The Bugs Bunny Film Festival
The first part of this two-part program of Warners animation is a 15-cartoon assemblage that can be recommended without reservation. "The Best of Bugs (& Buddies)" mostly comprises classic Chuck Jones efforts from the 1940s and '50s, What's Opera, Doc?, Duck Amuck, One Froggy Evening, Rabbit Seasoning (the one where Daffy and Bugs try to convince Elmer it's hunting season for the other), and Fast and Furry-ous (the Roadrunner's debut) among them. Jones' cartoons are good for three reasons -- the superb timing of the many gags, the individual characterizations of Bugs and friends, and the consistently attractive artwork. The characterizations in fact come out in the art, particularly in Jones' trademark expressive eyes and the lines that form the characters' bodies. (Both the coyote and Daffy scrunch up when crushed, for example, but in different ways.) Michael Maltese's witty dialogue and Maurice Nobel's handsome layout design are two more reasons these cartoons are so good. Landmark animation by the likes of Tex Avery (Bugs' debut in A Wild Hare) and Friz Freleng (Knighty-Knight Bugs) fill out the program in worthy ways.
The second set of 15 cartoons, "From Mars to Tazmania," is a different story -- a viewer exhausted by the excellence of the first program might be advised to leave after the string of brilliant, character-shredding Bob Clampett cartoons from the 1940s that opens the show, notably the awesome Fantasia parody Corny Concerto. (Jones' essential sweetness would have worked at the Disney Studio, but Clampett would never have fit.) But the rest are second-string, merely decent Jones cartoons mixed in with his three fine science-fiction spoofs (the justly celebrated Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century), and a host of mediocre shorts from the untalented Robert McKimson. Three of them star the one-note Tasmanian Devil, another the tedious Foghorn Leghorn (Lovelorn Leghorn, a truly excruciating affair). Completists should be alerted that some of these cartoons have never been on TV, but it's easy to see why -- Freleng's bizarre Hyde and Go Tweet (Tweety Bird drinks some of Dr. Jekyll's potion and becomes a monster) will frighten kiddies and puzzle adults in equal portions. And speaking of TV, remember that all the cartoons, good and bad, are showing on the Castro's big screen in shiny new 35mm prints, and gain from being seen as they were meant to.
The two programs screen Friday through Thursday, Aug. 14-20, at the Castro Theater, 429 Castro (at Market). "The Best of Bugs (& Buddies)" screens at 7 p.m. nightly, with additional shows Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday at 3 p.m. "From Mars to Tazmania" screens at 9 p.m. nightly, with additional shows Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $6.50; call 621-6120.