Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bugs Bunny: Superstar (1975)

          You might think a fluffy documentary tracing the origins of a popular cartoon character could evade controversy. You’d be wrong. Although it only includes about 30 minutes of original material (the rest of the movie comprises full-length vintage cartoons), Bugs Bunny: Superstar managed to aggravate long-simmering tensions among the mad geniuses behind Bugs, Daffy, Elmer, Porky, and the other Looney Tunes mainstays. Watching the movie today, it’s not hard to see why—Bob Clampett, one of several prolific Looney Tunes directors, hosts the movie in scripted sequences that suggest he single-handedly oversaw the creation of every major character. Considering the equally important roles of animators including Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, and Chuck Jones, Clampett’s amiably megalomaniacal dominance of Bugs Bunny: Superstar is a major disservice to film history. However, if you can tolerate Clampett’s inexplicable narcissism, Bugs Bunny: Superstar is mildly entertaining.
          The documentary bits, which are narrated by Orson Welles, feature Clampett in an office filled with artifacts like animation cels and character-model statues. He shares interesting trivia, such as the number of cels used in an average ’40s Looney Tune—10,000 drawings for seven minutes of screen time—and he introduces wonderful home-movie footage of the animators who kept “Termite Terrace,” the building on the Warner Bros. lot where the ’toons were made, lively. Clampett’s contemporaries, including Freleng and Jones, appear during brief interview clips, mostly spewing platitudes about how much they enjoyed the working environment at Termite Terrace, so Clampett—with his loud, patch-covered windbreaker and his helmet-like hairpiece—emerges as the only memorable non-animated figure. (Even voice actor Mel Blanc and music composer Carl Stalling, both of whom were crucial to the greatness of Looney Tunes, are relegated to sidekick status.)
          As for the shorts featured in the movie, they’re okay—although even mediocre Looney Tunes are entertaining, Clampett-directed work is favored to a fault. (Seriously, where are the Chuck Jones-helmed masterpieces including What’s Opera, Doc?) Anyway, while Bugs Bunny: Superstar wasn’t actually produced by Warner Bros., Warner Bros. built on the documentary’s minor success by making additional Looney Tunes anthologies, beginning with the 1979 release The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, a compilation flick assembled by Jones; further anthology pictures were released in the ’80s. As for Bugs Bunny: Superstar, it’s best viewed today as an interesting museum piece, since various DVD bonus-feature docs produced by Warner Bros. in the 2000s tell the Looney Tunes story with greater accuracy.

Bugs Bunny: Superstar: FUNKY


Cindylover1969 said...

Considering Bob Clampett gets mentioned in the "Beany and Cecil" theme song TWICE, the revelation of his ego being enormous is unsurprising.

WilloughbyStain said...

At the time this documentary was released the Warner Bros color cartoons made prior to 1949 were owned by United Artists, whereas the cartoons made after 1948 were owned by Warner Bros themselves. This film was released through UA\MGM, which is why all the cartoons here are from the 40s. Thus What's Opera Doc, which came out in 1957, would not have been even considered for this film.