Combustible Celluloid
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With: Joe Dougherty, Mel Blanc, Billy Bletcher, Bernice Hansen (voices)
Written by: Tex Avery, Warren Foster, Melvin Millar, Jack Miller, etc.
Directed by: Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Jack King, Frank Tashlin, Ub Iwerks, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, etc.
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 743
Date: 09/19/2017

Porky Pig 101 (1935)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ham

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Fans of cartoons have complained for years about Warner Home Video's handling of their massive archive. Either the 'toons have been released in huge, almost random collections (like the "Golden" and "Platinum" box sets), or in sporadic sets, like some of the late-era Tom and Jerry collections or the Droopy collection, or not at all (the Tex Avery library). So this 2017 release of 101 mostly black-and-white Porky Pig cartoons, arranged in chronological order over five discs, and running from Porky's debut in 1935 to Porky Pig's Feat (1943), is a very exciting event. It's a bit pricey, but cartoon lovers will absolutely need this in their libraries.

Porky's debut, I Haven't Got a Hat (1935), is shown in beautiful two-strip Technicolor, and is still pretty funny, as the larger, rounder version of Porky is called upon to give a presentation in school. This one includes a commentary track by cartoon expert Jerry Beck. Porky's Romance (1937) is another key cartoon, directed by Frank Tashlin, and introducing Petunia Pig. Its background design is quite striking. It includes a commentary track by Mark Kausler.

Bob Clampett's Porky and Daffy (1938) is a good one, with Daffy entering the boxing ring to fight the champion, a gigantic rooster. Frank Tashlin's Wholly Smoke (1938) is an amazing anti-smoking message, conceived as a hallucinatory nightmare.

While not every single one of these hundred-and-one is a gem, there are a few bona-fide masterpieces in this set. Porky in Wackyland (1938) -- widely regarded as the all-time best Porky cartoon -- is a psychedelic wonder, as Porky goes looking for the last Do-Do Bird. And You Ought to Be in Pictures (1940) is a true ground-breaker, combining live-action and animation, as well as an early example of "meta," as Porky goes around the Warner Bros. lot, trying to get a job as an actor in feature films.

I always love a good Halloween-type cartoon, and Clampett's Jeepers Creepers (1939) is a great one, with Pinto Colvig (also known as Goofy) voicing a particularly playful ghost. (He smokes a cigar, grabs one of the smoke rings, and eats it like a donut.) Porky plays a cop called to investigate spooky noises in an old mansion. And I love The Film Fan (1939), which skewers the movie theater experience in all kinds of hilarious ways, including the problem of sitting too close to the screen.

Two of my childhood favorites -- I used to watch batches of Looney Tunes cartoons on TV on Sunday mornings -- are also here, Clampett's The Timid Toreador (1940) and Chuck Jones's Porky's Cafe (1942), and I think I like them mainly because of their depictions of food. In the former, Porky sells "hot tamales" from a cart, and in the second, he serves batches of eggs, toast, and coffee for hungry customers.

Tex Avery's Porky's Preview (1941) is quite brilliant, as Porky puts on his own cartoon show; his work appears as crude pencil sketches and stick figures, while all kinds of other mayhem goes on in the "theater." Lastly, there is Frank Tashlin's insane Porky Pig's Feat (1943), wherein Porky and Daffy find themselves with an astronomical bill for the Broken Arms Hotel, and unable to leave. It's the final black-and-white Porky cartoon, and features a cameo by Bugs Bunny. This one features a commentary track by the great film director Joe Dante!

Menu-wise, don't forget that each disc has two pages of titles, something I did not notice at first. Some bonuses, such as storyboards, live on these 2nd pages. Don't miss the final extra, a shocking little thing called "Porky's Breakdowns."Porky Pig 101 was released on the Warner Archive label and is not available on Blu-ray as of yet. Even so, the quality is excellent, and still highly recommended. Each of the discs starts with the disclaimer about potentially offensive material in the cartoons, with the correct assertion that it's better to acknowledge and learn from this stuff than it is to censor it.

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