The Warner Bros. animation wing jumped on the ‘70s nostalgia craze for everything art deco about five years too late when, in 1978, they inaugurated their Saturday morning showcase The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show and, a year later, compiled some of their very best shorts into a feature-length self-tribute The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (or The Great American Chase). Better late than never, the theory goes, but what Chuck Jones’s professional-albeit-unnecessary retrofitted compilation wrought would suggest the opposite. As the ‘70s gave way to the ‘80s, it apparently wasn’t just enough to look back on the antiquated violence of Daffy and the Tasmanian Devil with fond memories. No, as Great American Chase gave way to 1001 Rabbit Tales (the only other film aside from Chase included on this the new DVD Movie Collection), Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island and Quackbusters (not to mention the seemingly endless stream of holiday-themed television specials for Easter, Christmas, and the 4th of July), it became clear that the WB animation wing intended to get with the Ted Turner times, updating the snark quotient, chopping the original shorts into smithereens only to stitch them into brand new (awful) wraparound stories and strip them entirely of their seven-minute integrity.
Still, Jones’s prototype stands apart from the legacy, presenting nearly all the included shorts (classics across the board) more or less in their original form and framing them with a wraparound of an explicitly cultural-historical bent—and a blessedly irreverent one, at that. Bugs Bunny invites the audience into his gargantuan mansion-cum-art gallery and puts the Looney Tunes series in their rightful position as the logical culmination of mankind’s entire history. Creation of the solar system, cavemen domesticity, Road Runner chase movies. That’s the equation, and Bugs states his case with tongue firmly in cheek as he wanders among the oversized paintings of Daffy, Porky, and Fudd. Though at times it feels like a big-budget demo reel for Jones (Bugs shows caricature sketches of Freleng and Tashlin, but Jones only selects his own work), one simply can’t argue with a line up like “Duck Amuck,” “What’s Opera, Doc?,” “Bully for Bugs,” “To Beep or Not to Beep,” and “Long-Haired Hare,” a personal favorite which, in its opening moments depicting a rehearsing, rotund concert tenor repeatedly interrupted by Bugs’s outdoor noodlings on harp and tuba, deconstructs the schism between sound and image in the same manner as does “Duck Amuck,” only without a shred of that short’s knowing, postmodern grandstanding.
It’s hardly surprising that The Great American Chase will occasionally show up on top ten lists of some auteurists too queasy to include short films, much less cartoons. But you won’t find anyone listing Friz Freleng’s 1001 Rabbit Tales, a tacky affair that is as haphazard as Bugs himself, being held hostage by an oil sheik Yosemite Sam and forced to read bedtime stories to his spoiled, pig-eyed nephew. Admittedly, Freleng is a little more sanguine about sharing the spotlight with other WB directors and doesn’t simply stuff the line-up with his own material. Unfortunately, not only do the shorts get absolutely slaughtered in the editing room, but (aside from “Ali Baba Bunny,” inexplicably included despite having already been collected in The Great American Chase) there isn’t a single first-rate cartoon in the bunch. The nightmarishly hermetic but overly schematic One Froggy Evening, one of the most overrated Looney Tunes, is the only one within reach of greatness. It’s nice to have “Ali Baba Bunny” on DVD, but I would’ve been fine if they’d have just included it on the concurrent Golden Collection release. In all, it’s probably best to treat these compilation features with the same attitude they obviously felt toward the original shorts: impertinence.
I haven't taken the time out to do side-by-side comparisons between the shorts as they appear here and how they look in their Golden Collection versions. My hunch is that they look better in the latter, since I noticed some slightly faded hues and print debris on these discs. The sound is fractionally better here, though, especially during the more recently-produced wraparound segments.
Bottom-feeding, Disney DVD-level crap. On the first disc, a cadre of underage stars (and part-time sophists, apparently) bring their own unique insight and life experience into the dialogue of Looney Tunes history. It's genuinely surprising that they can remember that far back to the days they were just little rugrats, gathering around the TV set on Saturday mornings to watch Bugs and the gang. How time flies. Sunrise, sunset. On the second disc, a creepy, gangly girl-man invites a pair of unimpressed brothers up to his studio to learn how to grip his ball-point.
Even more disposable and blatantly money-grabbing than those previous two-disc Diet Golden Collections, if that's possible.