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Looney Tunes Super Stars: Foghorn Leghorn & Friends - Barnyard Bigmouth DVD Review

Looney Tunes Super Stars: Foghorn Leghorn & Friends - Barnyard Bigmouth DVD cover art -- click to buy DVD from Amazon.com Foghorn Leghorn & Friends: Barnyard Bigmouth
DVD Details

Running Time: 97 minutes (15 shorts) / Rating: Not Rated

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratios), 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Cropped)
Dolby Digital Mono 1.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French; Not Closed Captioned

DVD Release Date: November 30, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Originally Released Between 1954 and 1963
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase

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In the celebrated Looney Tunes pantheon, Foghorn Leghorn isn't as famous as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Tweety, Sylvester, and the Tasmanian Devil, but the tall rooster is definitely considered a top-tier character and you're more likely to recognize him than many of the forty or so personalities adorning Wikipedia's Warner Bros. Animation navigational template. So, it is sooner than expected, but expected nonetheless, that Foghorn received his very own classic cartoon compilation in Warner Home Video's new Looney Tunes Super Stars line.

With the bulk of the vast Looney Tunes library released in six Golden Collection box sets and then revisited in seven lighter Spotlight Collections, Warner recently came up with a new way to make its many still unreleased vintage shorts available to own on DVD.
Watch Foghorn Leghorn in a clip from Fox-Terror:
Super Stars takes an iconic character (or pair) and supplies up to two hours of previously unavailable 'toons starring him (or them).

Released in August 2010, the first two volumes, Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire and Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl, were hit with practically unheard of 2-2.5 (out of 5) average customer ratings on Amazon.com. The reason for those, made clear in dissatisfied customer reviews, is because Warner ludicrously decided to crop the short films made in the Academy Ratio (1.37:1, or essentially what studios call "Full Screen") to fill the new widescreen television standard of 1.78:1. This was an unfortunate variation on the old, increasingly lamented and now-rare practice of chopping the sides off a widescreen movie to fit more square-shaped TVs for broadcast, on VHS, and sometimes even on DVD. In this case, the top and bottom of the frame were sacrificed in this undesirable "matting."

Introduced last November, the second wave of the line consisted of Tweety & Sylvester: Feline Fwenzy and Foghorn Leghorn & Friends: Barnyard Bigmouth, the DVD being reviewed here. Fortunately, Warner has wised up and while these discs still offer matted 16:9 screen-filling widescreen presentations, they do so only as an alternative to the intended "standard", "full-screen" versions. The format selection screen, difficult to access if not executed as intended, does not accurately convey the differences in presentation, but fortunately most people who care about such a thing will know better, plus the original aspect ratio is the default choice.

Barnyard bigmouth Foghorn Leghorn tries his hand at an act of kindness and has it  backfire in the 1959 Looney Tunes short "A Broken Leghorn." Pint-sized chicken hawk Henery Hawk pulls his repeat nemesis Foghorn Leghorn by his wattle in 1955's "All Fowled Up."

Foghorn Leghorn is an interesting character, more laid back than many of his Warner kin but no less prone to mischief and danger. His distinctive vocal style -- marked by repetition and a "good ol' boy" Southern dialect that Wikipedia identifies as a Central Virginia accent -- is the work of Mel Blanc, who voiced almost every one of those beloved characters mentioned in my opening sentence. Foghorn's wrangling -- with Henery Hawk, the canine who would come to be known as Barnyard Dawg, and a weasel apparently called Bill -- is less manic than other iconic Looney Tunes pursuits. Still, it has similarly violent consequences, with the gently antagonistic future KFC spokesman getting some of his feathers disturbingly shorn off in almost every short.

Par for the series, Foghorn's cartoons lay artistic ambitions aside and strive purely for entertaining gags. When the latter are capably executed, though, as they often are, one can't help but admire the precise timing, sharp pacing, and visual wit.
Arriving on the scene when the animated short was beginning to fade, Foghorn nonetheless appeared in 28 cartoon shorts from 1946's Oscar-nominated Walky Talky Hawky to 1963's Banty Raids. Some were classified as Looney Tunes, others were branded Merrie Melodies. All were directed by Robert McKimson, who is credited with the creation of Foghorn (as well as Taz).

The "& Friends" part of the title comes into play nine shorts in, just shy of the one-hour mark. That is when Foghorn exits the picture and less recognizable creations get their due. While the final six cartoons of this disc largely lack star power, they are not of a noticeably inferior quality. The variety they provide is welcome. It is far from dizzying, however; all but one of the shorts runs between 6 and 7 minutes long (the exception extends 11 seconds past the 7-minute mark). That is a fitting length, ensuring that no cartoon wears out its welcome or piles on too many gags.

We may see it often, but Foghorn Leghorn's bare, defeathered skin is always a bit unsettling. Mexican crows Jose and Manuel pursue a grasshopper in "Two Crows from Tacos", the first of their two Friz Freleng cartoons, both presented here.

Of the fifteen shorts gathered here, fourteen have never before been released to DVD in full. A Broken Leghorn appeared on Disc 4 of the very first Golden Collection. I also recalled Little Boy Boo from its appearance in the TV special Bugs Bunny's Easter Funnies, though no fan would consider that a sufficient presentation of it.

The DVD opens with an unskippable 50-second warning screen explaining that certain prejudicial depictions that "were wrong then and are wrong today" exist in these 50-ish-year-old cartoons and why they thankfully remain intact here. The only shorts that message seems applicable to are the final two, Friz Freleng's cartoons starring a pair of stereotypically Mexican crows. It's comparable to Disney's Dumbo; the crows are ascribed an ethnicity in an unflattering way but I'm not sure anyone would consider it offensive. I guess I would have to see dumb American characters portrayed in another nation's historical media to get a better understanding of how this might make some viewers feel. But I doubt anyone will care and the alternatives (re-editing them or keeping them shelved Song of the South-style) are far more appalling.

Here's a closer look at the fifteen featured shorts...

With a game show setup, this sharp-dressed fox slyly uses Foghorn Leghorn to blow up Barnyard Dawg in "Fox-Terror." Foghorn finds a way to make playing in the snow even more fun, by getting Bill the weasel to pursue Barnyard Dawg.

1. All Fowled Up (1955) (6:38)
Henery Hawk and Barnyard Dawg team up to teach Foghorn a lesson or two.

2. Fox-Terror (1957) (6:45)
Foghorn becomes a pawn in a sly fox's plan to pull the Barnyard Dawg away from guarding the chickens.

3. A Broken Leghorn (1959) (6:17)
Foghorn's trick on mean hens backfires when the rooster Miss Prissy "lays" expects to take over from him.

4. Crockett-Doodle-Do (1960) (6:00)
Trying to school silent but brainy Egghead Jr. on outdoorsmanship, Foghorn is shown up again and again.

5. Weasel While You Work (1958) (6:15)
While having fun in the winter snow, Foghorn does battle with Barnyard Dawg, with both trying to engage a weasel.

Foghorn mistakenly thinks baseball can help him bond with Miss Prissy's son Egghead Jr. in "Little Boy Boo." A hepcat Banty Rooster poses as an orphan in the amusing "Banty Raids." The Goofy Gophers are shocked to find their vegetation vanished in "Gopher Broke."

6. Weasel Stop (1956) (6:18)
Foghorn helps the weasel try to get past an old dog and into a chicken field.

7. Little Boy Boo (1954) (6:41)
Courting Widow Hen (Miss Prissy), Foghorn spends time getting to know her young son, Egghead Jr.

8. Banty Raids (1963) (6:17)
Groovy beatnik Banty Rooster poses as an orphan on Foghorn's step, jamming out with hens in secret.

9. Strangled Eggs (1961) (6:16)
While Foghorn is courting Miss Prissy, Henery Hawk is left on the doorstep, prompting Foghorn to reluctantly teach him how to be a chicken.

10. Gopher Broke (1958) (6:27)
The Goofy Gophers, playful Mac and Tosh, terrorize Barnyard Dawg to retrieve the vegetables taken from them.

TV has made Elmer Fudd's dog Rover fearful and overprotective in "A Mutt in a Rutt." Junior the cat reconnects with the mice who raised him in "Mouse-Placed Kitten." The Honeymooners-inspired mice Ralph Crumden and Ned Morton hatch an invisible ink plan to deal with a cat in "Cheese It, The Cat!"

11. A Mutt in a Rut (1959) (6:19)
A TV show about pet owner neglect makes Elmer Fudd's dog Rover resentful and afraid of him.

12. Mouse-Placed Kitten (1959) (6:18)
A mouse couple tries raising Junior the kitten as their own, before handing him over to a human family. Reunited there, their special relationship must remain secret.

13. Cheese It, The Cat! (1957) (6:51)
In their second of three shorts, mice modeled after "The Honeymooners" neighbors Ralph Kramden (Ralph Crumden) and Ed Norton (Ned Morton) wage war with a cat.

14. Two Crows from Tacos (1956) (7:11)
A couple of Mexican crows endure pain while chasing after a grasshopper.

15. Crows' Feat (1962) (6:28)
Jose and Manuel, those crazy Mexican crows, stand up to a cornfield scarecrow... and Elmer Fudd.

VIDEO and AUDIO

On such a compilation, quality inevitably is a mixed bag. Fortunately, most of the fifteen shorts look very good. You'll spot some minor debris here and there, but in light of the cartoons' age and modest origins plus the low-priced nature of the disc, the video is quite pleasing. The colors are reasonably vibrant and the element is satisfyingly sharp and consistent. This may not reach new heights for remastering classic animation and I don't know how this compares to the Golden Collection standards, but the picture here is both good enough and better than expected.

The single-channel monaural soundtracks do not give me much to say. The elements are clear enough, preserved without distortion or much evidence of age. English SDH and French subtitles are kindly provided.

The original fullscreen version of this "Crockett-Doodle-Do" keeps Egghead Jr., this campfire, and Foghorn Leghorn all in view. The newly-matted widescreen version loses a bit of all three elements.
This same shot comparison demonstrates one of the more extreme shortcomings of the new widescreen matting.

Though if you're reading this review, you probably won't ever care about them, I feel compelled to comment on the widescreen presentations. Cinema naturally keeps its action in the center of the frame, so rarely do we miss anything major at the top and bottom. That said, as a tall character who frequently interacts with small ones, Foghorn Leghorn's cartoons do present many apparent challenges when matted. While the dimensions may be different, the picture quality seems identical to the 1.33:1 presentations, which is a relief. Can you imagine if the 16:9 versions were further cleaned up? Interestingly, the 1.78:1 versions do gain a small bit of picture width, which is nothing compared to the amount of height lost but notable nonetheless. (Either the full width isn't being preserved in the 1.33:1 or the widescreen versions are gaining edges not meant to be seen.)

It's tough to believe that Warner, who claims on the case that this is intended for "the Adult Collector", would believe there is an audience wanting 1.33:1 content cut up to fit their widescreen displays. They could have saved a lot of disc space and possibly work by simply referring said audience to their 16:9 TV remote's "Format" button, which could have easily achieved nearly the exact same effect.

The screen format selection screen, accessible only at disc insertion, conveys almost the exact opposite of what its choices really look like. Four out of every five shorts is represented pictorially on the "Episodes" menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Understandably, there are no bonus features here. With over 3 hours going to the two presentations of the shorts, little disc space is left for anything else.

The main menu gives us a wider version of the cover art while the familiar Looney Tunes theme is looped ad nauseam. The other static menus ("Episodes" and "Set Up") are silent. No inserts or slipcover accompany the standard black Eco-Box keepcase, which at least lists the featured cartoons on its rear cover.

Having wrangled with Henery Hawk, Foghorn Leghorn crashes into a front door as the closing gag of "Strangled Eggs." It had to be done: the famous Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies "That's All Folks!" sign-off must mean you're at the end of this review.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Foghorn Leghorn is one of the more entertaining and endearing personalities in the rich Warner Bros. catalog. His hour of shorts here diverts, as do the forty minutes of his less famous "friends."

While the matted widescreen versions are a waste of space, the solid contents of this DVD are adequately presented. Although this collection ends up running over 20 minutes shorter than the first two 15-short Super Stars sets and presents us with just one-third of Foghorn's classic filmography (which could have fit in full on two discs), it feels like both an appropriate amount of content and a good value at its $15 sale price. Diehard and casual Looney Tunes fans alike should take note of this release.

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Reviewed January 20, 2011.



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