It’s enough to make a cartoon lover’s eyes bug out. About half of the 67 shorts in the laserdisc set The Compleat Tex Avery and most of the 70 cartoons in The Golden Age of Looney Tunes, Volume 3 are — aOOOga! — new to video and (for now, at least) exclusive to disc. Although these compilations aren’t in CAV format, which means you can’t freeze-frame or slo-mo the exploding animals unless you buy a player with pricy digital effects, the picture quality still makes tape look smeary by comparison.
Arranged chronologically, the nine-hour Compleat Tex Avery gives the silliest of material a suitably absurdist archival cachet. It actually catalogs only the director’s years at MGM (Avery also worked at Warner Bros. and for Walter Lantz), but for his very best cartoons, this is one-stop shopping.
Bending the physics of movie reality was Avery’s obsession, and his anything-for-a-laugh inventiveness is both the strength and the Achilles’ heel of the Compleat collection. Amphetamine pacing makes for high hilarity whenever a wolf character launches into a double take, and you’ll be stunned at the adult sexiness Avery got into a busty chorine named Red. Still, the undeniably inspired gags don’t build from anything; they’re imposed on characters who aren’t themselves engaging.
Though there’s more punch-line-fixated Avery in The Golden Age of Looney Tunes, Volume 3, the best of these Warner Bros. shorts hinge on personality. Of course, with 140 cartoons in the first two volumes, the selection here is less golden; an hour is devoted to the unfunny Egghead, whom the liner notes call ”the most neglected” of Warner’s early ‘toon stars. You’ll know why. Stick with Bugs, showcased on a disc side dissing everybody from Elmer Fudd to the Nazis in 1945’s ”Herr Meets Hare.”
Weighty as the Looney sets are, you can’t amass all the best old Warner cartoons by Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and Robert McKimson on laserdisc simply by lapping up MGM/UA’s collections. That’s because Warner Home Video controls the crème de la crème, the shorts made from the late 1940s through the ’50s. Fortunately, Warner has just unveiled the thematic, roughly 100-minute-long Looney Tunes collections — After Dark, Assorted Nuts, and Curtain Calls — plus profiles of Bugs in Winner By a Hare, Daffy in Duck Victory, and Porky Pig in Ham On Wry, each with cartoons new to video. Most of the discs include one or two misfires, but that’s what chapter-skip buttons are for. The overwhelming majority are those magical indelibles you remember from childhood: Elmer singing, ”Kill the wabbit!” in a Wagnerian opera spoof; a toad who’ll tap-dance only for his master; a mincing Bugs giving an ”innnnteresting” monster a mousetrap manicure. With timing that rivals the best of Keaton and Chaplin, the strongest cartoons here hold up to dozens of viewings. Nothing else in cartoon history will make you feel as animated. Tex Avery: B+ Golden Age, Volume 3: B After Dark: A- Assorted Nuts: A Curtain Calls: A+ Winner By a Hare: A- Duck Victory: A- Ham on Wry: B+