Book Review: The Looney Tunes Treasury
Farago's other choices are interesting: Besides the obvious superstars such as Bugs, Daffy, Elmer and Porky, he gives pages to secondary characters such as Michigan J. Frog, Witch Hazel and Prissy the hen. Farago's text, as far as I could tell, was free of historical errors but a couple of points raised my curiosity: It states (in Bugs' recounting) that he first appeared in the 1940 short A Wild Hare, but this is only partially true. There were several prototypical models dating back to 1938 (and arguably before that). It might have been interesting to have Bugs mention this in the context of his "maturing." Again, the Warner characters do not seem to have a history after the theatrical era. Why didn't Bugs and Porky, for example, mention that they served as faculty at Acme University during the 1980s?
A related point: Farago's book should actually be titled The Warner Cartoon Treasury. I have always been curious why "Merrie Melodies" gets such short shrift, since several major and supporting characters originated in them. Many of the Merrie Melodies are actually the cartoons treasured by those who say that the "classic Looney Tunes" are their favorites. "Looney Tunes," in fact, has become a brand. The "Merrie Melodies" title, with its antiquated spelling and lack of anarchic snap, is largely disregarded today, even though it persisted up until the last days of the Warner studio. We live, however, in an age of ubiquitous branding and future books will probably continue to lump all Warner shorts under "Looney Tunes."
Farago, as curator of the Cartoon Art Museum, has a great advantage in composing The Looney Tunes Treasury. There are many stills, production drawings and miscellaneous tidbits (such as caricatures of the Warner staff) that I can't recall seeing in other histories. Organization of material is tight overall; there is a nice double-page spread of Bugs in his greatest cross-dressing and celebrity impersonation roles. Daffy Duck's star turns are contained in a sticker book. The tidbits of history and attractive selection of artwork make this book what Farago may have intended it to be: a starting point for those who want to explore the history of the Warner cartoons in more depth.
This treasury is, in the final reckoning, a colorful assortment of animated amusements. It does a fairly good job of encapsulating the personalities of the Warner "stars" while providing only the amount of history needed to understand their metamorphoses over time. To ask Farago to produce a memento-stuffed piece of fun while also taking on the historical burdens assumed by Jerry Beck, John Canemaker or Michael Barrier is to simply ask too much. The Looney Tunes Treasury is a freshman's intro to Warner history and production techniques but it is just the sort of book that could make a casual animation fan's mouth water for the graduate level courses. They may even want to attend class wearing the Tasmanian Devil mask thoughtfully provided near the end of the book.
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.