Looney Tunes Golden Collection

As animation blossomed in the 1930s, one front-runner emerged: Walt Disney. But not everyone cottoned on to his clean, morally-centred, largely realistic vision of the cartoon world and a handful of his prodigies jumped ship for the animation department at Warner films. And while Disney began to focus on animated features, the Warner animation department worked on making animated shorts that would run theatrically ahead of Warner pictures. And, as this four-disc DVD collection explores, the animators at Termite Terrace, as their dilapidated shack on the Warner lot was called, were given largely free rein as long they finished on time and on budget. The rotating staff created more than 1,000 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts; 56 of these from their golden age — featuring animators like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng — are beautifully restored. Organised into themes (one Bugs, one Daffy and Porky and two assorted), these DVDs hit most of the high points ("Rabbit of Seville," "Duck Amuck") as well as a nice selection of early animation to highlight the evolution. But through extensive documentaries and commentaries some fascinating themes emerge: the role of this cast of characters in the American psyche; the counter-revolutionary tendencies of Bugs Bunny; the universal simplicity and strict order of the wordless Road-Runner and Coyote; the sheer absurdity and familiarity of Daffy's sense of entitlement. This collection could stand on the remastered animation alone, but great depths are here to be explored too. The genius of Mel Blanc, who does almost all the voice characterisations in the animation department's history, is one. Another is the music of Carl Stalling — all accompanied by the 90-piece Warner staff orchestra — who invented most of the clichés of animated scoring. Different characters and key elements are covered in short features, while a 1975 documentary called "The Boys from Termite Terrace" provides history along with a new documentary, "Irreverent Imagination," while a Cartoon Network doc, "Toon Heads: The Lost Cartoons," explores the history of lost and rare animation. Add to that commentary from historians and performers on many shorts, and this is the grail of animation history, only frustrating because the more Looney Tunes you remember, the more you'll miss from this sampling. The just-released Premiere Collection includes 28 of these shorts in a less-expensive option. Plus: greetings from Chuck Jones, music only track, excerpts from live action movies and TV appearances, stills, pencil tests and schematics. (Warner)