I was a weird kid. This statement should not be socking to regular readers of this column. Growing up I adored Warner Brothers cartoons, and I happened to notice the names of the directors, which is something I’d argue most 10-year-olds in 1995 didn’t care about. As I began to pick up on the styles of each director one thing became very clear to me. There was something about the cartoons of Tex Avery that drew me to them more than the other ones. They were some of the funniest, zaniest, and rule-breaking cartoons I had ever seen.
Avery began his career at Warner Brothers, who, like many studios of the era, were trying their best to duplicate the Walt Disney style of animation. But Avery knew that they couldn’t beat Disney, so he began to do his own thing. Which including encouraging his animators that the cartoons can, and should, have anything happen at any given moment. Characters would break the fourth wall, have an awareness that they were in a cartoon, and sass back to members of the audience.
Avery was an integral part in the development of many of Warner’s biggest cartoon stars. Bugs Bunny wouldn’t be the bunny we know today without Avery laying the foundation that would make the character an international star. Avery left Warner Brothers for rival studio MGM in 1941, where the director was given bigger budgets, and the chance to do whatever he wanted. It’s arguable that the director’s best work was made during his years for MGM, creating one of their most enduring cartoon stars, the adorable dog Droopy along the way.
Though Avery passed in 1980, his style and influence on animation began to be celebrated and talked about in the mid-1980s and beyond. If you’ve ever seen the Jim Carey movie “The Mask,” Avery’s style was readily admitted by both Carey and that film’s director as an influence. Beginning in the late ‘80s, MGM started releasing collections of Avery’s cartoons on VHS. All of this leading up to one of the most elaborate releases of the era, an early ‘90s laserdisc box set of every cartoon Avery directed for the studio. That set has been long out of print, demanding big bucks on eBay for years. Almost 20 years ago, when WB, who owns the classic MGM library, began releasing DVD collections of their beloved stars, many fans wondered when Tex Avery was going to get his due.
It’s taken 20 years, but at long last, Warner Archive has brought into the world the first in a series of collections of Avery’s MGM cartoons in a way I never would have dreamed, all resorted to 4K high definition from original 35mm elements. In many cases, “Tex Avery’s Screwball Classics Volume 1” is the first time some of these cartoons have been made available in nearly 30 years. Unlike that laserdisc collection, these cartoons are presented uncut and uncensored.
Like many works made during the 1940s, there is the occasional cartoon that has a joke reflective of the views on minorities that were very commonplace then. In the disclaimer WB includes they say to cut this out with be “acting as if they never existed in the first place.” Which I think is good. It gives us a chance to see how far we’ve come, and in some ways, how far we still need to go.
This set contains 19 cartoons from Avery’s MGM reign in no particular order, but are organized by one-shot Avery, and by some of his star creations for the studio. This collection features great one-shot classics like “Symphony in Slang,” “The Peachy Cobbler” and one my most favorite Avery cartoons, his mystery spoof “Who Killed Who?” There’s a sampling of cartoons with Screwball Squirrel, George and Junior, and of course, Droopy.
So how do the cartoons look? Simply put, stunning. I’d dare say these cartoons look better than they did when fresh prints were seen by audiences in the ‘40s. After years of washed out, fuzzy, dirty looking prints of these circulating around here and there, it’s quite the revelation to see these cartoons looking so clear, colorful, and vibrant. WB does leave in things that were there, to begin with, cell dirt and the like, part of the process, but scratches are gone and the amount of detail over the previous releases of these cartoons caused me to literally yell a certain expletive aloud when I first fired up the disc.
This title is a must-own, and I mean that in every way anyone could. Buy this. Do it if you’ve loved these cartoons all your life as I have, do it if you like animation and have never seen Tex Avery, do it if you’ve never ever seen anything I’ve talked about here. Buy this, watch it, enjoy it, treasure it. This is quite possible my favorite Warner Archive release EVER, and might just win the title of my favorite release for 2020. Viva Warner Archive and Viva Tex Avery! See you next week, bub.