The Death of Looney Tunes on Home Video

PorkyPig101When I heard about the Porky Pig 101 5-disc DVD set from Warner Archive months ago via various channels of “insider info,” I literally felt nothing. Having that kind of unfazed reaction to a licensed, complete collection of Warner cartoons is quite odd, yes. But not really, once it was known “the conditions that prevail[ed].”

Beyond having no Blu-Ray version, the bulk of the cartoons, the ones that weren’t featured on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection sets of 2003-08, are not restored from the original negatives. They are mostly new transfers from 35mm fine grains and nitrate material. (This is also true for the new transfers of the color Warner cartoons of the last six years or so—they’re from interpositives, not the negs—which explains the very noticeable dip in quality and color.) We were forewarned that the difference would be noticeable, but hey, raw 35mm transfers are better than nothing, right?

When my copy arrived, the first cartoon I put on was Africa Squeaks, a crude little gem highlighting the casual racism of Bob Clampett (he was the best cartoon director of the early ‘40s, but if you want proof of that racism, it’s all over this set). It was indeed uncensored, but I was rather taken aback to see that it was an older master, one made in the analog video era. It didn’t bode well for the rest of the set. Despite the assurances these would be new transfers, several cartoons are sourced from the old Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network era analog masters. Given what transpired, I wish they were all taken from those copies.

One of the older masters used, complete with 4x3 TV safe window-boxing.

One of the older masters used, complete with 4×3 TV safe window-boxing.

How do I put this… Well, let’s just grab a title from each disc. Picador Porky looks okay, but it has the wrong soundtrack over the opening and closing—so Porky says “That’s All Folks!” when he isn’t actually there. Porky the Wrestler is still censored (a blackface gag was cut in 1942), and it’s exceptionally dirty and shaky, with the wrong “That’s All Folks!” card literally spliced on. Too many cartoons don’t have the WB shield zoom—it simply abruptly starts, just as so many film prints do.

Get Rich Quick Porky looks like a soft dupe, with the opening music from Confusions of a Nutzy Spy over the credits. Someone absolutely loved the opening music from Porky’s Tire Trouble, as it’s on about six cartoons where it shouldn’t be. On Naughty Neighbors, it’s looped twice; see the below embedded example. In this example, the original intention was that Clampett and Carl Stalling are lulling you into a false sense of security—then abruptly cut to the feuding hillbillies. But now…

Below is another, this time from The Lone Stranger and Porky

The amateurish work done in post on some 25 percent of the cartoons ranges from flubs to (as demonstrated above) desecrating art. It’d be tempting to publish a full list of what’s wrong with every other cartoon on this set, but that would simply give it attention it does not deserve. POSTSCRIPT: Since many have now asked, here is a list of the actual video/audio flubs. We can debate forever what is or isn’t good print quality, but the following are objective, valid problems. I laugh at the idiots who say “They’re just cartoons!”, “They’ve never looked better!”, or “At least they’re not he Korean redrawn colorizations!” As if those arguments hold any water. Without further delay…

Westward Whoa – wrong soundtrack over opening
Shanghaied Shipmates – mastering error resulting in blocky pixilation at the end of the cartoon
Fish Tales – wrong soundtrack over opening, uses cue from Rover’s Rival
Porky the Wrestler – censored, has the end title from Little Beau Porky tacked on
Picador Porky –
has opening music from Porky’s Tire Trouble, has wrong closing theme

Porky and Gabby – literally a jump splice from the credits to action, then splice to the end title
Get Rich Quick Porky – has the opening music from Confusions of a Nutty Spy and wrong closing music
Porky’s Garden
has the opening music from Porky’s Tire Trouble and wrong closing music

Top, from the Columbia House VHS collection; bottom, the new DVD. "Hey, we worked really hard to do make some of these look worse. Give us $50."

Top, from the Columbia House VHS collection; bottom, the new DVD. “Hey, we worked really hard to do make some of these look worse. Give us $50.”

Porky & Daffy – missing first few seconds, starts abruptly on the WB shield
The Lone Stranger and Porky – has opening music from Porky’s Tire Trouble
Chicken Jitters – has opening music from Porky’s Tire Trouble
Kristopher Kolumbus Jr. – missing first few seconds, starts abruptly on the WB shield

Naughty Neighbors – has the opening music from Porky’s Tire Trouble looped twice over the titles and first scene
Porky the Giant Killer – has the opening music from Porky’s Tire Trouble
Africa Squeaks – fake fade-in on the WB shield, from previous video master
Ali Baba Bound – missing first few seconds, starts abruptly on the WB shield
Slap Happy Pappy – missing first few seconds, starts abruptly on the WB shield
Patient Porky – new poor transfer, despite being restored from the original negative on Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5
Calling Dr. Porky – has opening music from Porky’s Tire Trouble

Porky’s Hired Hand – has opening music from Porky’s Tire Trouble
Porky’s Bear Facts – missing first few seconds, starts abruptly on the WB shield (but it is one of the best-looking, and best, cartoons on the set)
Porky’s Ant
wrong soundtrack over opening
Porky’s Prize Pony
wrong soundtrack over opening
We the Animals Squeak!
missing first few seconds, starts abruptly on the WB shield
The Henpecked Duck
missing first few seconds, starts abruptly on the WB shield
Notes to You
wrong soundtrack over opening
Robinson Crusoe Jr.
wrong soundtrack over opening
Porky’s Cafe
wrong soundtrack over opening
Confusions of a Nutzy Spy – wrong end card, taken from a mid-30s short without Porky coming out of the drum

Make no mistake: the bodies of many of these cartoons look completely serviceable for a barebones release—from another era, that is. If this were a laserdisc set, it’d easily be one of the crown jewels of that format. But this is now 2017, when we have had a full decade’s worth of high-definition classic film restorations and releases. Do it right, or don’t do it at all.

If they had simply used the old video masters, at least those flubs could be blamed on bad work twenty years ago and not twenty weeks ago. “Utterly clueless” is an apt summation for these postproduction people; “interns” would be another. They did not do the esteemed Warner Archive label any favors. In fact, in one case, they did a new, poor transfer of the dud Patient Porky, despite the fact that Warners had restored that cartoon from the original negative over ten years ago for the Golden Collection. The “cost prohibitive” argument against doing full restoration falls apart if they spent money to make a cartoon look worse.

As someone who does film restoration and master preparation on a daily basis, I can sympathize with cut corners, gaffes here and there. It’s only human that a set of 101 short subjects would have a few imperfections, and it’d be unfair to blow those few out of proportion. But it is even more unfair when a giant corporation slings hash, knowing the stupid audience will buy the set anyway. If it’s this or nothing, fine. Nothing it is.

porkys last standWhile I’m sure I’ll be given grief for this, what’s the point if they’re not going to restore them and put out something half-assed that makes anyone who actually does care look bad? Does anybody really want to get an unrestored MGM Tex Avery set in standard-definition? Where is the guarantee that this kind of non-quality control will never happen again?

Don’t let anyone kid you. We are living in an era in which restoration and preservation costs are going down—just about every transfer house charges the same for 4K as 2K now—and small companies such as Thunderbean Animation and Cartoons on Film are willing to pick up the slack with their releases of public domain and copyrighted shorts. As I write this, I’m working on the remastering of a god-awful Don and Waffles cartoon animated by Jim Tyer that’s going to look inarguably as good (and arguably better) than any of the new transfers on this set. Think about that: a stupid public-domain Van Beuren cartoon is going to look better than a Warner cartoon on an officially licensed set. It’s utterly embarrassing that we’ll have restored versions of Flip the Frog, Willie Whopper, Felix the Cat, and Ko-Ko the Clown on Blu-Ray, and a behemoth like Warners won’t pony up the cash to do the same for Porky Pig. It’s not that the money isn’t there; it’s that Warners doesn’t want to spend it, and if the sales for this abomination are good, it’s proof they don’t have to do it.

the blow out Which underlies the real tragedy, given what the contents of Porky Pig 101 represent: the historic early works of the medium’s most talented people at the greatest animation studio of all-time, starring an incredibly enduring, timeless character. Doing restoration and preservation is only a good thing because they’ll always be venerable parts of the Warner library. If they’re not worth the extra mile, the “bonus” of proper restoration, what exactly is worth it? And does anyone really think they’re going to go back and do these the right way if it’s proven they can get away with this?

thats all folks

36 Comments

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36 Responses to The Death of Looney Tunes on Home Video

  1. Fuck off, Thad. Jerry and friends are doing a service to animation’s history and future that you can’t quite wrap your mind around. You busy yourself restoring shite for a regular paycheck while future generations will find the inspiration they need from this set of bedrock low budget cartoon classics. The fact that this set is available and can be purchased for under 50.00 is a modern miracle. Get out of the way and go back to your trusted 9 to 5.

    • No, sir. Fuck, you. Also, Laurel and Hardy isn’t “shite” the last time I checked. Neither are Republic serials. But, to each his own shite.

      • This set is the absolute bedrock gold standard of how to make world class timeless classic character animation shorts for pennies a serving. These are the greatest low budget theatrically released cartoons ever created- this set will inspire animators for decades to come. Jerry and friends, by releasing this set, are providing a service that will reverberate round the world for lifetimes to come. Whiners and complainers? FUCK OFF.

        • Well, until the unstable DVD media rots away in twenty years. Not sure how animators are supposed to study animation with interlaced content, either. And all the kids and animation students I know could care less about old cartoons, let alone B&W ones. This is why WB will get away with this: because they knew idiots like you would accept it.

    • Pez

      If the cartoons end up for sale on iTunes, then the kids will see them. As long as they release dvd the only people buying this will be old jerks like us. I think its said that such an important dvd set is already getting so much hate. I personally will wait to have a stance until I watch the shorts.

  2. Paul

    Hey, would you be willing to do a post on the original titles for the MGM cartoons?

    There are a surprising amount of Youtube users trying to recreate them. (example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLyqWFtW0ag). Some of them are titles that have been recovered, while others are educated guesses.

    From your vantage point, can you say how many still exist from the 1940s and early 1950s? For example, is there any chance the titles for “Sufferin’ Cats” will be found? I want to hear what the original music sounded like.

    Nice to see you posting again.

  3. Dave

    Oh and if WB put out a MGM Tex Avery set in standard def, there would be no reason for anyone to buy it… most of us already own one version or another of a standard def set. I have the French one and the laser discs

  4. Craig Davison

    Now, THERE’S an idea. Thunderbean (or some yet-to-exist analog) could test the waters by licensing, say, all the Buddy cartoons and then releasing them in a restored, hi-def blu-ray set.

    • Anonymous

      At this point, I’d wish that anyone would release them in HQ. Yes, they’re shit, but they’re apart of cartoon history, and shouldn’t be left in the dust.

    • Actually, we sort of had a test run of that, with the Private Snafu set from Thunderbean. So why is Steve able to do better with his limited resources than Warners is? There’s a thought.

      • Craig Davison

        D’oh. That’s exactly right! I forgot all about Sanfu. Done and then re-done again for blu-ray. By some guy in Michigan. (Still, c’mon… BUDDY!)

  5. David

    I should have known.
    I should have known this was too good to be true. This is a real kick in the pants because I, like everyone else, took all the hype about this set at face value. My copy hasn’t reached me yet, but now I’m dreading watching it because of the digital landmines we now know are out there.
    But what’s to be done? This corner-cutting has been going on for years now, even during the fat times of the Golden Collections. I fully agree with ‘do it right or don’t do it at all,’ but we said that about the second Tom & Jerry blu-ray set when they announced “Mouse Cleaning” and “Casanova Cat” were not being included, and what happened? Warners basically said, “okay, we won’t do it at all” and instead we’re now being given tripe like ‘Tom & Jerry Meet Willy Wonka’.
    We have zero leverage here, and I don’t know how we get it.

  6. Tony

    I really don’t think Warnet really cares about this set too much. Promotion has been next to nonexistant and none of the big review sites got early copies to review. This is one of the only reviews for a set that has been out for almost a week.

  7. Tony

    Also, Messmer Felix and Out of the Inkwell on Blu? I can”t want those more.

    Hopefully well see them soon.

  8. Sad that WB has a history of not sub licensing their propreties to other home video companies.

    At least there’s hope for the cartoon library that Universal has amassed (Felix, Harveytoons, and most of UPA among others), since they have licensed many titles to companies like Arrow and Shout Factory.

  9. Todd

    Thanks for bringing this to everybody’s attention. My set arrived yesterday and I immediately noticed that some of the titles were clipped. But beyond that, being only a casual fan and not working in the industry, other gaffes largely went over my head. As painful as it might be, I urge you to publish that full lists of mistakes. It may not change anything, but would at least put the truth front and center should there ever be a “next time”. And I completely agree about outsourcing projects like this. 3D Film Archive, Thunderbean, and others prove the sorts of results that can be achieved on minuscule budgets if done by passionate people who know their craft vs. stubbornly performing the work in-house, even if that means the technicians lack the knowledge, skill, or patience. It’s apparently why WB has given up vintage 3D restorations. Doing the work internally is too expensive and they refuse to license out. Personally, I don’t mind DVD’s. I’m happy to have Porky’s full b&w run in any form…but would have been exceedingly happier without this butcher job. Glad I didn’t pay full price.

    • Todd

      An Amazon reviewer points out that at least one cartoon (“Old Glory”) still has the Blue Ribbon reissue titles. Are the originals considered lost?

      • Yes. But they did restore the original end title (the “That’s All Folks!” superimposed on the flag) which had been unseen in some 60+ years. That was back in 2004, though.

  10. When DVD’s were still a novelty, I purchased a copy of the live action film “The Garden of Allah” with Marlene Deitrich and was impressed with the quality. This was an inexpensive release which cost me somewhere around five dollars or less, so it’s doubtful any new restoration had been done on it, but pains had been taken to get a print that looked and sounded really good. At the time I naively assumed that this was what to expect from all DVD’s. Since then I have viewed copies of films that look chopped up and come from incomplete or otherwise unsatisfactory prints, so I now realize that not every company is concerned about quality.

    I have been very interested in purchasing this Porky Pig set, but I don’t like to spend money if the material is unsatisfactory, so for me this information is very useful.

    Thank you, Thad, for posting this review of the Porky Pig set. I agree with your sentiments and I appreciate an honest review from one who is knowledgeable about animation as well as a dynamic comic book writer. I still may buy this one but at least I will know it’s not the treasure trove one might expect. Caveat emptor!

  11. J Lee

    People working in the business of making new dubs of original negatives of films have, for over half a century, had a habit of arbitrarily ‘adjusting’ the audio and/or video of those films, apparently just out of boredom or for the fun of doing it. You can sort of understand when an originating studio’s titles get clipped when the film falls into new ownership — Hollywood types and those in the distribution business have a thing about rewriting history and trying to make people think the original owners of a movie or TV show never existed, and sometimes that’s at the bequest of the original owners, which is how we got the Sunset Productions/Guild Films versions of the B&W Looney Tunes and other Golden Age theatricals shorn of their original titles in the first place.
    But sometimes, the dubs/edits are simply random, and the people doing them know better, but don’t give a damn. That explains the audio errors in the 1990-95 LTs that were visually cleaned up for colorization, and which apparently supply the backbone of the prints for the Porky set, as well as the oddball cuts the Turner people did, both in their 1985 transfers of their pre-48 AAP library to video, and the 1995 dubbed versions, where in many cases the ending audio as well as the video image also was altered, and a number of those showed up on the early volumes of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection (let alone some brand-new unnecessary audio dubs, such as the opening to “Canned Feud” on the LTCG).
    Random alterations, which could just have easily been fixed by someone going back to the original negatives for the new transfers. But apparently this was a shove-it-out-the-door-as-fast-as-possible release on WHV’s part. While sales could tell the company there still is a market out their for Warners’ stock of so-far unreleased cartoons on DVD, success might also tell them the sheep will buy anything we give them, so there’s no reason to do anything but take the prints done 20-30 years ago and ship them out the door

    • Ian L.

      If there are people in the restoration business making changes to old films for boredom/fun, they don’t deserve their jobs. They’re altering history.

      • Having worked in home video, I can guess what happened. “Hey, Phillippe is saying there’s too many pops and clicks in this opening. These things all use the same opening music so we can just loop it from another, right?” “Of course they’re all the same, do it and have it ready by the end of the day!” It’s one of the cardinal rules of Q.C. to make sure the beginning and ends of a film are as good as possible, so when at the very start you’re taken out of the viewing experience by the equivalent of a skipping record, you’ve clearly failed. Bob Clampett was very proud of his work with Carl Stalling on these cartoons and having access to an orchestra and the Warner music library – suffice to say, I think he’d be just as bothered by this hackwork as he was by the Korean colorized versions.

  12. orange mo

    I agree with you Thad. It’s so sad how lazy WB is coming with restorations and audio problems. At least they should get the original audio from the original negatives.

  13. Craig PO

    This is called “MY TWO CENTS.” I did film transfer masters, and have seen and been appalled by what is put out there as “Professional” work by other transfer technicians. I sure as hell wouldn’t even spit on those transfer tapes, let alone put my name on them. Blooming white Levels & Burried Black levels where an actors clothes cannot be seen because the black level of the transfer is too low to define the difference between 7.5 black units and 10 or 15 units. That is a sloppy technician. But here’s how the business of transfers works. The transfer company owner has a relationship with “Mr. Warner Bros” client. He wants to keep Mr. Warner coming back for more and more future work. So he tries to have his technicians do their best work as FAST as they can—-TO A DEGREE!!!! But depending on how much Mr. Warner is paying for this “Transfer contract”, determines if the transfer owner tells his technician to “make these look like they just rolled out of the studio on their original issue date”—or “make ’em clear, sound OK, and get them done.” The transfer technician is likely a union paid shlub who wants to have a job next week. As they say, “It all pays the same” –meaning I get to be artistic on the customers dollar when they want art, and tell my boss to do so. BUT BUT In the end result, it IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF WARNERS to look at the product and OK it to be accepted. The fact that these titles made to the stage of PROJECT, is a political dream come true for likely one or two people inside the Warners company. Some executive needed to pay back “POINTS” to another department or individual and the Porky 101 set is the PAYMENT. The payment was still only issued as a project upon having been shown as being able to deliver a profit. The fact that they could “snag” some older transfers of questionable quality match, and might re-use some music under titles that isn’t original studio issue, among a few other “short cuts”, just adds to the profitability and helps push the project forward. I know that sucks, you know that sucks, we all know that sucks, but (thanks Jimmy D.) “Dat is da situation dat prevails.”! Having grown up watching those old (Robert L. Lippert Guild films) Sunset re-prints and a host of other badly re-printed films on tv in the mid 50’s—I’m glad to be able to see the original titles, at least, plus a lot of other recently transferred material (last 20 years). So I put the blame squarely on the transfer “People” and Warners people that said, Yeah, we’ll pay for that. OH, yes….and it’s true that transfer technicians take liberties in judgement calls in video levels, audio levels, inserting “new” audio, and doing whatever it takes to get the transfer “out the door.”

  14. Vince

    I totally agree with you Thad. I didn’t expect the transfers to be as great as the
    Golden Collections, but was it necessary for them to tamper with the credits? Especially since most of us remember watching most of these on television in the not too distant past without this degree of arbitrary editing.

    I was hoping that this set would pave the way for more unreleased WB cartoons from the 30’s and 40’s (I’ve hoped to see better transfers of the shorts than the “dubbed versions” that were released on the 5th volume of The Golden Age Of Looney Tunes), but this isn’t a good sign in terms of quality control.

    On the plus side, we’ve got uncensored copies of Africa Squeaks and A Coy Decoy (something I never would have expected WB to give us) as well as most of the Avery and Tashlin Porkys that were previously unavailable in any video format even though they’re not in the best presentation.

  15. According to Jerry, there won’t be any plans to go back and fix the errors, unfortunately ..

    “I’m afraid there are no plans to do disc replacements on Porky 101.

    Porky Pig 101 was designed and advertised solely as a comprehensive collection of the black & white Porky Pig Looney Tunes cartoons, which it is. Because we had to pull elements from disparate sources within the company, we acknowledge some elements sourced have replaced opening or closing music cues. The contents of the cartoons themselves are as complete as possible, having been either digitally restored or transferred from 35mm nitrate fine-grain prints.

    The bottom line: We know the prints here aren’t “perfect”, nor can compare to the kind of restoration work, done off the original negs (that Warner put into the previous Golden Collections), but there are about 60+plus cartoons on this set the company would never have put out before, nor ever will again.

    If we are lucky and the sales figures are good, this sort of thing, using lesser film elements unrestored, will not happen again.”

    • Todd

      I assume “will not happen again” is Jerry’s typo and he meant “could happen again”?

      If I understand correctly and this is the end of the line for these b&w cartoons, is it time to start a petition for Warner to turn over the negatives to the Library of Congress? I’m sure the LoC would treat them as a work in progress.

      • Todd: not only should the negatives go to LC, Congress should also be lobbied to undo the nasty copyright extensions we’ve faced in recent decades. Then the folks who would really do right by the films can come along and do what they do best.

  16. Hans Christian Brando

    By all means moan and groan about the “racist” content of cartoons made eight decades ago (when people simply thought differently) and then wonder why they’re not being restored to pristine condition. We’re lucky that people aren’t demanding that they be destroyed. At least they can’t be any worse than those hideously colorized abominations from the late ’60s (in which Daffy was brown).

    • “When people simply thought differently”? I dunno, have you not read the news lately? More like eight minutes ago. Actually, I think Porky Pig 101 would be right at home playing in the White House lobby. Maybe Trump will personally pay to have A Coy Decoy reanimated, and replace Aunt Jemima with Colin Kaepernick.

      And yeah, this is better than getting the Korean colorized versions… so what?

  17. Jon Cooke

    I hate to add more to the list, but “Confusions of a Nutzy Spy” also has an incorrect end card (not Porky in the drum, but one lifted from a mid-30s short). Also, for a couple seconds near the end of “Shanghaied Shipmates” while Porky and the shipmates are whipping the Captain the screen gets blocky and pixelated. I thought it was it was a disc error, but I have seen others mention it too.

  18. Anthony Nagle

    ‘Confusions of a Nutzy Spy’ was an extra cartoon on the second disc of the 6th Golden Collection. Why they didn’t use that master, which was un-restored and looked BETTER with CORRECT ending title card, I don’t know.

    I personally wasn’t all that bothered by the dirtier scans as much as the careless slapping of soundtracks where they didn’t belong. It’s like editing out characters from other mediums, its more or less revisionist history. As noted from other posters, delaying the release with proper QC would have really benefited this set. I’m wondering if anyone (or a small group) truly sat down to watch these cartoons one by one before the discs were authored? Anomalies are one thing, but a running gag of errors easily could have been discovered, discussed, and contemplated for further evaluation.

  19. What a disaster! Watched your embedded examples. Atrocious! What were they thinking? Thanks for the heads up, Thad.

  20. David

    That, i have now watched the first disc of the set and now I think you should be shamed of the smear campaign you have started about this amazing set. Being a cartoon historian is not like being a stamp collector, you should be discussing the value of these films. That way new generations can discover and love them. There are others out there on facebook and instagram that talk about the golden age of animation as a learning tool and as fine art. You just trash everything you didn’t work on… which is a lot.

  21. Willie

    I will agree that though I like this set, I’m disappointed on some of the flaws it has. It’s not really the video quality on the cartoons, it’s the fact that some of the cartoons have some splices, some using incorrect opening and closing music, and a few using the wrong closing titles.

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