Looney Tunes Superstars: Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote Supergenius Hijinks
(Released October 04, 2011 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia
Did YOU know that “Supergenius” was one word?
To say that the “Looney Tunes Superstars” collections released thus far have been a mixed bag would be an understatement – but, “Looney Tunes Superstars: Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote Supergenius Hijinks” takes us to new levels of… um, “bag-mixing”.
But, what it DOES offer are Road Runner shorts of three completely different types – and from three completely different sources and / or eras.
The package offers no distinction or breakdown of these disparate offerings, but I would group them thusly:
• 2010 CGI shorts, averaging just over 3 minutes apiece. (Total of 3.)
• Modern-Era theatrical shorts: 1990s-2000s. (Total of 3.)
• Mid-1960s Era, Post-Chuck Jones theatrical shorts. (Total of 9.)
The theatrical shorts reflect lengths consistent with their era.
It almost seems as if this set was considered as a dumping ground for “All Things Road Runner” that would not be considered “Classic” by animation enthusiasts.
What is “classic” is forever open to interpretation, but that’s not even grammatically or structurally correct! And, no… CGI animation hasn’t been around long enough to boast its own “classics”. Even if you disagree, and cite “Toy Story” and the like, it still wouldn’t include these. And despite my (perhaps misplaced?) fondness for the ‘60s Warner theatricals, even I cannot call them “classics”… At least not and maintain any credibility.
As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS. Many of them will be lifted almost whole cloth from past reviews. …At least they make it easy on me!
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.
Now, I’ve said this exact same thing about every previous “Looney Tunes Superstars” collection that I’ve reviewed – but it’s all the more outrageous here, because the 3 CGI shorts are about FOUR MINUTES shorter each than a standard theatrical! You could have fit ONE OR TWO additional theatricals in the space left over by the shorter length of the CGIs!
The Extra Features: There are NO extra features! This is mitigated by the extraordinary amount of such features on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections and the new Looney Tunes Platinum Collection for 2011. 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.
• An ad for the new “Looney Tunes Show” DVD.
• A DVD ad for an animated series based on MAD Magazine.
• Promo for the new “Looney Tunes Platinum Collection” in Blu-ray.
The Robo-Promos run for a combined 3:05 (As long a one of the CGI shorts!). You can always zip through them – but it is still annoying to have to do so.
No Double-Dipping: A “mixed bag of items” it may be, but NONE of these shorts have previously appeared on the series of Looney Tunes Golden Collections or other animation sets!
Menu and Navigation: A more “generic” menu series, with all of the popular characters – and not “Road Runner specific” – is employed for this collection, indicating that this will be the standard for all future collections in this series.
Menu navigation is very easy, though there are THREE menus of shorts (for a total of five on each menu). I’m not sure why, because the shorts are not delineated by the three categories mentioned above. It’s simply “five titles per menu screen”, when they can all fit on one.
Image Quality: In previous releases, 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!)
Check the Road Runner’s beak at the very beginning of “Sugar and Spies” in the widescreen version. The front tip of his beak is cut off, at the far right of the screen. Though, overall, the Road Runner shorts fare better in this respect than those in previous releases.
Still, you have a choice. 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”!
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.
Let’s say 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 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: Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote Supergenius Hijinks”…
The Shorts (Separated by Category):
“Coyote Falls” (03:00): Wile E. and a BUNGEE CORD. No good can come of this!
“Fur of Flying” (03:06): A kids’ bike, a “Mega-Motor”, a football helmet, and a ceiling fan are cannibalized by Wile E. to make a handle-barred helicopter helmet. Nothing good comes of this either – especially when continental defense missiles get involved!
“Rabid Rider” (03:07): The “Acme Hyper-Sonic Transport”, a two-wheeled scooter with handlebars is Wile E.’s latest device to ensure that things end badly. Some nice western scoring help punctuate the wild goings-on.
Analysis: I am NOT the biggest fan of CGI animation. In a private moment of candor, I would very likely admit to actively disliking it. Aw, hell… I don’t like it at all!
However… I LIKED THESE! (…Yeah, surprised me too!)
The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote are probably the perfect characters to make the transition from traditional cell animation to this new medium, likely because of the action involved. Admittedly, seeing more than three in a row would surely wear thin, but Warner Bros. packaged just the right number to keep me entertained, without becoming bored and/or annoyed.
Director Michael O’ Callaghan does a fine job allowing you to see the feathers and fur of our Road Runner and Coyote, delivers perfect facial expressions, and the painfully funny violence achieves a new level in this form. He also adds a marvelously plaintive WHIMPER to Wile E.’s otherwise nonexistent vocabulary – making the “hurts” all the more humorous.
“Whizzard of Ow” (Produced by Larry Doyle, Directed by Bret Haaland 2003): Runs (07:10) Over the desert, two wizards fight a climactic battle destroying each other with their magic – resulting in the “Acme Book of Magic” and a black cat falling into the hands of Wile E. Coyote – the latter immediately tearing Wile E. to shreds. Lots of violently funny magic-gags ensue, and fans of the “Beep Beep the Road Runner” comic book might even note the return of Matilda!
This may actually be the single most, out and out riotous short in the collection! Ironically, even more in the mold of classic Chuck Jones than…
“Little Go Beep” (Produced and Directed by Spike Brandt, 2000): Runs (07:56) Written by the late and very much lamented Earl Kress, we see the heretofore untold backstory of (very) Young Wile E. Coyote – most notably, why he never speaks …outside of comic books and Bugs Bunny cartoons, that is! Stan Freeberg is on hand to voice Wile E.’s dad “Cage E. Coyote”. Unexpectedly funny moment: When Li’l Wile E. is “frozen in mid running pose” in order for his bogus pseudo-Latin zoological name to display, he LOOSES HIS FOOTING when “unfreezing” due to his inexperience in such matters! Earl Kress… WE MISS YOU!
“Sugar and Spies” (Robert McKimson, 1966): Runs (06:24) The run of Mid-1960’s theatricals BEGINS with the LAST ONE ever made. Someone should explain that.
In the sixties, spies were everywhere… even here! This is my favorite of the Road Runner cartoons of this era, though it clearly exhibits the feel of a contemporary DePatie Freleng Enterprises cartoon, far more than a Warner production, from its title card to a uniquely sixties music score by Walter Greene – evocative of the DFE “Inspector” shorts.
Decades before that “Acme Book of Magic” dropped into Wile E.’s hands, he is slammed in the face with a Spy Kit, discarded by a short but sinister looking cloaked figure on the run from the authorities. (Said “sinister figure” also looking as if he were lifted from the “Inspector” series.)
“Clippety Clobbered” (Rudy Larriva, 1966): Runs (06:20) Opens with a nice sixties-stylized credits sequence, punctuated by the word “OUCH!” in different fonts throughout! Wyle E. receives a chemistry set, with which he creates Invisible Paint, a formula that turns him rubbery so that he might achieve acceleration by bouncing of rocks and cliff faces, and high-powered fuel for a pair of hand jets. We end with an equally stylized closing where the Road Runner appears for a final “Beep! Beep!” within the “field of yellow” of Wile E.’s eyes!
“Out and Out Rout” (Rudy Larriva, 1966): Runs (06:19) In another nod to sixties culture, Wile E. builds a “custom drag racer” to help catch his quarry. Not as successful as his misadventures with the “Spy-mobile”, but more effective gag-wise than the Giant Robot Coyote!
“Shot and Bothered” (Rudy Larriva, 1965): Runs (06:35) Begins with an extended chase through a lengthy series of pipes leading to the expected cliff drop, with the same sequence revisited later in the cartoon by Wile E. on a skateboard. (Way to save on animation!) Other unique aspects include an unexpected SERIES of boulders dropping upon Wile E. when only ONE was expected, Wile E. zipping out of several scenes with a whirling trail of motion lines behind him, and the words “THE END” displaying on-screen before the final explosion takes place.
“Highway Runnery” (Rudy Larriva, 1965): Runs (06:49) The cartoon begins with a red stylized map of dotted-line roads leading away west from a lone tall building at the far right. Then, unrelated gags involving a junky jalopy, a giant rubber band, and a skateboard with an attached sail propelled by an electric fan lead up to my most favorite gag of the “Larriva Era”.
Wile E. bands several sticks of TNT to an alarm clock to make a time bomb, and places said time bomb inside a giant egg. Not considering for a moment that his quarry is a MALE Road Runner, he figures the bird will sit on the egg to hatch it… and BOOM!
Sure enough the Road Runner DOES sit on the egg and, miraculously, it hatches! A curious creature emerges with the head of a Road Runner, complete with blue head plumage, the body of an alarm clock, and legs that send him directly toward the Coyote to the beat of a Jay Ward-borrowed mechanical sound effect. Needless to say, the “bird” explodes, leaving Wile E. to climb out of a huge blast crater – staring in annoyance at the remains of the original alarm clock.
What puts this completely over the top for me is that the alarm clock rings and the frustrated Wile E. smashes it with a rock… only to have the ALARM CLOCK (sans TNT) explode as if it WERE the TNT! The sheer audacity and outrageousness of such a gag is a breath of fresh air, when contrasted with the standard Warner Bros. type of gag, which was becoming tired by 1965.
…Yes, I just spent three paragraphs describing a single gag! So what?
“Boulder Wham!” (Rudy Larriva, 1965): Runs (06:49) Another clever opening title sequence displays the word “BOULDER”, then a big rock falls to the ground center screen, and the word “WHAM!” displays in response. And another entry with a single plot theme: The Road Runner is across a chasm from Wile E. Coyote, and the Coyote spends the cartoon inventing increasingly unconventional ways to breach the gap. His attempts include a tightrope, pole vaulting, and a trampoline – eventually leading to hypnotism and even karate! And, for a short titled “Boulder Wham!”, the count of “Boulders Falling on Wile E.” totals only TWO! You think there would have been more…
“Hairied and Hurried” (Rudy Larriva, 1965): Runs (06:49) Unrelated gags include the use of a snow-making machine which covers the desert-scape with snow (Chuck Jones would do a version of this idea in a later made-for-TV special.), bombs dropped from a kite, skydiving into a whirlwind, and karate again.
Writers for this series of shorts include: Tom Dagenais (3), Don Jurwich, Dale Hale, Nick Bennion (2), Al Bertino, and Len Janson. Names not normally associated with Warner Bros. cartoons. All but “Sugar and Spies” (by Walter Greene) were scored by William Lava, most often employing his stock “Road Runner score”.
Analysis: Overall, this series of cartoons does not compare to the best of Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese, nor do they compare to those Jones did solo – or with the vastly underrated John Dunn – after Maltese departed for Hanna-Barbera. But there is a general dislike of them that I feel is disproportionately directed at Rudy Larriva (…and, by extension, to Robert McKimson as well).
They are simply not as bad as they are often made out to be, especially when viewed through the prism of what animation was as the 1960s wore on. I always regarded them as “something different” than what Jones and Maltese had done – but they were still “gag cartoons”, something that would unfortunately soon fall out of fashion, much to the detriment of animation for the two decades that followed. Perhaps we can compromise and call them “serviceable”. …Deal?
They seemed more as if they were made for TV, rather than theatricals. And, having been brought to television as part of the new “Road Runner Show” (“If you’re on a highway, and Road Runner goes Beep-Beep…”), as a young viewer of the time – I thought exactly that.
This may help explain my fondness for them, and I’m glad to see nine of them collected here – because I don’t think they’re ever going to make it to the coming Blu-ray “Platinum Collections”!
While far from perfect, “Looney Tunes Superstars: Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote Supergenius Hijinks” is, as I began the review, a mixed bag.
The VARIETY of shorts – in both medium and time period – is enough to keep it interesting.
This set is: Recommended for its diversity – but with the usual reservations for this series!