Armchair Cinephile

That's not all, folks!

The wait must have been agonizing for die-hard lovers of classic animation, but finally the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume Two (Warner Bros.) is here - another four-disc collection of 60 brilliant cartoons, each eye-poppingly great, adorned with bonus features ranging from audio commentaries to reminiscences by giants like Tex Avery. "What's Opera, Doc?" is on there too. (That puff of smoke you just saw is a Bugs Bunny nut zipping down to the video store.)

Somewhat less classic but still very entertaining is a new "Spotlight Collection" of Tom and Jerry, a release that squeezes 40 cat-and-mouse tales onto two discs. Sure, that means 40 versions of the same story, but as Itchy and Scratchy proved decades after these shorts were made, the violent tug-of-war between hunter and prey never gets old, especially when sharp kitchen implements are involved.

T&J is a Warner release, and looking around lately one might wonder if the studio has gone cartoon crazy: From Teen Titans: Divide and Conquer, which puts a cute anime spin on the '80s comic book hit, to a long series of titles featuring more famous heroes (Batman: Secrets of the Caped Crusader, Superman: A Little Piece of Home, et cetera), it looks as if they want to corner the kiddie market. Not that Disney's laying low - a double-disc special edition of Mulan just came out with deleted scenes and, for some reason, a Jackie Chan music video.

Aside from Looney Tunes, though, the big mainstream animation news is the upcoming (November 16) reissue of The Iron Giant (Warner, again). Timed to coincide with director Brad Bird's new Pixar movie, The Incredibles, this edition offers multiple commentaries and deleted scenes. More importantly, it's a bit of fresh exposure for a film that far too few people saw in the first place. One of the finest animated movies of the last decade, Iron Giant is witty enough that even adults can rewatch it with pleasure (I'm on my fourth or fifth viewing), sweet enough for families, more charming than 99 percent of what's directed at kids these days, and so amazingly beautiful - the design and animation work on the robot, in particular - that it demands the sparkliest digital transfer available, which is what it gets here.

Kids wouldn't want to see The Five Obstructions (Koch Lorber), the new movie from Lars Von Trier and Jørgen Leth, but art-film buffs should take note of its release (mere weeks after it played Texas theaters). In Obstructions, Von Trier forces Leth to remake a film five times; it gets mentioned here because one of its segments is animated by Bob Sabiston, the Austin-based animator behind Richard Linklater's Waking Life. Speaking of Von Trier, Home Vision just put out Epidemic, one of the stranger titles in the filmmaker's odd filmography. Starring LVT himself, the 1988 film is a self-referential trip in which a filmmaking team sets out to make a movie about an imaginary contagious disease, not realizing there's a real one spreading all around them.

Far more obscure than Looney Tunes but almost equally exciting to a certain element (including yours truly) are a series of releases from a tiny company called Inkwell Images. (Available online via The company's primary interest is animation, and these first discs focus on the old, old, old stuff, like the first cartoons ever to have synchronized soundtracks. (They also invented the old "follow the bouncing ball" sing-a-long routine.) Three of Inkwell's titles, two in a series called Max Fleischer's Famous Out of the Inkwell and the standalone Ko-Ko Song Car-Tunes, are devoted to the work of Max Fleischer, the pioneer whose success preceded Walt Disney's and who, with brother Dave, would go on to make movies starring Popeye and Superman.

The big star on these discs, though, is a clown called Ko-Ko, who interacts with the artist drawing him in a really winning routine - a hand with a pen will draw his torso, say, and then give Ko-Ko a piece of chalk and tell him to finish himself off. The pictures do all sorts of cool back-and-forth gags between the cartoons and live action; it's stuff that feels new every time somebody rediscovers it - from Daffy Duck talking back to an ink brush to Roger Rabbit trading barbs with Bob Hoskins - but worked just fine even before Talkies began.

John DeFore on DVD


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