Disney may be known as the “House of Mouse,” but Chuck Jones’ stint at Warner Bros. also gave the rodent a funny face, as evidenced in this week’s new DVD and Blu-ray set “Looney Tunes: The Chuck Jones Collection — Mouse Chronicles.”
This two-disc set focuses on two of Jones shorts series featuring mice, with the majority of the digitally remastered cartoons making their video debut (all are firsts for Blu-ray).
The first disc contains 12 Sniffles cartoons. Who’s Sniffles, you ask? He gets his name from his debut 1939 short, “Naughty but Mice,” in which he sneaks into a drug store to find a cold remedy and winds up drunk on cold medicine.
According to cartoon historian Jerry Beck on the spot’s commentary track, Sniffles was immensely popular in his day. Jones apparently bucked the Warner Bros. trend of the time and aimed the Sniffles shorts at children, and the mouse became a big name in comic books and merchandising.
One short, “The Brave Little Bat,” felt familiar. In it, Sniffles seeks shelter from a storm in an old windmill and meets a talkative bat named Batty. But Sniffles was largely new to me and a fun find. Over the course of the 12 shorts, you see Jones’ style develop — both in character design and pacing. “Naughty but Mice” is very slow and old-school in appearance. (With a red and blue color scheme that changed in later shorts, he looks a little like Fievel from “An American Tail.” Were Don Bluth/Steven Spielberg doing an homage?) The first several toons are cute but aren’t the most interesting in Warner Bros.’ catalog. The last short, pop culture spoof “Hush My Mouse,” is closer to Jones’ signature look and has more slapstick.
The second disc really gets things going with Hubie and Bertie in nine shorts. They debut in “The Aristo Cat,” in a short that looks pretty low budget with minimal, psychedelic backgrounds. They hit their stride with the Oscar-nominated “Mouse Wreckers,” which I remember laughing hysterically at on Saturday mornings as they torture poor cat Claude. “The Hypo-chondri-cat” was another familiar short.
The second disc also contains 11 non-Jones mouse shorts, including Robert McKimson’s “Mice Follies,” featuring the “Honeymooners” spoof mice Ralph and Morton, and Alex Lovy’s 1967 “Merlin the Magic Mouse,” which feels and looks more Hanna-Barbera than Merrie Melodies. They’re an interesting cross-section of Warner’s output.
This is the kind of one-off collection I’d like to see a lot more of from Warner, rather than endless repackaging of the same mainstream shorts over and over. Hardcore collectors have been clamoring for a set like this for a long time, so it’s good to see Warner listening.
Even if all the shorts aren’t gems, there’s still a lot of gold here.