sit through the full 8 hours and 51 minutes of "The Golden Age of Looney Tunes--70 Complete Uncut Cartoons, 1933-1948" (MGM/UA, five discs, $100) without turning into one. So don't try it. Sample a few at a time to fully appreciate these classics.

This laser package, produced by George Feltenstein and Jerry Beck, is one of the most intelligently put together retrospectives yet on laser. The transfers to video disc are exquisite, breathing new life into the scratched and mutilated cartoons shown on TV and in movie houses over the last few decades.

Taken disc by disc, these pioneering animated cartoons featuring Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety and Sylvester & Co., by way of Mel Blanc's ubiquitous voice, are witty reminders of how clever Warner Bros. cartoonists were during the '30s and '40s.

Among the real attractions are the disc-long tributes to each cartoonist: Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng.

The best place to start is Side 9, "Hooray for Hollywood," with seven cartoons lampooning the glitter capital and its stuck-on-themselves celebs. Devilishly clever caricatures of popular actors and musicians of the day, from Clark Gable to Leopold Stokowski and the Marx Brothers, make these cartoons as vicious a satire on Tinseltown as ever were put on the screen. Real treats include a spoof of the old Cocoanut Grove (Freleng's "The Coo Coo Nut Grove") and Bugs making sport of the Oscars (Clampett's "What's Cookin' Doc?").

You might want to pair specific cartoons with feature films: "Thugs With Dirty Mugs," a delicious spoof of Warner Bros. gangster films, with "Public Enemy"; Daffy Duck in "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery," with the "Dick Tracy" serials; "Corny Concerto" goes well with "Fantasia," since it unmercifully spoofs that Disney marriage of animation and classical music; "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" goes well with "42nd Street"; "A Tale of Two Kitties" spoofs Abbott and Costello, although Tweety Bird steals the show.

And just when you think that's all, folks, there's more: "Tom & Jerry Classics: 14 Great Cartoons" (MGM/UA, one disc, $35) and "Woody Woodpecker Collector's Edition, Vols. 1 and 2" (MCA, one disc, $25).

Before creating the Saturday morning TV animation industry, Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera won seven Academy Awards for their Tom & Jerry cartoons created over a 20-year period.

This MGM/UA laser disc does a nifty job summing up their contribution: The animated cat and mouse are as funny today as they were 50 years ago in their debut cartoon, "Puss Gets the Boot." The seemingly endless variations on the cat-and-mouse theme are miniature masterpieces of acting and timing.

Included are the Oscar-winning "Yankee Doodle Mouse"; the hilarious "Heavenly Puss," in which Tom must win Jerry's forgiveness to enter the Pearly Gates; "Salt Water Tabby," and "Quiet Please!," in which silence is certainly more than golden.

While Warner Bros., Disney and "Tom & Jerry" made cartoon history in the '40s, Walter Lantz and his wife, Grace Stafford, were honeymooning in 1940 when a persistent woodpecker hammered on their cottage roof. A year later, Woody Woodpecker made his debut in "Cracked Nut" and that crazy laugh became part of every youngster's vocabulary.

Woody Woodpecker is an acquired taste, but these eight cartoons offer a good sampling.

At a time when one of the most celebrated theatrical releases is a feature-length animated film and the best-selling laser is "Fantasia," these releases are good reminders of how important it was to have Donald Duck or Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry around to keep us laughing between features.

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