Sunday, January 27, 2013

DVD Review: Looney Tunes Super Stars: Porky and Friends Hilarious Ham

Looney Tunes Super Stars: Porky and Friends Hilarious Ham

(Released November 06, 2012 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

With this exercise, we endeavor to answer the questions… Is Porky Pig REALLY a “HAM”? And, if so, what does that make his “friends”? And, why does the LOONEY TUNES SUPER STARS series continue to come up with awkwardly phrased titles like this one and “Foghorn Leghorn and Friends Barnyard Bigmouth”?

…Or, maybe we’ll just ignore all that and get on with the review!

By now, we’ve discussed both the good and the bad of this series many times. Feel free to read any of my prior reviews of the LOONEY TUNES SUPER STARS series:





Instead of rehashing what is found in those reviews, we’ll concentrate on what has changed for this release – and, of course, on the shorts themselves. If a previously discussed “PRO” or “CON” is not listed below, assume it remains unchanged.

ROBO-PROMOS: On Disc One, there is only ONE Robo-Promo. It is for the new LOONEY TUNES SHOW. I guess I’ll get around to trying that someday. An improvement over when there were many more such non-optional promos.

WIDESCREEN VS. FULL-SCREEN: This controversial issue seems to have been eliminated for this release. Please read about it in ANY of the prior reviews (linked above). While I felt there was something to like about the simulated widescreen effect, the loss of outer-image area made it not worth the trouble it took to “toggle” from one to the other. It’s just as well to see these cartoons as we have always seen them on TV. I’d say it was wise of WHV to discontinue the experiment.

18 SHORTS VS. 15: The 3 extra shorts in this collection (vs. previous entries in the series) make it a much more worthwhile package. Please see THIS LINK for more details.

…And the reason we’re all here:

THE SHORTS: (All feature Porky Pig, unless otherwise noted):

“Tom Turk and Daffy” (Chuck Jones, 1944) Runs 07:17: Pilgrim Porky wants a Thanksgiving dinner, and a Billy Bletcher-voiced Turkey is his quarry. Desperate to avoid being roasted, the Turkey turns to Daffy Duck to hide him. This is the famous The YAMS did it!” cartoon! Daffy also sings “Angel in Disguise”, from THIS Ann Sheridan / Humphrey Bogart Warner Bros film! NEW to DVD!

…And, for what it’s worth, I made reference to the “YAMS” line in THIS Donald Duck comic book script.

No time for "comic book scripts"!  HIDE ME!

“Wagon Heels” (Bob Clampett, 1945) Runs 07:12: Wagon train scout Porky Pig defeats the huge and fierce “Injun Joe the Super Chief – Whoo-Whoo!”, with the unlikely assistance of “Sloppy Moe”, the type of bizarre, goofy looking character that could only exist in a Bob Clampett cartoon. Contains narration by “The Voice of Warner Bros.” Robert C. Bruce. This is a color remake of “Injun Trouble”, a 1938 black and white Looney Tune short.

I know something I won't tell... I won't tell... I won't tell...
“Mouse Menace” (Arthur Davis, 1946) Runs 07:02: To rid himself of a pesky but persistent mouse, Porky tries in succession: A housecat, a mountain lion, a Mafia hit-cat, and finally a Robot Cat – who walks like the Frankenstein Monster, yet can assume the distressed facial expressions of Stan Laurel. The majority of the cartoon is spent on the misadventures of the Robot Cat, leaving Porky more-or-less a spectator in his own cartoon. NEW to DVD!

There he goes... "spectating" again!

“One Meat Brawl” (Robert McKimson, 1947) Runs 07:05: Grover Groundhog, a genial little character, opens the cartoon singing a song about his shadow for Groundhog Day. He is soon the quarry of hunter Porky Pig and his dog “Mandrake”, who would become better known as the “Barnyard Dog” adversary of McKimson’s Foghorn Leghorn!

Considering that Daffy Duck became a star as a result of his appearance in “Porky’s Duck Hunt” (1937), and a similar situation followed for the white rabbit “Proto Bugs Bunny” in “Porky’s Hare Hunt” (1938), you’d have THOUGHT that Grover would have quite a career ahead of him – but noooo! Perhaps if they’d called the cartoon in “Porky’s Groundhog Hunt” things would have been very different for the little guy! NEW to DVD!
Two very different destinies!
“Curtain Razor” (Friz Freleng, 1949) Runs 07:16: Theatrical agent Porky is subjected to a series of stinker auditions, including the “trained pigeon act” directly transplanted into Freleng’s great later cartoon “Show-Biz Bugs” (1957). Oddly the “Man (actually a turtle) of a Thousand Voices” speaks in Mel Blanc’s ACTUAL voice, leading us to believe that this is intended as a parody of Blanc.

A pushy fox, told to wait his turn throughout the cartoon, “pioneers” the “Daredevil Blows Himself to Heaven” gag, which will also be Daffy Duck’s kicker-ending to the aforementioned “Show-Biz Bugs”! …Don’t look now, Doc, but I think there’s a “nekkid lady” calendar at the entrance to Porky’s office in this one. Thank you, DVD clarity! NEW to DVD!
I can only do it ONCE!  Then, Daffy will have to do it!
Somebody call me?
“The Pest That Came To Dinner” (Arthur Davis, 1948) Runs 07:18: Story is credited to George Hill. This is an unfamiliar name to me, and certainly not one of the regular stable of writers. Anyone know anything about him? Porky employs Mr. Sureshot (an incessantly-talking, straw-hatted dog character) as an exterminator, to rid his home of a ravenous, French-speaking, lumberjack-type termite who (as cartoon termites are wont to do) is eating Porky’s home out from under him.

I’ve always felt that the ending to this one is extraordinarily weak – but there is one really great unexpected moment to be had from this otherwise routine cartoon: The termite “eats” a large wooden staircase bannister knob into a BUST of Porky. As Porky stares angrily at it, the bust STICKS ITS TONGUE OUT at Porky, and then quickly withdraws it, assuming its bust-like stature. NEW to DVD!

“Riff Raffy Daffy” (Arthur Davis, 1948) Runs 06:51: Written by William Scott and Lloyd Turner (of “Bowery Bugs” and later Jay Ward cartoon fame). Cartoons like this make you wish Scott and Turner had done more at Warner Bros. On the coldest night in 64 years, Officer Porky Pig clears tramp Daffy Duck off a park bench, out of the park… and into a warm and cozy department store window, where the Duck now takes up residence.

Lots of the expected department store chase gags through the various departments – and a really nice full-on perspective shot of a cuckoo pushing Porky DIRECTLY FORWARD and out of its cuckoo clock! Lest anyone fault me for taking Arthur Davis to task for the unusually weak ending of “The Pest That Came To Dinner”, he more than makes up for that with a wonderfully bizarre ending for this cartoon! NEW to DVD!

“Boobs in the Woods” (Robert McKimson, 1948) Runs 06:55: Cut it out! I KNOW what you’re thinking! (...And don't EVER do a Google Image Search on this cartoon by title -- no matter how much you may innocently wish to illustrate a blog post!) It’s just Daffy heckling woodland camper Porky. Good, maybe even better than “good”, but no one did this plot better than Bob Clampett with his Bugs and Elmer camping classic “Wabbit Twouble” (1941)! That said, this short is noteworthy as one of the last vestiges of the truly “daffy” (Small “d”) duck, before the “greedy coward” or “obnoxious huckster” personas begin to take hold.

To illustrate this, the Duck not only rides an “invisible bike” (as he did WAAAY back in the early cartoon “Porky and Daffy” 1938), but opens the cartoon with a little song:

Oh, people call me Daffy… They think that I am goony,

Just because I’m happy… is no sign I’m looney-tuney!

When they say I’m nutsy… It sure gives me a pain,

Please pass the ketchup… I think it’s going to rain!

Oh, you can’t bounce a meatball… though try with all your might,

Turn on the radio… I want to fly a kite… Gooood Eee-ven-ing, Friennnds!”
Oh, you can’t bounce a meatball…
Porky, however, has the last laugh, forcing Daffy to power his automobile (in place of the motor the duck removed as a prank), and closing with the great line: When we get to California, I’ll have his VALVES GROUND!” (Ouch!)

Ground THIS, D-D-Duck!
“Dog Collared” (Robert McKimson, 1949) Runs 07:00: A big, white shaggy dog takes a liking to Porky, following him everywhere. After finally ridding himself of the affectionate pest, Porky finds there is a huge reward offered by the lost dog’s wealthy owner. NEW to DVD!

“Thumb Fun” (Robert McKimson, 1950) Runs 07:23: It’s Daffy at his pesty best, as a duck who decides to hitchhike (rather than fly) south for the winter. Poor Porky is the unfortunate motorist who picks him up.

Lots of great gags, including a run-in with an impossibly big man in an impossibly little automobile, and Daffy’s overabundance of luggage crammed into Porky’s car trunk – and poised to violently decompress in the direction of anyone opening said trunk. A great cartoon by McKimson! NEW to DVD!

A Not-So-Merry-Oldsmobile.
“Fool Coverage” (Robert McKimson, 1951) Runs 06:58:  From the ultimate pest, Daffy moves into that “Huckster Mode”, that McKimson often employed, as the Duck knocks on doors as a salesman for “Hotfoot Casualty Underwriters Insurance of Schenectady”.

Porky is in his “Fifties Suburban Homeowner Mode” (which seemed to fit him well) with Daffy poking all around the house, creating household dangers as reason for the Pig to purchase unwanted and unnecessary insurance. Needless to say, those attempts continue to backfire on Daffy. Oddly, in this one, the Duck exhibits an “upper lip” on his beak that is actually larger than the rest of the non-beaky portion of his head!  NEW to DVD!

“Corn on the Cop” (Last original appearance of Porky Pig, Irv Spector, 1965) Runs 06:25: As is illustrated throughout this collection, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck make a great team! It is only fitting that, while Daffy’s career began with their pairing in “Porky’s Duck Hunt” (1937), Porky’s career should end in a team-up with Daffy.

Some unusual credits in this one: Irv Spector directing, with famed Looney Tunes director Friz Freleng WRITING this short! And Joan (“Joanie”) Gerber, known for voices on ROGER RAMJET and as “Mrs. Beakley” on Disney’s DUCKTALES, voices “Granny”, sounding not unlike Mrs. Beakley with the slightest hint of an Irish accent.

There’s also a little bit more plot here than in the usual WB short, involving Sgt. Daffy and Officer Porky, Granny, a robber donning a “granny outfit”, and the added complication of it being Halloween night when costumes abound, so that no one has any sure sense of who is who!

In look and feel, it is a DePatie / Freleng Enterprises cartoon, and hardly reminiscent of the Glory Days of Warner Bros. Supporting this, the dynamic between Daffy and Porky (and the confounding series of events they face) is more like DFE’s “The Inspector and Sgt. Deux-Deux” than any previous criminal-pursuit parings of Daffy and Porky, like “Deduce You Say” or “Rocket Squad” (both 1956). Yet, considering it was more than a tired, old retread of a plot (as the Warner cartoons were beginning to exhibit with alarming regularity by this time), this seemed a nice vehicle for Porky to go out on. NEW to DVD!
Th-th-that's all for m-m-me, Folks!

“Corn Plastered” (Robert McKimson, 1950) Runs 06:52: A wacky crow, with a bow-tie, the once-requisite white gloves, white formal dickey, and a two-propeller topped beanie copter hat, vs. a bald, white-bearded, pint-sized farmer. This is a better-then-you’d-expect-for-the-period “heckling cartoon” in the grand old Warner Bros. tradition. You almost wonder why we didn’t see more of these characters. They sure did worse than this, going forward! NEW to DVD!
Yeah!  Why DIDN'T we get more of us?!
“Gone Batty” (Robert McKimson, 1953) Runs 06:46: Unusual Credits Department: Story: Sid Marcus and (Chuck Jones Unit Animator) Ben Washam! Once upon a time there was an epic baseball game between the “Greenville Goons” and the “Sweetwater Shnooks”.

The “Goons” look just like the “Gas House Gorillas” from Chris Barat’s favorite classic Bugs Bunny cartoon “Baseball Bugs” (1946) – and the “Shnooks” appear as a cross between the “Tea Totalers” of that same cartoon and something out of another classic Warner toon, “The Dover Boys” (1942). With the “Goons” winning BIG, by cheating and intimidation, the “Shnooks” turn to their baby elephant mascot, whose pachyderm-play leads them to an unlikely 168-167 nine-inning victory!

A number of gags are lifted directly from the aforementioned “Baseball Bugs”, to play alongside other original-to-this-short gags. “The Voice of Warner Bros.”, Robert C. Bruce, provides the play-by-play of the “game”. It was unusual to hear Bruce in a WB cartoon by this late date. It must certainly be one of his last appearances. NEW to DVD!
It's NEW to DVD!  Is NOT!  Is TOO! Is TOO! I say it's NOT!
“Ant Pasted” Stars Elmer Fudd. (Friz Freleng, 1952) Runs 06:59: You’d think, without Bugs Bunny around, Elmer could have a “westful and welaxing” Fourth of July picnic (fireworks bursting in air notwithstanding)… but he makes the fatal mistake of picking on an ANT – whose many colony-mates declare war on poor Fuddsy. They institute a draft, train at an Ant Boot Camp, and have-at Elmer, using his own rockets and firecrackers against him.

Oddly, for a Warner Bros. cartoon, the battles go back-and-forth, with Elmer winning nearly as many of them as do the ants. That is, until Fudd retreats with a wheelbarrow of explosives and commits the expected blunder of leaving a powder-trail that leads straight to him. BOOM! NEW to DVD!
Of course, you know this means... Aw, you know! 

“Dog Gone People” Stars Elmer Fudd. (Robert McKimson, 1960) Runs 06:24: NEW to DVD! Elmer dog-sits for his boss’ dog who (the Boss cautions) “…thinks he’s people”. Not a particularly funny cartoon, even with the bizarre spectacle of the dog being pulled over for drunk driving – and, in so doing, unfortunately taking that “…thinks he’s people” thing a bit too far. Hal Smith voices Elmer, after the death of his classic voice Arthur Q. Bryan.

We end with two shorts that I never thought I’d see released to DVD. Read more about that HERE.

“Bunny and Claude: We Rob Carrot Patches” Stars Bunny and Claude. (Robert McKimson, 1968) Runs 06:07: The film “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) was such a hit that it inspired not one but two animated tributes starring RABBITS in the lead roles! As rabbits, they rob not banks but grocery stores – and make off with, not money, but CARROTS! Though ya gotta wonder what was in those carrots, as “Bunny” (in a presumed send-up up Faye Dunaway) SMOKED the carrots about as often as she ate them!

The pair constantly outwit a dumb, fat human sheriff – continuing the great Warner Bros. tradition of rabbits outwitting humans. All characters are DePatie / Freleng designs, rather than more traditional WB style. Pat Woodell voices “Bunny” to Mel Blanc’s “Claude” and “Sheriff”. Not a gem by any standard, but funnier than a 1968 Warner cartoon had any right to be.

An amazing moment occurs when, in another presumed tribute / send-up of the original film (I’ve never actually seen “Bonnie and Clyde”, so I can’t verify), when Bunny has Claude pull the car over and whispers something in his ear. “Is THAT all you EVER THINK OF?!” reacts Claude. As we are poised on the precipice of utter shock, Claude continues… “CARROTS?”

Audiences everywhere must have breathed a collective sigh of relief that day, while I continue to wonder exactly what was in those danged carrots to make ‘em so addictive! NEW to DVD!
“The Great Carrot Train Robbery” Stars Bunny and Claude. (Robert McKimson, 1968) Runs 06:50: Pretty much the same stuff as before, but Bunny and Claude rob a “carrot train”. The cartoon opens with stock footage from the first cartoon, which doesn’t match the design of the Sheriff’s car in the new footage of this cartoon. Oops!  NEW to DVD!

Both cartoons are introduced with an original song, “The Ballad of Bunny and Claude”, with vocals by Billy Strange. The ballad was presumably written by William Lava, who was credited with the music scores of both entries. In the first cartoon, the ballad runs so long that the credits don’t completely fade out until the 01:11 mark of the 06:07 run time. About 1/6 of the cartoon!

On a personal note, until some point in the eighties, I never knew this to be a theatrical series (even two shorts can constitute a series), but was introduced to the characters of Bunny and Claude, and the Sheriff, in this 1969 Gold Key comic.

…And, I think I’ve just written more than anyone ever has about “Bunny and Claude”!

OVERALL: If you’re looking for some of Porky Pig’s best-known, fan-favorite moments, you won’t find them here. No “Eager Young Space Cadet” to Duck Dodgers, no plump, hysterically laughing friar to ridicule Robin Hood Daffy, and no unwitting survival of mortal terrors with Sylvester – in the trio of cartons I like to call “The Cowardly Sylvester and Stupefyingly Oblivious Porky in Danger Trilogy”.

None o' THIS...
...And, none o' THIS...
What you will find are some solidly entertaining cartoons which show just how much better Porky Pig survived the transition to the Technicolor post-war, suburban animated world than did Mickey Mouse.
If only I'd adapted better...
Y-y-you mean like *I* d-d-did?
Comfortable in his own (pig) skin!
The vastly underrated Robert McKimson is given a chance to shine in this showcase, and he does so admirably.

Warner is also to be commended for adding some sixties cartoons to the mix, from the final theatrical appearance of Porky Pig, to the unexpected inclusion of the two Bunny and Claude shorts!

It's Like Sixties, Man!  Groovy!

LOONEY TUNES SUPER STARS: PORKY AND FRIENDS HILARIOUS HAM is highly recommended for correcting many of the flaws of previous LTSS collections, and for showing us just how good both Porky Pig and Robert McKimson really can be.