Tex Avery’s cartoons don’t look or sound like anyone else’s. I haven’t laughed out loud so much since I watched Warner Archive’s first collection of Avery shorts last year. There may not be as many bona fide classics in Volume 2 but that doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable. Laughter is a tonic and if there were ever a time we all needed that it’s right now.

Tex Avery Screwball Classics Vol. 2  opens with one of his masterpieces, Little Rural Riding Hood. This was the apotheosis of his shorts featuring a randy wolf responding to a sexy, red-headed nightclub singer. Every time you think he’s gone as far as he can go with the wolf’s wildly exaggerated responses he goes further. That was Avery’s stock in trade and a mark of his genius.

A good British documentary from 1988 by John Needham is well worth revisiting on the disc. Colleagues like Chuck Jones, animators Michael Lah, Ed Love, voice artist June Foray, and storyman Heck Allen, along with author Joe Adamson (who wrote the book Tex Avery: King of Cartoons) express their admiration for Tex and help us understand why he was unique. They downplay their own contributions and give Avery full credit for the cartoons that bear his name.

It doesn’t take much effort to explain why they hold up so well: they’re incredibly funny. Do yourself a favor and buy this disc—if not for a friend then for yourself. You can thank me later.

[For a deep dive into the world of cartoon voices, world-class expert Keith Scott offers a film-by-film rundown at Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research website: ]

Warner Bros. has never believed in celebrating its cartoon characters’ birthdays, but they made an exception last year, resulting in The Bugs Bunny 80th Birthday Collection. There are sixty restored, high-definition cartoons spread over three discs, including many beloved gems—and a lot of good, solid cartoons that don’t get as much attention as they deserve.

The eyes have it! Tex Avery did it first, in the 1940s

Listen to Mel Blanc’s patter routine as a catcher in Baseball Bugs, or Bea Benadaret’s overpowering performance as Red in Little Red Riding Rabbit and you’ll see why these cartoons were so popular in the 1940s. When was the last time you saw Edward G. Robinson and Peter Lorre caricatured? It’s time to introduce a new generation to these archetypes in Racketeer Rabbit. They’ll also meet the hairy creature who was later christened Gossamer as Bugs becomes a chatty manicurist in Hair-Raising Hare.

The bonus features on this set are mostly repurposed from earlier Warner discs, but it’s a treat to have so many great cartoons looking and sounding this good. Hail to Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson and everyone else who made these wonderful shorts, including Carl W. Stalling, who provided the indelible music scores. If it’s been a while since you heard Stan Freberg as Junior Bear or listened to an orchestral rendering of Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse,” it’s time you reacquainted yourself with the glory days of Bugs Bunny.

Bugs Bunny encounters Yosemite Sam in the newly-made Harm Wrestling

And to bring us up date, there are also eleven brand-new Looney Tunes featuring Bugs, Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd, and even Beaky Buzzard. They are made in the spirit of the originals, and how well they succeed is all in the eyes of the beholder. I, for one, am delighted to see these characters enjoying new life (and, hopefully, reaching a new audience) in the 21st century.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024