Review: Bugs Bunny 80th Anniversary Collection
Right off the top of my head, I can think of one entertainment-industry job that simply wouldn’t be worth the headache and heartache no matter how much it paid: Being in charge of deciding which Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons to release for home video. I say this because whoever ultimately makes that decision has to serve two completely different masters. On the one hand, you have obsessive fans like myself who simply want as many shorts as possible archived in some sort of logical order, be it grouped by character, director, or just chronologically. On the other hand, you have normal
people, who are perfectly content to own the greatest hits like “Robin Hood Daffy” and “One Froggy Evening” and maybe some of the better Road Runner and Tweety/Granny shorts.
If you’re wondering which group the Bugs Bunny 80th Anniversary Collection—recently released on Blu-ray disc and Kaleidescape—is supposed to appeal to, my guess would be that the folks at Warner Bros. did their best to split the difference. That’s a dangerous line to walk, but this new celebratory collection mostly manages to straddle it.
As the name implies, this isn’t a catch-all Looney Tunes archive collection, à la the previous Golden Collection DVDs and Platinum Collection Blu-ray discs. Instead, it’s a birthday party for everyone’s favorite wascally wabbit, collecting a reasonably representative sample of the best Bugs Bunny shorts from the past eight decades. (Actually, it
BUGS AT A GLANCE
Come for the 60 classic shorts, spanning Bugs’ career; stay for the profusion of extras, including a new retrospective documentary.
The vibrancy and detail of these old cartoons still holds up, despite a moderate amount of film grain.
There’s enough punch and sweetness in the mono soundtracks that you don’t need more than one channel to enjoy and appreciate their brilliance.
kicks off with “Elmer’s Candid Camera,” the final short starring Happy Rabbit before he would evolve into the Bugs we know and love in the second short in this collection, “A Wild Hare.”)
In the crowd-pleasing department, of the 60 remastered classic shorts included on the 80th Anniversary Collection, many fall firmly into familiar territory. The big hitters like “What’s Opera, Doc?” and “Baseball Bugs” are mostly all here, although there are a few no-brainers that are inexplicably missing, like “Little Red Riding Rabbit” and “Rabbit Hood.”
On the other hand, nearly half of the shorts in this collection have never appeared on DVD or Blu-ray in any form, much less remastered. The completist in me nearly jumps with joy to see under-appreciated gems like “Hare Lift” and “Rabbitson Crusoe” finally included in a high-quality Looney Tunes collection, especially given that Warner Bros. seems to have given up on releasing more Platinum Collections (for reasons we’ll speculate on in a bit).
Sure, I can gripe about the fact that only the first short in Chuck Jones’ wet-yourself-hilarious hunting trilogy (“Rabbit Fire,” “Rabbit Seasoning,” and “Duck! Rabbit, Duck!”) made the cut here (for what it’s worth, the other two were released on Blu-ray in the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2). But for every grumble of that nature, I have to concede some
appreciation for the fact that “Lumber Jack-Rabbit,” which was cropped to 16:9 for its DVD release, has been restored to the proper 1:33:1 aspect ratio. And it’s not alone. All of the cartoons included here are presented as shot, many of them with their original titles restored for the first time in decades.
So, on the balance sheet, I have to give kudos to WB for throwing us collectors a bone or 30, while also appealing to the casual Looney Tunes fan. That
said, if this release represents something of a template for future Looney Tunes home video releases (as I suspect it does), chances are good Bugs won’t get another shot in the spotlight for quite some time. And there are still oodles of Bugs Bunny shorts that have yet to appear on DVD or Blu-ray at all. Gems like “Apes of Wrath” and “Mississippi Hare,” as well as “Transylvania 6-5000,” the latter of which is noteworthy for being the final Bugs Bunny short directed by Chuck Jones in his original run with WB, and one of his last cartoons of the classic era.
As I said, though, the era of truly archival, non-themed Looney Tunes home video releases has probably come to an end, and that’s largely due HBO Max, which is home to the bulk of the major Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts that have yet to see a proper home video release. And indeed, almost all of them are restored, with audio and video that’s every bit as good as what you’ll find on Blu-ray or Kaleidescape.
Which is to say that if you grew up watching The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour every Saturday morning on ABC, you’ll be shocked by how well these old cartoons have held up in terms of vibrancy and detail. Sure, most of them sport some moderate level of film grain, as expected, but it’s rare that any of the shorts look noisy as a result. (Only “Baseball Bugs” comes to mind as an exception). I’m just grateful that in restoring these classics, WB didn’t go too far, as they’ve done in the past, applying too much noise reduction or digitally removing imperfections in the original negatives, like the occasional hair in the gate. Simply put, these shorts look like what they are—properly restored and archived film.
On the audio front, we’re of course limited to monophonic soundtracks for the shorts themselves. But still, there’s enough punch and sweetness in these old Carl Stalling scores and Treg Brown sound effects that you don’t need more than one channel to enjoy and appreciate their brilliance.
All of which, of course, raises an interesting question: If HBO Max has a more complete library of Looney Tunes shorts, all presented in quality that’s every bit the match of higher-bandwidth home video releases, why would you buy the Bugs Bunny 80th Anniversary Collection?
It’s all about the supplemental material. To call this release a collection of 60 classic animated shorts really only tells half the story. An equally big draw are the audio commentaries (29 in all), alternative music- or vocal-only audio tracks (4 in total), documentaries/featurettes (11 by my count), and a collection of 10 new Bugs Bunny cartoons that were originally created specifically for HBO Max.
Granted, most of the documentaries are carryovers from previous DVD releases, but Bugs Bunny’s 80th What’s Up Doc-umentary! is all new and is definitely worth
your time. And as far as I can tell, this collection is the only place you can watch it. Much of the footage cobbled together for the film is archival, and you’ve almost certainly seen snippets of the old interviews included herein elsewhere. But this is definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, because this one-hour feature does a better job than any Bugs Bunny retrospective I’ve ever seen of giving a thorough overview and understanding of the character’s genesis, evolution, and cultural impact.
Seriously, this one feature alone is almost worth the $35 (assuming you’re purchasing on Kaleidescape, that is—the Blu-ray collection will run you between $65 and $75). The fact that you also get 60 of the nearly 170 classic Bugs Bunny shorts (well, that number is actually exactly 170 if you count those early Happy Rabbit cartoons and proto-Bugs) is, needless to say, also a huge selling point. Throw in the audio commentaries and other supplemental snacks, and you’d be positively hare-brained to pass this one up.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.