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Bugs Bunny Superstar DVD Review

Bugs Bunny Superstar (1975) movie poster Bugs Bunny Superstar

Theatrical Release: December 19, 1975 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Larry Jackson / Cartoon Directors: Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson / Cartoon Writers: Tedd Pierce, Michael Maltese, Michael Sasanoff, Rich Hogan, Frank Tashlin, Warren Foster

Narrator: Orson Welles / Interview Subjects: Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Friz Freleng / Taglines: a 24-carrot salute to the best of Looney Tunes / You Won't Believe How Much You Missed as a Kid!

Cartoon Voice Cast: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester, Tweety, Foghorn Leghorn, Henery Hawk, Barnyard Dog, Hiawatha, Emcee, Audience Member, Skunk, Dog, Swans, Coughing Audience Member, Eagle, Baby Eagle, Peter Lorre Scientist, Gossamer, God), Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd), Robert C. Bruce (Oscar Narrator)

Buy Bugs Bunny Superstar on DVD: Amazon.com WBShop.com / Download it: Amazon Instant Video iTunes

In the 1970s, Looney Tunes was strictly a television franchise. The famous line of comedy animation that had launched back in 1930 concluded in 1969, with the once-ubiquitous cartoon short no longer a part of the moviegoing experience. The brand remained wildly popular on television, where edited versions of classic shorts could be found on Saturday mornings and afternoon syndication.
But the many iconic characters -- Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety, Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, Yosemite Sam, etc. -- were no longer a big screen presence.

That would change with the 1975 theatrical release of Bugs Bunny Superstar, the first all-Looney Tunes feature film. This was no original, never-before-seen adventure; it didn't contain even a single frame of new animation. It was a documentary, a compilation, and an anthology. It consists of nine cartoon shorts, complete and unedited (credits and all), from the series' 1940s heyday (all but one of them actually Merrie Melodies) as well as interviews with three important directors (Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, and Tex Avery), and narration by the legendary Orson Welles. The only production of an independent company called Hare-Raising Films, this was distributed by United Artists, who at the time owned Warner Bros.' pre-1950 film library. It paved the way for Warner to make their own Looney Tunes compilation films, which they did on a near-annual basis, from 1979's The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie through 1983's Daffy Duck's Fantastic Island.

In his first official appearance, "A Wild Hare", Bugs Bunny helps Elmer Fudd during wabbit season. "What's up, Doc?" asks Looney Tunes director Bob Clampett, with a carrot in hand.

The subversive 'toons, which feature a variety of Looney Tunes personalities though the beloved, titular Bugs most of all, comprise three-quarters of the film's 90-minute runtime. The documentary footage is of greater interest here, which is undoubtedly the opposite of what the original audience's sentiment likely would have been. Back in 1975, it would have been a new thrill to many children to see these gag-filled shorts on the big screen instead of commercial television. Nowadays, you won't find them on TV, but they are widely available on a variety of DVDs and even Blu-rays, as well as just a few clicks away via iTunes or Amazon download. Looney Tunes buffs aren't coming to this to see the cartoons. And anyone who isn't a Looney Tunes buff probably isn't turning to this to become one.

Nonetheless, Superstar does offer a good primer on the series with the information it dispatches between the cartoons. Welles opens identifying photographs of sites of great historical significance: the Coliseum, the Taj Mahal, the White House, and others, before coming to Termite Terrace, the name the animators gave their old, paper-walled, creaky wooden studio on the day they moved in. Some interesting notes arise regarding characters' histories, influences (Keystone Kops and Clark Gable), and important figures like composer Carl Stalling and the carrot-hating voice of Bugs Bunny, Mel Blanc.

Bob Clampett features most prominently of the creators, virtually serving as host and providing as much narration as Welles. Clampett takes a lot of personal credit, something that evidently did not sit well with some other Warner artists, including the legendary Chuck Jones, who proceeded to omit Clampett in a scene from The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie in which Bugs acknowledges his many "fathers." Clampett's intriguing stories about rubbing shoulders with Warner's big movie stars and seeing Al Jolson put on his blackface make-up are not sustained, and the revelations thin to almost non-existent short transitions by the end. Clearly, the 'toons themselves, not this documentary material, were the primary attraction and Warner's own subsequent compilations would rely on newly-created bridging animation rather than behind-the-scenes information.

Bugs Bunny Superstar plays its cartoons in the following order, with increasingly shorter interludes:

Bugs Bunny prepares to accept his Oscar in "What's Cookin' Doc?" (1944). Sylvester and Tweety Bird do battle in the unsightly "I Taw a Putty Tat" (1948).

1. What's Cookin' Doc? (1944) (8:09)
Bugs Bunny thinks he is a shoo-in to win at the 8th Oscar ceremony, a gathering that inspires Bugs to try out his impressions of James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and others. To show how deserving he is, Bugs shows highlights from his Little Hiawatha parody Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt.

2. A Wild Hare (1940) (8:12)
The official debut of Bugs Bunny as we know him,
this Academy Award-nominated short establishes the antagonistic relationship between Bugs and Elmer Fudd, who is around for the beginning of rabbit hunting season.

3. A Corny Concerto (1943) (7:53)
Elmer Fudd hosts this forgettable 'toon, which sets Porky Pig's rabbit hunting to Strauss' Tales from the Vienna Woods and a telling of The Ugly Duckling to The Blue Danube.

4. I Taw a Putty Tat (1948) (6:29)
In this, their second of many pairings, newly-purchased pet canary Tweety outsmarts the cunning family cat Sylvester.

5. Rhapsody Rabbit (1946) (7:33)
Bugs' classical piano concert performance is intruded by a bothersome mouse determined to upstage him.

Foghorn Leghorn tells young Henery Hawk where he can find a chicken in "Walky Talky Hawk." Daffy Duck gives Porky Pig reason not to shoot him in the hunting comedy "May Favorite Duck."

6. Walky Talky Hawk (1946) (6:57)
After young Henery Hawk's father explains his calling as a chicken hawk, Foghorn Leghorn directs him to a chicken (who is actually Barnyard Dawg).

7. My Favorite Duck (1942) (7:35)
Daffy Duck points out fine-enforced laws preventing Porky Pig from hunting him.

8. Hair-Raising Hare (1946) (7:37)
On behalf of the red monster later named Gossamer (making his debut), Bugs is lured in by a Peter Lorre-esque evil scientist and his mechanical female rabbit.

9. The Old Grey Hare (1944) (7:32)
God shows Elmer Fudd the distant future -- the year 2000 -- in which the elderly hunter still chases after (and is outsmarted by) Bugs Bunny. We also see their first hunt conducted in infancy.

Having been made available as a bonus feature divided across two discs of 2006's Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 DVD, Superstar made its proper debut in one piece this week through Warner's current preferred release method, as a DVD-R in the manufactured-on-demand Warner Archive Collection.

Bugs Bunny Superstar DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
DVD Release Date: October 30, 2012 (Warner Archive Collection)
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5 DVD-R)
Suggested Retail Price: $18.95
Black Keepcase
Also available for download on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes
Movie previously released as bonus feature on Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Four (November 14, 2006; out of print)

The big red hairy monster known as Gossamer makes his debut in "Hair-Raising Hare."

VIDEO and AUDIO

Bugs Bunny Superstar is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen and that is about the only visual constant. Picture quality varies wildly. Some of the cartoon shorts (like What's Cookin' Doc? and I Taw a Putty Tat) are not presentable at all, being littered with debris. Others seem to take advantage of the restorations performed for Golden Collection DVDs (if not Blu-rays). Even the best-looking short isn't entirely without some concerns, like minor scratches. The worst, meanwhile, still bests the documentary footage, which looks ancient. I'm not merely talking about the animators' old home movies and pictures. Colors are out of whack and sharpness lacking on the then-new interviews with Clampett, Avery, and Freleng. Reel change marks are even still present, plus scratches and artifacts abound. While the WB Shop claims the film is newly remastered, the only way that seems possible is if the documentary was severely damaged and decaying, which is a real possibility for a niche film approaching forty. Still, given the choice between spotty picture and no release, most would probably choose the former. But it's unfortunate that such a hugely profitable franchise couldn't have set aside some money for a proper restoration of this.

Sound is offered as Dolby 2.0 mono. Again, the shorts are generally a bit more polished, while the audio is pretty terrible for the linking documentary portions. Orson Welles' narration sounds like it's coming from behind a thin wall, which you'll discover is not a new issue. As a Warner Archive title, the disc gets away with no subtitles or closed captioning.

A bunch of suited men (including Friz Freleng) proudly hold up documents in one of the image gallery's unclear behind-the-scenes photos. The Bugs Bunny Superstar DVD's main menu employs part of the film's original poster art.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Anyone familiar with the Warner Archive Collection knows this is the part of the review where I say,
"No bonus features are included here." But that just isn't true today, as Warner has bestowed two extras upon Superstar.

First, most substantial, and an utterly surprising inclusion is an audio commentary by producer/director Larry Jackson. Jackson's IMDb page is scant and scattered. He wrote three extremely obscure B-movies in the 1960s (a Mamie Van Doren musical, the comedy Cottonpickin' Chickenpickers, which he also directed, and a sci-fi flick). Since then, he's produced three random films and is apparently at work on a fourth. Superstar is his only connection to the Looney Tunes universe, so it's pretty remarkable that Warner would track him down to record this.

Jackson is entirely rehearsed, seemingly reading from a script with no screen specificity. He shares his history with animation and classic film, how this movie and its design came about, the public's changing view of Looney Tunes, the resistance this project faced, pitching Orson Welles a Citizen Kane parody, budget-stretching measures taken (some with consequences from American Express), unrealized interview subjects, Bob Clampett's hair (not the wig it so clearly appears to be), the reason for Welles' muffled narration, the film's strong theatrical reception, the free Volkswagen Rabbit he got out of it, and getting theaters to show the film in the proper Academy Ratio. Curiously, he stops talking before the final short begins, without making it entirely clear he's finished. He may very well not even be watching the movie. Still, the eighty minutes spent in proud reflection with him are enlightening and enjoyable.

The disc's other less exciting extra is a 19-still photo gallery, which includes publicity art and behind-the-scenes photos. The latter could have used some captions.

Despite those bonus features, this is still clearly a Warner Archive DVD, which means a single static menu screen (employing original poster art), ever so slightly lower print quality, and not even the official DVD Video logo. There's no insert within or slipcover around the uncut Eco-Box keepcase, but the rear cover gives us all the information we need with nary a typo. Though a Cartoon Selection menu ought to have been a no-brainer, you're left to cycle through chapter stops yourself. At least these are appropriately provided at each short's start, end of credits, and end.

Termite Terrace animators act out scenes they will animate in documentary footage from "Bugs Bunny Superstar." This look ahead to the future from "The Old Grey Hare" finds Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny looking more haggard than they truly would in the year 2000 A.D.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Bugs Bunny Superstar is an interesting outlier in the Looney Tunes canon. The shorts it features appear to be some of the series' strongest of the 1940s. There's a decent amount of them and they are presented uncut. But in this DVD age, it's the quarter of the film filled by documentary segments of animator reflections, reference footage, and home movies that most stands out. The types of hardcore Looney Tunes fans who know of this film almost certainly already own it on the fourth Golden Collection DVD. Are they likely to rebuy it to have it completely intact on a single disc and with a director's audio commentary and image gallery? Probably not. Still, it's nice for the option to be there. It'd be even nicer if the feature presentation wasn't so erratic and often underwhelming, if there were subtitles, if you could buy this at more than one online store, and if it didn't cost you $20 with tax. While it's true that beggars can't be choosers, you'd have to be pretty crazy about this movie to beg for it and be willing to overlook the disc's shortcomings.

Buy Bugs Bunny Superstar: Amazon.com / WBShop.com / Amazon Instant Video / iTunes

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Reviewed November 3, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1975 United Artists, Hare-Raising Films, and 2012 Warner Home Video.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.