Director Larry Jackson’s 1975 film, Bugs Bunny Superstar, is now available on manufactured-on-demand DVD as part of the ever rapidly expanding Warner Archive Collection. This revealing documentary celebrates those animators at Warner Bros. Studios who revolutionized the industry with their series of shorts under the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies banners from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. Animator Bob Clampett, responsible for the seminal “Porky in Wackyland” (1938), hosts this look back on the formative years of Warner Bros. animation. In this, he details how he and fellow animators, including Frank Tashlin and Chuck Jones, produced some of the most iconic cartoons in cinematic history, and all from a crumbling shack on the Warner Bros. lot known as “Termite Terrace.” Additionally, the film features interviews with Warner animators Friz Freleng and Tex Avery (but sadly not the aforementioned Tashlin and Jones), as well as some unfortunately tinny narration from Orson Welles.
Interspersed throughout this documentary material are nine, seemingly-random Looney Tunes shorts, including “What’s Cookin’ Doc?”, “A Wild Hare,” “A Corny Concerto,” “I Taw a Putty Tat,” “Walky Talky Hawky,” “My Favorite Duck,” “Hair-Raising Hare,” and “The Old Grey Hare.” With the inclusion of these shorts, the film serves not only as documentary, but also as a sort of best-of/compilation honoring the Warner animated shorts of old. While indeed the specific shorts chosen seem to be somewhat randomly chosen, Jackson does position them in such a way as to exemplify the information covered by Clampett in his host segments where possible.
Although the compilation aspect of the film might seem to diminish the value of this feature as a documentary, Jackson also includes a wealth of vintage drawings from the Termite Terrace gang that lampoon the industry, their employers, and themselves, as well as some fantastic archival, amateur footage. This archival footage, filmed on the Warner lot, features the animators at Termite Terrace alternatively goofing around and working, although it’s somewhat difficult to tell the difference between the two modes. One of the most fascinating revelations provided by this archival footage is that the animators, when working on a short, would step out in to the lot to develop the motions of the animation using their own bodies and mannerisms as models for their work. Emphasizing the value of this material, Jackson crosscuts between footage of animators acting out a scenario in which a young scarecrow attempts to frighten an unimpressed crow and their finalized sketches of the self-same scenario.
Even if you already own the various Looney Tunes collections featuring the aforementioned shorts, this vintage material makes Bugs Bunny Superstar well worth the investment. Plus, Warner Archive has been getting incredibly generous with special features, something that those of us who frequently purchase MOD DVDs frankly don’t expect given the rarity of the films in the first place. But we do so welcome any bonus content distributors can provide, and the Archive’s release of Bugs Bunny Superstar follows this trend with its inclusion of audio commentary by Larry Jackson as well as an image gallery featuring behind-the-scenes photos!
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