Review | Video

'Looney Tunes,' 'Tom & Jerry,' 'Casper' sets are a treasure trove for animation buffs

With a few new releases crossing my desk, I figured I was long overdue for a classic cartoon night.

So that’s what I did, surfing through old favorites on the new “Looney Tunes: Platinum Collection” vol. 1 Blu-ray, “Tom & Jerry: Golden Collection” vol. 1 Blu-ray (also available on DVD) and “Casper the Friendly Ghost: The Complete Collection 1945-1963″ DVD.

First off, let me give you an idea of my level of fandom, the reasons for which will become evident later. I think I’m somewhat more than a casual fan, but less than a hard-core collector and historian. I’m an animation buff.

"What's Opera, Doc?"

Let’s start with “Looney Tunes.” Let me just say, I do love this set on its own. In all, there are 68 cartoons, 50 of which are classic “Looney Tunes” from the golden age of the shorts. Unlike the “Golden Collection” DVDs, which spaced out favorites a bit more, this set packs in a bunch (mostly directed by Chuck Jones): “Rabbit of Seville,” “One Froggy Evening,” “Robin Hood Daffy,” “Scaredy Cat,” “Duck Dodgers in the 241/2th Century” and “What’s Opera, Doc?” are all in there.

It’s also nicely organized. The first disc of 25 includes a mix of classic characters, including Foghorn Leghorn, Pepe LePew, Sylvester and Tweety, and more. The second disc breaks it up into groups for characters who are much loved but didn’t star in as many shorts: Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian, Witch Hazel, Marc Anthony and Ralph Phillips.

And a third disc is a tribute to Jones, including a documentary, several propaganda shorts, “The Dot and the Line” and some later works culled from TV specials and the like.

According to Warner Bros., three classic shorts (“Bill of Hare,” “A Witch’s Tangled Hare” and “Feline Frame-Up”), as well as two bonus ‘toons (“A Hitch in Time” and “The Door”), are new to more recent collections, never having appeared on DVD.

So the big question is: If you own the “Golden Collections” and the other sets Warner Bros. has released to milk the franchise, should you pick up this set? My answer: It depends on what kind of fan you are.

Unless you absolutely have to have those unreleased shorts (which, given Warner’s history, will probably be released in other, smaller collections over the next couple years), I’d say don’t bother. A spot-check comparison between this set and the “Golden Collection” sets on a few shorts didn’t turn up a significant increase in picture quality. I didn’t see any difference in “Rabbit of Seville,” for instance. “Robin Hood Daffy” did look crisper, but I don’t think it’s necessarily worth the cost to upgrade.

If you passed on the “Golden Collections” entirely but bought some of the other sets (like the “Essential” or “Super Stars” sets), I’d compare track listings before running out and buying this one.

If you’re a casual fan with fond memories of watching them on Saturday mornings but haven’t picked up any sets yet, by all means grab this one immediately.

If you’re a hardcore fan, I can certainly understand your frustration that there are so few unreleased shorts on this set. Chances are, you already have the other 47 on DVD and you’d be justified to feel bitter that Warner Bros. seems to be ignoring a significant source of revenue by releasing chronological, full-catalog sets similar to the “Walt Disney Treasures” from a while back. But you’ll probably buy it anyway.

"The Cat Concerto"

After Looney Tunes, it was on to “Tom & Jerry.” The situation is pretty much the same as with “Looney Tunes,” just on a smaller scale.

There are 37 “remastered and uncut” shorts in this set. Poking around reviews online, it seems to live up to that claim, with better prints that solve many of the issues with previous DVD collections that used different source material (some censored or with different voice tracks) for a few of the shorts.

So for animation buff-type fans and above, this set is worth picking up.

For casual fans, I’d follow the “Looney Tunes” guidelines set above. This set includes lots of favorites, including “Puss Gets the Boot,” “The Mouse Comes to Dinner,” “The Cat Concerto” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse.” If you’re not a purist, and you already have these shorts, you can probably skip this upgrade.

But I’d still say get it just so you can have the originals.

"Spree Under the Sea"

From all those manic hijinks, I moved on to the relatively peaceful “Casper the Friendly Ghost” from Shout! Factory. This three-DVD set includes 81 theatrical and TV shorts.

The theatrical shorts are the real treasures here. As an “animation buff,” I was disappointed to see that original titles and credits weren’t used on most of them, but it’s still a great collection. Those Paramount titles are on “The Friendly Ghost,” the very first Casper short, and the artwork behind them is beautiful. (The originals were done by Famous Studios, with many of the creators from Fleischer studios of Superman and Betty Boop fame.)

Jumping around to watch several shorts, I was surprised by just how much death plays a part (beyond the obvious). In the original and “Spree Under the Sea,” for instance, when Casper can’t make any friends, he tries to commit suicide (by letting a train hit him and throwing himself off a pier with a rock tied to his neck, respectively), and in “Puss ‘N Boos,” a man is trying to drown a pair of kittens.

Yikes.

Still, it’s nice to see all these shorts in one collection. According to animation historian Mark Arnold, who appears in a mini documentary and commentary tracks, “The Bored Billionaire” has never appeared on a collection. It’s neat to see the evolution of the character, even if the TV episodes do seem a bit too syrupy.

And, to be honest, one of the highlights is watching Alison Arngrim in the documentary. She’s the daughter of Norma MacMillan, who voiced Casper on the TV show, and also was Nellie Oleson on “Little House on the Prairie.” She’s a hoot.

Note to parents: On all these sets, I’d consider watching before showing to kids willy-nilly. Some may require a little talk for context, or they may not be appropriate for the littlest one. Warner Bros., especially, emphasizes that these are for “adult collectors.”