By Chaz Lipp
(Article first published as DVD Review: Bugs Bunny Superstar on Blogcritics.)
Originally released theatrically in 1975, Bugs Bunny Superstar is part documentary, part Merry Melodies anthology. Though Warner Archive has recently made the feature-length film available on DVD (not for the first time), it was originally produced by Larry Jackson independently. Jackson also directed the film, attempting to buck what he was told were the steep odds against adults turning out to see a film about animated shorts.
When viewed purely as a documentary, Superstar has some serious shortcomings. Jackson was clearly limited in who he had access to when conducting interviews with early Warner Bros. animators. Chuck Jones is nowhere to be seen. The most visible animator is Bob Clampett, who tells the story of “Termite Terrace” (the nickname for the rickety 1940s Warner animation studio). Also checking in are Tex Avery and Friz Freleng. We see plenty of archival home movie footage of various animators “acting out” the actions of their characters, previsualizing what they would later draw.
Production art is also displayed in the form of rough sketches and concept drawings. Clampett speaks as if he were addressing a classroom of kindergarteners, somewhat ironic given that the film’s narrator explains that the Looney Tunes shorts were always intended for adult audiences. Speaking of the narrator, he happens to be none other than Orson Welles, who gives the film a sense of gravity that Clampett (nor anyone else, for that matter) could hope to provide.
Looking past the generally superficial documentary content, the real stars of the film are the nine animated shorts (all from the ‘40s) that appear in their entirety. These shorts won’t be new to serious Looney Tunes collectors, as they have appeared on the various DVD collections that have been released over the years. In fact, the entire film was included (split into two parts) as a special feature on Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4. The two most notorious shorts include racially insensitive footage. “What’s Cookin’ Doc?” includes a clip from the controversial “Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt,” while “I Taw a Putty Tat” finds Sylvester the cat in blackface at one point, affecting the vocal mannerisms of an African-American stereotype.
What is apparently exclusive to this DVD release is an audio commentary by director Larry Jackson. The inclusion of this highly informative track makes acquiring the release worth considering even for those who already own Golden Collection: Volume 4. Jackson did his homework, providing a history lesson that goes far deeper than the actual documentary footage in Superstar. As an additional bonus feature there’s a gallery of behind-the-scenes still photos.
Warner Archive’s Bugs Bunny Superstar is available as a made-to-order DVD, meaning every copy ordered burned to DVD-R. The audio/visual presentation is nothing write home about. The unrestored footage is visually inconsistent, understandable considering much of the archival footage was not professionally shot. Even the animated shorts vary wildly in quality. It’s an interesting look at the early days of Warner Bros. animation, with a commentary track that makes the history lesson more valuable. Own it today on DVD!