Chris Hicks: A curious batch of 'Looney Tunes' cartoons all about mice arrives on Blu-ray this week
Andrew Schwartz, Paramount Pictures
What do cartoon mice, Jack Black, Abbott & Costello and a 6-foot invisible rabbit have in common? Each makes a Blu-ray debut this week, as vintage cartoons and movies are released with high-def upgrades.
"Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection" (Warner/Blu-ray, 1939-51, two discs, $34.99, 19 cartoons, 11 bonus cartoons, audio commentaries, featurettes). Fans of classic Warner Bros. cartoons — those 7-minute shorts that played in movie theaters back in the day — have their own favorite animators, each with a style of his own: Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Robert McKimson, Frank Tashlin and, of course, Chuck Jones.
Jones directed a number of beloved favorites in the 1940s and '50s starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, along with many others whose characters never became quite as famous. This collection brings together Jones' favorite cartoon mice — all of the entries in his sentimental Sniffles series and those featuring pranksters Hubie & Bertie, a total of 19 remastered shorts (15 of which are new to DVD). Eleven bonus rodent-centric cartoons include some by Freleng, Avery and McKimson. (Also on DVD, $26.99.)
"School of Rock" (Paramount/Blu-ray, 2003, PG-13, $19.99, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer). Arguably Jack Black's best movie showcase so far, as he pretends to be a substitute teacher to recruit nerdy fifth-grade musicians to fulfill his own delusional rock-band dreams. Black is pitch-perfect and Joan Cusack is equally hilarious as his uptight principal.
"Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" (Universal/Blu-ray + DVD, 1948, b/w, two discs, $26.98, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer). Often cited by critics as Bud & Lou's best film, this one was their first "meet" horror comedy. The boys run into Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster, and it works wonderfully because the film is true to Universal's historical creature-feature mythology and the monsters play it straight. Hilarious.
"Harvey" (Universal/Blu-ray + DVD, 1950, b/w, two discs, $26.98, introduction by James Stewart, featurettes, trailer). One of James Stewart's iconic roles is in this gentle comedy as the tippling Elwood P. Dowd, whose best pal is a 6-foot rabbit named Harvey that only he can see. Warm, funny and sweet.
"Airport" (Universal/Blu-ray + DVD, 1970, G, two discs, $26.98, featurettes, trailer). All-star cast — Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jacqueline Bisset, Helen Hayes, etc. — bolsters this soap opera in the air as an international airport is threatened with a snowstorm and it is discovered that a mad bomber is on one of their flights. Slick Hollywood entertainment single-handedly kicked off the disaster genre of the 1970s.
"Sixteen Candles" (Universal/Blu-ray + DVD, 1984, PG, two discs, $26.98, featurettes). John Hughes' hit coming-of-age teen comedy alternates between sweet and amusing vignettes, and sleazy comedy that seems to belie the PG rating. Molly Ringwald stars.
"Big Leaguer" (Warner Archive, 1953, b/w, $17.95, trailer, available at www.warnerarchive.com). Edward G. Robinson stars as real-life baseball coach Hans Lobert, a father figure for rookies in the training camp he runs for the New York Giants. Vera-Ellen plays his niece, who works for the front office, and when she visits the camp she falls for a player. Nice little baseball drama.
"Barcelona" (Warner Archive, 1994, PG-13, $17.95, deleted scenes/alternate ending, audio commentary, featurette, text filmographies, trailer, available at " TARGET="_blank">www.warnerarchive.com). Droll, offbeat romantic comedy from Whit Stillman ("Metropolitan," "Damsels in Distress"), filled with witty dialogue delivered unemotionally and often hilariously by pseudo-intellectuals. The story has a shy office drone (Taylor Nichols) and his outgoing Navy officer cousin (Christopher Eigeman) looking for love in the title city. Mira Sorvino costars.
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