One of the many frustrations for fans of vintage cartoons has been their spotty availability on home video. Companies that specialize in public-domain releases have offered bargain vhs cassettes and DVDs for years, but the picture quality is iffy at best. Some major studio collections have remained on the proverbial shelves at Columbia, Paramount and other goliaths. Issues of political correctness have reared their head and prevented many Tom & Jerry and Tex Avery shorts from being released.

That’s why it’s cause for celebration that Warner Archive has issued Volume 3 of a series called Looney Tunes: Collector’s Choice. No one would argue that these are the best cartoons in the vault, but aficionados and completists should be very happy. Here are 25 newly mastered shorts, including such early Tex Avery efforts as b A Feud There Was, Cinderella Meets Fella and Egghead Rides Again. (Unfortunately, when Warner Bros. reissued some of these films theatrically they removed the original credits from the negatives so they carry generic Blue Ribbon main titles. If you don’t know they’re Avery’s work, you’re not going to find out from the films themselves. And yes, he’s billed here as Fred Avery because producer Leon Schlesinger didn’t approve of his directors using nicknames.)

Some of these selections are rare because they haven’t circulated widely in recent years and don’t have reputations, like Chuck Jones’ The Mouse on 57th Street or some mid-1930s entries inspired by songs in Warners’ Busby Berkeley musicals like Mr. and Mrs. Is the Name and Honeymoon Hotel. I’m always happy to see Jones’ coyote and sheepdog shorts like Sheep Ahoy and, getting back to basics, it’s fascinating to see how close he came to making the first definitive Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd vehicle, Elmer’s Pet Rabbit.

There is no definitive Flip the Frog cartoon but that doesn’t mean I’m not enthusiastic about the long-awaited Blu-ray collection now available from Thunderbean and Blackhawk Films. Years in the making, this is the latest endeavor from animation archivist Steve Stanchfield, who has combed the earth to find the best-quality negatives and prints of Ub Iwerks’ early 1930s series. That doesn’t improve the laugh quotient of these historic cartoons, which are more interesting than amusing, but they represent a momentous period in the annals of animation. Ub Iwerks, who personally drew most of Walt Disney’s breakthrough shorts Steamboat Willie and The Skeleton Dance, was persuaded to leave his friend from Kansas City and set up his own shop. He hired talented people, including animator Grim Natwick, a young Charles M. Jones (aka Chuck) and music man Carl W. Stalling (another Kansas City ex-pat). All of this is thoroughly discussed in a fact-filled booklet that accompanies the two-disc set. There are also commentary tracks for many of the films; I provide my thoughts about Movie Mad (1931), in which Flip briefly imitates Charlie Chaplin. (You’ll also hear from such experts as Jerry Beck, Mark Kausler, Milton Knight, J.B. Kaufman, and David Gerstein.) Bonus features include a look at Flip the Frog merchandise and original publicity materials.

I am embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to acknowledge Steve Stanchfield’s landmark release Flip the Frog: The Complete Series. For anyone who loves rummaging through animation history, it’s a must.

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