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Animation, Old And New

Animation, Old And New

Whatever your taste in animation, a handful of new DVD and Blu-ray releases offer stimulating and even jubilant experiences. If you like edgy, experimental work I heartily recommend Nine Nation Animation from New Yorker Films, a compilation of recent short subjects that range from the odd to the sublime, and encompass a variety of filmmaking techniques. I’m especially drawn to the deadpan humor of Flatlife by Jonas Geirnaert of Belgium, in which we observe people in four apartments—two on one floor and two below— whose actions affect one another without really meaning to. Other films, from Sweden, South Africa, Turkey, Croatia, Norway, France, and the UK, run the gamut of sensibilities; some, like The Blackheart Gang’s The Tale of How, are breathtakingly beautiful, while others, like David OReilly’s Please Say Something, seem to flaunt their inscrutability. I don’t get to attend as many animation festivals as I used to, so a compilation such as this is a welcome opportunity to see what cutting-edge animators are up to.

I also loved diving into a recent two-disc release from Warner Home Video called The Essential Daffy Duck. Unlike some random compilations or recent collections of leftover material, this is a genuine career survey of the durable Looney Tunes star, from his earliest appearances in the 1930s (in Porky’s Duck Hunt and Daffy Duck and Egghead) through his salad days in such great cartoons as Bob Clampett’s The Daffy Doc, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery and Book Revue, and his reinvention by Chuck Jones as a flustered foil in Duck Amuck, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, among others. Disc 2 features the second coming of Daffy in such 1980s and 1990s efforts as The Duxorcist and The Night of the Living Duck, Chuck Jones’ little-seen Superior Duck (1996), a Tiny Toons segment called Duck Dodgers Jr., and two episodes of the terrific Duck Dodgers TV series. Bonus features include two prime-time Daffy TV specials comprised of vintage material and new linking segments, and a tongue-in-cheek mini-documentary which cartoon buffs will particularly enjoy, Daffy Duck: Ridicule Is the Burden of Genius. It’s interesting to see how different writers, directors and even voice artists have dealt with the little black duck over the decades…and how some of the bright lights at Warner Bros. Animation have kept the spirit of Daffy alive in the 21st century.

The Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume One is the first major Blu-ray release of this vintage material, which looks great in new high-definition transfers. There are fifty shorts altogether: twenty-five assorted gems on Disc One, with first-rate bonus material prepared for the last round of DVD releases, and the complete works of Marvin the Martian, The Tasmanian Devil, Witch Hazel, Marc Anthony and Ralph Phillips on Disc Two, accompanied by some new featurettes about these less celebrated Warners’ characters. There is relatively little in this three-disc set that hasn’t been released before, although completists will cheer the video debut of such shorts as Marvin the Martian in the 3rd Dimension (1996), an excellent 3-D short which I first saw as a special attraction at the now-shuttered Warner Bros. Store in Manhattan. Another find is Chuck Jones A Hitch in Time (1955), produced for the U.S. Air Force, in which a pilot is encouraged to re-enlist rather than return to civilian life. Jerry Beck wrote the text for an attractive hardcover book, which along with a “litho cel,” a tin sign, and a nifty Bugs Bunny shot glass are among the goodies in this oversized box. If you’ve gone daffy for Blu-ray, you’ll want to own this collection so you can enjoy Warner Bros. cartoons looking and sounding their best.

Warners’ Tom and Jerry Golden Collection Volume One is available on Blu-ray and DVD, so take your choice. All the cartoons have been remastered in high-definition, and appear uncut and uncensored, thank goodness. Most of the bonus material, including mini-documentaries featuring Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, and savvy commentary tracks by such animation experts as Jerry Beck, Mark Kausler, Eric Goldberg, Michael Mallory, Joe Adamson, and the late Earl Kress, appeared on the first Tom and Jerry DVD release in 2004 (as revealed by the use of stars from Warners’ MADtv series, which is now out of production). A new featurette linking the cat and mouse to the tradition of slapstick comedy teams is enjoyable if not essential.

The best part of these releases is that vintage cartoons are being properly preserved and presented. They deserve to find a new generation of fans so it isn’t just us baby boomers who cherish them and want them to live forever

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