Friday, April 22, 2011

DVD Review: Looney Tunes Superstars: Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth

Looney Tunes Superstars: Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth

(Released November 30, 2010 by Warner Home Video)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth”?

Does that mean that all of Foghorn’s “friends” are “Barnyard Bigmouths” too? Or is this just an awkwardly worded title cooked up by WHV for the latest in its unsatisfying alternatives to the once great, but now discontinued, “Looney Tunes Golden Collections”? We’ll attempt to answer that, and many other questions, if you’ll stay tuned… or Blogged, or logged-on to this Blog… or whatever the proper term might be.

After the Tasmanian Devil (who appeared only a scant few times during the original theatrical run of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies – but achieved superstardom nevertheless), director Robert McKimson’s signature character was Foghorn Leghorn.

Foggy was indeed quite THE “Barnyard Bigmouth”, based on actor Kenny Delmar. In his earliest appearances he would literally never shut up, talking over other characters, slapping them, or bowling them over with sweeping gestures to accompany his verbal onslaught.

The cartoons included here, of post-1953 vintage, represent the more “sedate” (if one could apply that term to this character) Foggy. The obnoxiousness factor that made him so funny is toned down or outright eliminated to where he’s just another foil. Still, while he’s not Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck, there’s much to like about the character, and he gets his due in the first nine consecutive cartoons of the set, with his usual costars in tow: The Barnyard Dog, Henery Hawk, Miss Prissy, Egghead Jr., and the manic, slobbering weasel. The unrelated “Friends” take over for the remainder of the set.

In or out of the “barnyard”, and whatever their decibel level, these “friends” account for six out of the 15 cartoons contained herein. The Goofy Gophers, Elmer Fudd, The Honeymousers, and the Two Mexican Crows. The “Ralph Kramden Mouse” certainly qualifies as a “bigmouth”, but I know, because I once lived there, that there are no “barnyards” in Bensonhurst.

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

 The CONS:

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.

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 the use of 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 over two minutes (…or nearly 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!


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”. Warner sets have most often been the worst offenders in this regard. However, in direct contrast with nearly every WHV animated product DVD of the last two years, there are NO “Robo-Promos” to delay (or momentarily derail) your enjoyment of this set!

For the record, this is the FIRST TIME the category of “Robo-Promos” is listed as a PRO, rather than a CON! Good for you, WHV!

(Almost) No Double-Dipping: Considering that there have been SIX Looney Tunes Golden Collections – of FOUR DISCS per set, for a total of 24 discs chock full of Looney Tunes – WHV is to be commended for releasing FOURTEEN OUT OF FIFTEEN cartoons that have NOT YET been released to DVD! …Kinda makes you wonder why they couldn’t go for one more! (Yeah, I know… Never satisfied!)

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: The severely underrated Robert McKimson is finally showcased, directing 13 of the set’s 15 shorts. Joining him is I. (Friz) Freleng for the remaining two.

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

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. Oh yes… there are some additional music oddities that will be noted at the proper time.

And, of course, Voice Characterizations are by the great Mel Blanc – with additional roles by Arthur Q. Bryan (as Elmer Fudd), Daws Butler, and June Foray.

Menu and Navigation: Menu navigation is very easy. The Main Menu image of Foghorn is attractive
despite the anachronistic disco-inspired pose, with a nice WB Water Tower background image, similar to the outer packaging pictured above. The main Looney Tunes theme, complete with the “forward thrust sound” of the WB Shield, plays in an endless loop.

Image Quality: In previous releases, “Looney Tunes Superstars: Bugs Bunny Hare Extraordinaire” and “Looney Tunes Superstars: Daffy Duck Frustrated Fowl”, there was a notable controversy over the presentation of post-1953 cartoon shorts having been remastered in some sort of WIDESCREEN effect. (See the BUGS BUNNY REVIEW for more details!)

Initially, I’ll admit that it looks nice when viewed on a widescreen HD TV, but closer inspection reveals 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.

In an unusual bow to the hardcore fans, WHV offers an option to view the cartoons in either “Full Frame” (as we’ve long been accustomed to) or “Widescreen”! For the second time in this review, I must say: Good for you, WHV!

If the choice is not made within a certain amount of time, “Full Frame” automatically activates as a default. Meaning, don’t insert the DVD and walk away, if you desire the “Widescreen” option. You’ll find WHV has already made the selection for you.

Though, typical of today’s Warner Animation DVDs, even this step forward is not without its inconvenience. The CHOICE between “Full Screen” and “Widescreen” is ONLY offered BEFORE the display of the main menu. Meaning that you cannot “toggle” back and forth between the two options once the DVD is engaged.

I wished to see a cartoon in “Full Screen”, and then immediately after in “Widescreen” for comparison purposes. NOPE! Not so simple! You must completely disengage the DVD, and start it all over again – sitting through the disclaimer that discusses the “prejudices” that went into making cartoons in days gone by – before you can select the alternate viewing option.

Given this, I’ve tended to stay with “Widescreen”, as moving between the two options is far too time consuming for the “reward” involved.

And, the ultimate “PRO” for “Looney Tunes Superstars: Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth”…

The Shorts:

Cartoons starring a character or characters other than Foghorn Leghorn will be noted as such.

“All Fowled Up” (McKimson, 1961): Out of the (barnyard) gate, we get two of the main hallmarks of the Foghorn Leghorn series: A war of violent pranks between Foggy and the Barnyard Dog, and the implacable Henery Hawk trying to steal a chicken. Both mainstays of Foghorn’s “universe” are well executed in this outing, but it also points how relatively limited in scope his cartoons are when compared with Bugs or Daffy. I can only guess that Robert McKimson (or someone at Warners) thought that, if these two bits work so well individually, it’ll be “killer” if we COMBINE them! Given the positive end result, they weren’t far wrong.

“Fox Terror” (McKimson, 1957): A rare occasion for the great Michael Maltese to write Foghorn Leghorn, and does he ever make the most of it. Breaking with the established “Foggy-formulas”, Maltese gives us a “Wile E. Coyote-esque” fox, but with a verbal touch of Bugs Bunny, who is out to steal the chickens under Barnyard Dog’s protection. Aiding the Dog (if you can call it “aid”) is a hyperactive yet mute little rooster whose job it is to warn the Dog, by pulling a bell-cord labeled “In Case of Fox, Pull Rope”. The Fox counters by using an unwitting Foghorn to stymie or otherwise waylay the Dog, allowing the Fox to prowl about the henhouse. In what is strictly my view, this is one of the BEST Foghorn Leghorn cartoons of all time. Certainly, the best of the later efforts.

“A Broken Leghorn” (McKimson, 1959): Miss Prissy is derided by the other hens for never laying an egg. Foghorn decides to help the ol’ gal out by inserting an egg into her nest when no one is looking. Everyone is happy until the egg hatches, revealing a young ROOSTER! (Speaking with the voice of Tweety, no less!) Foggy spends the rest of the cartoon trying to eliminate the potential competition with the expected results. This short has a running time of 6:19, down from the seven-minutes-plus of better days past.

“Crockett Doodle Doo” (McKimson, 1959): Would-be woodsman Foghorn takes Egghead Jr, into the wild to teach him survival skills. Poor Foggy! Another of the “Foghorn Formula” cartoons.

“Weasel While You Work” (McKimson, 1958): Michael Maltese, in what must be one of his final Warner efforts before leaving for Hanna-Barbera, combines two “Foggy Standards” – battling the Barnyard Dog, and flummoxing the ravenous, hyperactive weasel. And he throws in a winter setting for additional variety!

This one falls among the very small number of Warner cartoons that employed “stock music cues”, rather than the more familiar cues of Carl Stalling and/or Milt Franklyn. Music is credited to “John Seely”, and many of these cues were regularly heard as part of THE QUICK DRAW McGRAW SHOW, which would have been assembled around the same time. The funny thing is, rights to these music cues (as opposed to the later, original, H-B owned music of Hoyt Curtin) are said to be the reason that THE QUICK DRAW McGRAW SHOW has never been released to DVD. If so, did anyone notice their inclusion here? I’d assume not, and thankfully so, because I’d hate to have that handful of Looney Tunes ALSO denied us on DVD for the same reason.

“Weasel Stop” (McKimson, 1955): Another, possibly the first, appearance of the ravenous, hyperactive weasel, but with a different guard dog – more shaggy overall, grey head and paws with brown body and brown floppy ears, laid-back voice by someone other than Mel Blanc, constantly whittles a stick, etc. The “new dog” actually changes things up a little but, in the end, it’s the same old antics with Foggy using the weasel to get at the dog. Nice ending shot of the weasel on the wrong side of the iris-out. Running time: 6:21. I didn’t think they’d “shortened the shorts” so much this soon.

“Little Boy Boo” (McKimson, 1953): With the onset of the coldest winter in years, Foghorn decides to court and marry Miss Prissy, so he can leave his drafty hovel, and take up residence in her warn and cozy coop. The catch is that he must be deemed as a good father to Prissy’s son Egghead Jr. Toward that end, Foggy indulges in baseball, paper airplane building, hide and seek, and chemistry set play – all to disastrous results. Clocks in at 6:43, so you can see the trend toward “shrinkage”.

This cartoon contains my favorite joke of the entire Foghorn Leghorn series. During the “hide and seek” bit, Foggy hides in a feed bin, while Jr. works up some calculations, walks off in another direction, and DIGS FOGGY UP out of the ground! Completely dismayed, Foggy walks over to the feed bin, where he originally hid – then stops before opening it. “No, I better not look! I just MIGHT be in there!”

“Banty Raids” (McKimson, 1962): Story by Robert McKimson and Nick Bennion. Running time: 6:19. A pint-size hip and, frankly, “horny” guitar-playing beatnik rooster infiltrates Foghorn’s barnyard by posing as an abandoned baby! Foggy adopts the lad, and tries to school him in the fine art of harassing the Barnyard Dog – but the poser sneaks off at every chance to make it with as many different hens as he can. We end with the Dog depositing Foggy into female garb and make-up – and MARRYING HIM to the beatnik!!!

As he is carried off to a fate the likes of which I’d rather not guess, Foggy protests: “But, I’m a ROOSTER!” “Don’t let it bug you, Man! Like, we can’t all be perfect!” replies the amorous little guy… as we fade out!

Whoa! I don’t know who Nick Bennion is – but I wonder why he and McKimson didn’t team up to write many more cartoons! They would certainly have made the “late-period” Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies a bit more interesting!

“Strangled Eggs” (McKimson, 1960): Running time of 6:19. All these years I thought that Looney Tunes that ran for less then seven minutes were cut for time and/or political correctness – when many of the later ones were just shorter to begin with!

Once again, Foghorn courts Miss Prissy to spend the winter in her nice warm house. The wooing is interrupted by a “baby” left on the doorstep. It is Henery Hawk! Prissy insists on raising him over Foggy’s uncharacteristically correct objections that he can’t overcome “being a chicken hawk”. Thus, we have Foggy trying to do away with Henery, while Henery does everything he can to devour Foggy! An interesting variation on several of the Foghorn Leghorn formulas.

With this, we bid adieu (…ad-doo-da-day?) to Foggy, and move on to “The Friends”…

“Gopher Broke” (McKimson, 1958): The Goofy Gophers drive the Barnyard Dog to insanity. A pig is witness to the spectacle and ends up in the psychiatrist’s office at cartoon’s end. Once again, we have a “John Seely” music score made up of much music heard on THE QUICK DRAW McGRAW SHOW.

This short should be noted among ALL cartoons for having a large balloon (…that lifts and carries the Barnyard Dog away) undergo a puncture – and LEAK SLOWLY, defying the cartoon convention of “violent decompression-propelled flight”!

“A Mutt in a Rut” (McKimson, 1958): “Rover”, an amalgam of the Barnyard Dog and Chuck Jones’ “Charlie Dog”, is swayed by a television program to turn against his loving master Elmer Fudd! An unfortunate mistake. Rover’s next mistake would be resorting to Wyle E. Coyote’s bag of tricks to eliminate Elmer… including “ONE ACME WILD CAT – Handle With Care”, and the unerringly defective dynamite detonation plunger!

This cartoon is notable in several ways. It is surely one of Arthur Q. Bryan’s last turns as Elmer Fudd. In addition to Bryan and (of course) Mel Blanc, Daws Butler speaks ONE LINE as a TV announcer. If one were to freeze-frame on the newspaper Fudd reads, there are stories of violent California rain storms and narcotics! And there is an on-camera shooting death of a grizzly bear!

This is actually a good cartoon for the period, which suffers from the short length of 6:18.

“Mouse-Placed Kitten” (McKimson, 1958): A husband and wife mouse suddenly find themselves with a baby kitten – in sort of a variation of “Strangled Eggs”. The mice are wise enough to leave the growing feline with a human, but trouble begins when they visit the cat, who is now all grown up.

“Cheese It, the Cat” (McKimson, 1957): The Honeymousers – a nicely played parody of guess what classic black-and-white era sitcom, features Daws Butler as the Gleason and Carney characters and June Foray as “Alice”. In this entry, “Ralph and Morton” try to sneak past a cat to get a cake from the refrigerator for Alice’s birthday. Butler is simply superb in this one!

“Two Crows from Tacos” (Freleng, 1956): “Manuel and Jose”, two dumb, sombrero-ed Mexican Crows are after a wiser, though similarly sombrero-ed, Mexican Grasshopper. In view of the occasional eruptions against the character of “Speedy Gonzales”, Warner is commended for including both this cartoon and the one that follows.

Some particularly violent gags – including a high-speed, head-on collision between the two crows and an extended “firecracker sequence”, in which the explosive changes hands several times before discharging on both crows – and a 7:12 running time allowing for the best use of said gags, make this a better than expected short. It is also noteworthy for a parting camera-hold of the “THAT’S ALL FOLKS” tagline over a nicely painted Mexican landscape background.

“Crows Feat” (Freleng, 1961): Manuel and Jose return to try to steal corn from Elmer Fudd. Encountering a scarecrow dressed in Elmer’s old hunting togs, we get the following:

Manuel: “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Jose: “Yeah, we see him in moving pictures, in a Chihuahua drive in!”

Manuel: “Yeah, he’s that gringo that’s all the time chasing El Conejo Bugs Bunny! Ha-Ha! I like that loco conejo! Heh-Heh!

Manuel (continues, to scarecrow): “Now, why you try shoot my friend Bugs Bunny, huh?”

Jose: “Go ahead, Manuel, give him a punch in the nose! He’s afraid from you! He don’t talk back!

Manuel (with club): “You gonna talk, or I gonna knock the stuffing out from you?

And he does! Jose tries on the scarecrow’s hat to further mock the as of yet unseen Elmer – and is conked by Manuel! By now you get the picture! Nice self-referential “Bugs and Elmer” stuff.

The “real Elmer” shows up, with his shotgun, and gets the best of the pair, blasting them every time! Though Fudd never speaks a word in this cartoon, it is without a doubt HIS MOST SUCCESSFUL APPEARANCE EVER! Just goes to show, it’s all in the adversary, folks!


While far from perfect, “Looney Tunes Superstars: Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth” is a vast improvement over the two previous releases in this series, and the concurrent “Tweety and Sylvester” volume that consists ENTIRELY of “double-dips” of Looney Tunes Golden Collection shorts.

The cartoons are (almost) all new to DVD. The “Robo-Promos” have been shelved. The widescreen issue has been dealt with in a way that should please all.

The issue of “number of cartoons vs. list price” will 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.


top_cat_james said...

Joe, I always assumed the closing line of "Banty Raids" was a riff on / homage to / rip-off of (pick one) the nearly identical closing line of a certain Billy Wilder comedy. Perhaps the working title of this cartoon was Some Like It Hot Wings.

And who could have imagined that Houn' Dawg was not only an ordained minister, but an early advocate of same-pecks marriage? (Okay, I'll stop now).

Joe Torcivia said...


You’ve just started off my morning (…and, by extension, the whole “Doo-Dah-Day”) with SUCH a laugh, I’m not even going to attempt a comeback!

Kudos, my friend! …And NEVER “stop”!