Wednesday, September 15, 2010

DVD Review : Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl

Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl

(Released August 10, 2010 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Sometimes, WHV makes my job easy… especially when they release a DVD collection that exactly mirrors another DVD collection, save for subject.

Such is the case with Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl. Having previously reviewed “Looney Tunes Superstars: Bugs Bunny Hare Extraordinaire” HERE, all I need do is change a few words, names, and episode titles. …Neat, eh?

Once upon a time, animation enthusiasts had a “Fairy Godmother” in the form of Warner Home Video. Once each fall, our “Fairy Godmother” would wave her magic wand and a wondrous package called “The Looney Tunes Golden Collection” would magically appear at the retail store or online provider of our choice!

For six glorious years (2003-2008), we were graced with FOUR FULL DISCS of classic animated shorts and extras galore.

Commentary tracks by animation figures and historians, isolated music scores, featurettes highlighting specific characters or other aspects of Looney Tunes lore, “lost” bits from the fabled Warner Vault (…or would that be the iconic WB Water Tower?) remnants of the legendary “Bugs Bunny Show” (ABC 1960) – a “Holy Grail” for the “first generation” of TV animation fans. …At one point, there were even LIMITED EDITION MINI-LITHOS included with the package!

Lo, this was truly the finest DVD package, animation had to offer!

And our Fairy Godmother, by the name of Warner Home Video, did not stop there. By similar magic would appear Hanna-Barbera series packages, extensive (though not quite complete) Tom and Jerry packages, and thrice did she dare to venture OUTSIDE her own realm to offer all of the Black and White Max Fleischer / Paramount Popeye theatrical cartoons. We loved our Fairy Godmother – and, apparently, she loved us too!

Then, we must have “told a lie”, “eaten a forbidden apple”, or pissed her off with our whiney Internet comments, because… IT ALL STOPPED… or was severely curtailed.
Despite our pleas, our Fairy Godmother did not return… or maybe she morphed into a cheap, clueless bean counter. After 2008, the Looney Tunes Golden Collections ended. Popeye has seemingly ended. And Hanna-Barbera series were limited to being lumped into “Saturday Morning Cartoons” collections or packages decidedly inferior to previous releases. To be fair, “Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection” (2009) was a true highlight – and a harkening back to the Glory Days – but that was more of an anomaly.

Repackaging of Scooby-Doo and Tom and Jerry (Still incomplete!) became the order of the day. No amount of wishing upon stars could reverse WHV’s falling from “first” to “worst”. …Nice fairy tale motif to tell the same sad story as in the Bugs review, huh?

This leads us to “Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl”.
It is an odd “middle ground” into which this release falls, as we shall see in this review.

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

Main Menu Background Music: Main Menu background music is not too loud (a frequent complaint of mine with Warner sets), but is an odd and inappropriate modern recreation of a Vaudeville style tune. This comes across as unnecessarily jarring. The corresponding Bugs Bunny set made use of the ACTUAL Main Looney Tunes Theme with the title sub-theme for the Bugs short “Hare We Go”. Why wasn’t something similar done here?

The Number of Shorts vs. the Price: Fifteen cartoons may seem like a lot, until you consider that (at the rate of three shorts per a theoretical half-hour show), you are only getting the equivalent of FIVE SHOWS! That’s not very much for an MSRP of 19.98.

The Extra Features: There are NO extra features! This is mitigated by the extraordinary amount of such features on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections. But, still for the price, something could have been attempted. At the very least, a few short commentary tracks, as were done in the past.

Robo-Promos: “Robo-Promos” is my term for advertisements that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu. They are unavoidably inflicted upon the viewer before “getting on with the show”, prompting me to add this new category to my CONS list. This was particularly annoying, given the small amount of actual program content that comprised the set, even though you can “zip” through them if you wish. At least there are only two of them here. Other Warner sets have had up to FOUR!

Too Many Warnings: Like Disney, Warner has lawyered itself to excess. A more recent result of this is that, when the program content ends, there are ELEVEN (I’ll repeat it for effect: ELEVEN!) warnings against copyright violations and the like – and in more languages than anyone purchasing this DVD would be likely to comprehend!!! I can certainly understand ENGLISH, SPANISH, and even FRENCH, but this expansive journey into multi-lingual legalese includes various Asian and Arabic languages! WHY? This excessive exhibition kicks in the moment the final cartoon ends and runs for 2:10 (…or about ONE THIRD the running time of some of the later cartoons!). Thankfully, you are able to skip through these, if you wish. …And you WILL wish!

The PROS:No Double-Dipping: Considering that there have been SIX Looney Tunes Golden Collections – some of which containing nearly as many Daffy Duck cartoons as are found on this set – WHV is to be commended for releasing 15 (count ‘em fifteen!) Daffy Duck cartoons that have NOT YET been released to DVD! It could have been so easy to have simply done otherwise.

The Talent: Some of the very best talents in the history of theatrical animation are featured in this collection, even if some of their later efforts included here are not fully representative of them at their best.

Directors: I. (Friz) Freleng, Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin (who I believe did the BEST Daffy Duck of the 1940s!) and the severely underrated Robert McKimson.

Writers: Warren Foster, Michael Maltese, Tedd Pierce – and the also-underrated John Dunn (…who stepped into the breach when Foster and Maltese moved-on to Hanna-Barbera) and Dave Detiege.

Music is by “Classic Carl Stalling”, Milt Franklyn, and the also-also-underrated William Lava – who had the sheer misfortune to follow Stalling and Franklyn.

And, of course, “Voice Characterizations” are by the great Mel Blanc – with additional roles by Arthur Q. Bryan (as Elmer Fudd), Daws Butler, June Foray, and Robert C. Bruce. Read about another of Bruce’s performances for Warner Bros. in THIS REVIEW.
Menu and Navigation: Menu navigation is very easy. The Main Menu image of Daffy is attractive (though somewhat exaggerated), with a nice WB Water Tower background image, similar to the outer packaging pictured above.

Image Quality: I don’t really know how to rate this category. I begrudgingly regard it as a “PRO”, but this is how I see it…

It would seem that, starting with the sixth cartoon of the set, 1954’s “Design for Leaving”, they appear to have been remastered in some sort of WIDESCREEN effect!

Unlike MGM and Disney (and even later Columbia Three Stooges shorts), I was not aware that any of the Warner Bros. animated shorts were released to theatres in widescreen but, apparently, this would seem to be the case.

If true, however, I wonder why WHV waited until THIS series of releases to start getting “historically accurate”. (The same situation prevails with the concurrent BUGS BUNNY collection!)
After all, there were six previous Golden Collections – and Warner DID release the MGM TOM AND JERRY and DROOPY shorts in widescreen, when they were originally produced that way. So, if this was the case, why didn’t the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies get the same treatment in other DVD releases?

Adding to my initial belief that WHV has indulged in some video trickery, is the fact that the TOP AND BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN IMAGE look to be cut off – or, are far too close to the frame than I recall from nearly a lifetime of viewing these cartoons. Such is not the case with the widescreen DVD releases of DONALD DUCK, TOM AND JERRY, and DROOPY cartoons of the later 1950s that WERE produced for widescreen Cinemascope viewing.

In these cartoons, credits might appear at the VERY TOP (or bottom) of the screen and, if (say) a tall character was wearing a HAT, said hat is cut off at the top of the screen. You can’t help but notice this.

Now, having recently gotten a widescreen HD TV, I must confess that I LIKE the widescreen effect, especially when compared to the standard (full-screen?) image of the first five shorts of the collection.

But, something is still awry when viewing them this way.

Thad Komorowski discusses and illustrates this better than I ever could HERE.

And, the ultimate “PRO” for “Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl”…

The Shorts:

Notice that, true to character, Daffy tries to grab a greater share of the limelight even here. Some of these shorts are not actual “Daffy Duck cartoons” – but, instead, fall under the “Bugs Bunny” banner. These will be noted as such.

Tick Tock Tuckered” (Clampett, 1944): Habitually late for their jobs at a WWII era defense plant, Porky Pig and his roommate Daffy Duck adopt an “Early-to-Bed” policy and resolve to get a good night’s sleep. Everything, from noisy cats, to rainstorms, to the Moon itself, conspires against the pair in this hilarious outing.

Nasty Quacks” (Tashlin, 1945): No Director or “Supervisor” was credited on this one. A grumpy, middle-aged single father made the mistake of giving his darling spoiled daughter a loud and obnoxious little black duck as a pet. Dad spends the cartoon trying to rid himself of the pest. It ends badly – for Dad! I’d say, this is the best cartoon in the collection.

Daffy Dilly” (Jones, 1948): Daffy tries cash in on a large reward for making a dying tycoon laugh. But first, he must get past the tycoon’s butler, who is determined to keep him out. One can’t help but wonder that, if the butler is denying entrance to Daffy (and, presumably, others that are there to administer life-saving laughter), is he actually out to kill the tycoon? Ahhh, let’s not think so hard. A rare later WB cartoon with a no-humans, all-animal cast.

Wise Quackers” (Freleng, 1949): Rather than be shot by hunter Elmer Fudd, Daffy offers himself up to Fudd as a SLAVE! Some very funny gags, despite the unfortunate implications (some very overt) of slavery. WHV is to be commended for including this one.

The Prize Pest” (McKimson, 1951): Porky wins Daffy as a prize. Daffy scares Porky with a pair of false teeth and his “Jekyll and Hyde Routine.” Yep, that’s all there is. Not bad, considering its limited premise.

Design for Leaving” (McKimson, 1954): The quintessential McKimson “Daffy as Fast-Talking Huckster”. While Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng excelled in the greedy and “resentful-of-Bugs” Daffy, McKimson made this version of the character his own. While Porky Pig was the usual victim, this time it’s Elmer Fudd who gets the business in the form of having his home remade into the “Push Button House of Tomorrow”. Lots of great gags, culminating in the classic… “DON’T EVER PUSH THE WED [red] ONE!”

Stork Naked” (Freleng, 1955): With TWO appearances in the concurrent Bugs Bunny set, we get the STORK again here. Busy bird, that Stork. This time, he starts out sober and gets more and more soused with each delivery – and its requisite celebration. Observe that the Stork starts out speaking in Mel Blanc’s ACTUAL VOICE, and then lapses into the expected slurring voice as the cartoon – and his rate of inebriation – progresses. Daffy and Daphne Duck are the last stop on the route – and Daffy will do ANYTHING to prevent the delivery of another bundle of joy.

This is a Life?” (Freleng, 1955): A Bugs Bunny cartoon. And this REALLY IS a Bugs Bunny cartoon in every sense, with Daffy relegated to the role of jealous bystander. Host Elmer Fudd “surprises” Bugs on a parody of the old “This is Your Life” TV show. Audience member Daffy does little more than grumble that HE should have been the honoree. When his spouting becomes intolerable, Granny (also in the audience) whacks him with her umbrella. Past incidents with both Elmer and Yosemite Sam (courtesy of stock footage clips) remind the pair just how much they despise the Rabbit – and they give him a packaged BOMB as a going-away gift.

At the cartoon’s end, Daffy finally stops has passive complaining and takes the “gift”, which he feels should have been his all along… and BOOM! I suppose that five decades after its production, Daffy can finally claim this as a “victory”, as it turns up on “his collection”, though he contributed so little to it.

Dime to Retire” (McKimson, 1954): A wonderfully absurdist entry where Porky Pig takes advantage of the “Ten-Cent Room” offer at Daffy’s motel. Once the Pig is settled, Daffy looses a MOUSE into the room, and charges $5 for a tough cat to rid Porky of the mouse. (Can you see where this is going?) With escalating charges, we then get a DOG to get chase away the cat, a LION to run off the dog, and ELEPHANT to squeeze the lion out of the room… and finally back to a MOUSE to scare away the elephant. Once again, we have the McKimson fast-talking, shifty Duck at his best. Story is by Sid Marcus, who should have written much more for WB.

Ducking the Devil” (McKimson, 1957): The Tazmanian Devil has escaped from the zoo, and a huge cash reward is offered for his capture. Daffy (“I may be a COWARD, but I’m a GREEEEDY coward!”) aims to collect. A very different dynamic exists between Duck and Devil – where Daffy is not nearly as “in-charge” of the situation as Bugs usually is. This cartoon appears to have sparked a regular running feature of the DAFFY DUCK COMIC BOOK in 1963-1964, which had Taz after Daffy.

Thanks to DVD clarity and freeze-frame, we can see the REST of the newspaper from which Daffy reads about the reward for Taz. What looks like actual articles are present, referencing such historical figures as President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ralph Bunche, Dag Hammarskjold, and Gamal Abdul Nasser.

People are Bunny” (McKimson, 1959): A Bugs Bunny cartoon. Daffy tries to collect the reward for the “first rabbit” turned in to a television hunting program. Along the way, Bugs and Daffy both have side-adventures with TV prize giveaway shows. Bugs gets a cash prize, while Daffy gets whacked with an umbrella (again) and run over by a speeding motorcycle. Daws Butler plays a good parody of Art Linkletter. After more TV studio misadventures, Bugs somehow talks Daffy into a bunny-suit and gets the reward, as Daffy gets a beakful of buckshot.

Person to Bunny” (Freleng, 1959): A Bugs Bunny cartoon. Written by Michael Maltese. “Cedric R. Burrowes” interviews Bugs Bunny for his TV program. Oddly, they never actually do a parody title of “Person to Person” except for the cartoon’s title. Daffy and Elmer Fudd arrive to cause distractions. We get such standards as Daffy being conned into wearing a bunny-suit (again!) to be shot by Elmer, and Elmer repeatedly running into and out of a hollow log – out over a cliff. Daffy dances with recycled footage from the classic “Show-Biz Bugs” – and ends the cartoon with a “Ralph Kramden-esque” case of stage fright.

Daffy’s Inn Trouble” (McKimson, 1961): Daffy and Porky as competing Western innkeepers. Daffy’s schemes to ruin Porky (Are you ready for this?) continually backfire on him. Far from a classic, but another one that’s not so bad, considering its limitations.

The Iceman Ducketh” (Phil Monroe, 1963): A Bugs Bunny cartoon. After the great Chuck Jones / Michael Maltese “Duck Season/Rabbit Season” trilogy, it is very strange indeed to see DAFFY HUNT BUGS with a gun, but that’s exactly what happens here, in a somewhat attractively designed winter setting – with a long-forgotten ‘60s television commercial reference thrown in to boot. This has a running time of 6:16 down from the Golden Age of “Seven Minutes-Plus” running times. …Add your own comment here.

Suppressed Duck” (McKimson, 1965): In this final entry of the collection Daffy is once again HUNTING – which is probably some indication of just how badly the character lost its way. That said, this is an unexpectedly good (for the time) cartoon that pits hunter Daffy against a large, cowardly – but wily – bear. Much of the humor stems from the fact that the hunt is SEVERELY REGULATED by the rangers in charge. If nothing else, it strongly resembles (at least in PLOT, if not execution) a “Donald Duck vs. Humphrey Bear” cartoon. Daffy would endure MUCH WORSE than this during the period, so enjoy it for what it is.

Hey, the collection ended without a single “Daffy/Speedy” entry! …Thank you!

Overall:Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl” is a mixed bag, with more to like than to “run away from”. Though far fewer in number than in the corresponding Bugs Bunny collection, the later cartoons simply do not approach the older ones in overall quality – but this should not be news to anyone familiar with Looney Tunes. By this time, the gags are tired, the pacing is slow, and the scripts are too talky – which is an odd thing to say, when Mel Blanc is doing the talking, but the difference is all too apparent.

Still, there is something to like about all of them. And, as noted earlier, it is a definite PLUS that Warner chose to include these, rather than re-package the already-released and better-known classics. Indeed, I hope to see MORE of these on future volumes. Yes, even the “Daffy vs. Speedys”. …Can’t be complete without ‘em!

Indeed, this is a nice retrospective of the “career” of Daffy Duck… from loud and obnoxious loutishness, to fast-talking hucksterism, to cowardly resentfulness, to whatever it was he ended up as. Hunter? Mexican mouse catcher? Vague, all purpose foil? Can anyone pin down his character at this odd final stage?
The “widescreen matter” is open to debate. Overall, I like it… despite any shortcomings.

The issue of “number of cartoons vs. list price” will also vary by viewer, as discounted prices can be found by anyone with a search engine.

Strictly speaking for myself, I find the complete and total absence of “Extras” to be the greatest negative – especially as WHV has already and routinely shown us just how WELL they can be done.

So, get this set for the nonce… and just hope that our Fairy Godmother returns someday.


ramapith said...

Gosh, I hope *I* don't end up as a "vague, all purpose foil" one day!

Joe Torcivia said...

Don’t look now, but I think I already have!

One day you’re a “loud and obnoxious lout”, or a “fast talking huckster”… and BAM!

It just kinda sneaks up on you!