The Pitfalls of Collecting Animated Cartoons
In the beginning......
Universal had Walt Disney. But then decided to fire him from his own studio and replace him with Walter Lantz, who in turn directed the Oswald the Rabbit cartoons. By the sound effects Lantz had his own studio, where he would create Woody Woodpecker, Chilly Willy and Andy Panda. Meanwhile Walt Disney started a second studio, this time taking care that no producer could trick him into signing away ownership. Walt lucked out on his first cartoon, featuring his latest creation Mickey Mouse. Mickey would soon be followed by Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy and many other popular characters. While Disney Studios would have their films distributed RKO and other major studios, Walt managed to hold on to the rights to his films and characters, eventually building his small cartoon short studio into a major movie studio. Lantz wasn't as lucky. By the 1950s Universal, Lantz's distributor, began demanding that he sign over the rights to his characters. He refused, left Universal, and began distributing films through United Artist. There his studio went bankrupt, and he ended up returning to Universal at their terms.
Disney and Lantz were not the only animators on the block. Initially their biggest rival was Fleischer Studios, run by the brothers Max and Dave. They had been around since 1921, and had created Koko the Clown, and found even more success in the early sound era with Betty Boop. Their distributor was Paramount, who in turn acquired the rights to Popeye the Sailor and Superman, which they arranged for Fleischer Studios to animate. In the early 1940s Paramount took advantage of a falling out between the Fleischer brothers, and got each to sell their share in the studio, which under Paramount became Famous Studios. Famous continued to produce the successful Popeye and Superman cartoons, but also began the Casper the Friendly Ghost, Baby Huey and Little Lulu cartoon series.
In the 1940s two other major rivals arose. Leon Schlesinger opened his studio in 1934, but it didn't take off until a year later when he hired animator Tex Avery. Tex saw potential in a supporting character called Porky Pig, and elevated him to lead character. Under his direction Tex would co-create Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, introducing a new style to animation. Tex would later leave Schlesinger after the studio censored and edit the ending to one of the Bugs Bunny cartoons. He was soon after hired by Fred Quimby. After the success of Snow White And The Seven Dwarves, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided they wanted their own animation department. Quimby was put in charge of the task, and soon hired Tex Avery ( who would go on to create Droopy Dog, as well as direct many classic stand alone cartoons ) and the animation team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera ( who would go on to create Tom & Jerry ).
By the 40s cartoons from Leon Schlesinger and M.G.M. rivaled Disney in popularity. Schlesinger would eventually accept an offer by Warner Bros to buy out his studio. The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies characters would continue to be popular, and would eventually be joined by Foghorn Leghorn, Pepe Le Pew, Sylvester and Tweety, Roadrunner, and several other popular characters.
There were others. Terrytoons, which produced cartoons for 20th Century Fox, was the cheapest. Their best known characters were Heckle and Jeckle, and Mighty Mouse. Ub Iwerks, former partner of Walt Disney and co-creator of Mickey Mouse, had his own studio featuring Flip the Frog. DePatie-Freleng created the animated credits for the Pink Panther films, and ultimately the Pink Panther shorts for United Artists. And UPA who produced cartoons for Columbia Pictures, the best known being Mr Magoo.
That's All That Is Available, Folks!
We are talking about thousands of cartoons made between 1930 and 1960 alone. Not to mention the hundreds of cartoons made during the silent era, or the hundreds more made between 1960 and 1977 when United Artists distributed the final Pink Panther cartoon to theaters. That may be good news for The Cartoon Network or Boomerang who can go an entire year airing the Warner Bros cartoons in nightly hour blocks without needing to repeat anything. But a pain in the ass for anyone wanting to own the entire run of Warner Bros cartoons.
First of all, Warner is not really interested in releasing the early Leon Schlesinger cartoons. The gold mine is the 1940s and 50s. The 60s? Like most studios, Warner closed their animation division when cartoons became too expensive to produce. And like most studios, farmed out their cartoons to independent animation studios, who in turn produced cheap quality shorts. Warner chose DePatie-Freleng. Because of their cheap quality, almost none of the 60s Warner cartoons are remember as classics.
With more than 600 cartoons produced in the classic era, amounting to at least 70 hours, there is little incentive to release any of the early or later cartoons. To make matters more complicated, Warner currently holds the home video rights to the M.G.M. film library including all their cartoons. They simply have too much to release. And when they do get a home video release, it is always as extras along with their popular cartoons.
When the various studios first began releasing their classic cartoons on home video, they all did it the same way. Compilation tapes featuring cartoons from different years. But when another series of home video tapes were released a few years later, there was a lot of double dipping. About half of the cartoons were also in previous compilations. The same story with the next series of releases. Cartoon enthusiests became fed up with having to buy the same cartoons multiple times just to get a few they didn't own, and we're sick of the compilations being discontinued with only a fraction of the cartoons released. They began demanding that future cartoon sets be released chronologically, so that nothing was skipped.
But releasing any run of cartoons chronologically means releasing the least liked years separate from the classic years. Which is why most home video companies prefer mixing the years in a compilation. Each volume having an equal mix of popular and unpopular cartoons. And the problem with releasing cartoons in compilation volumes is that there is no incentive to release everything, and no incentive to continue where the last set left off should one set be disconnected and then picked up a few years later.
This is the biggest delima with anyone looking to collect classic cartoon shorts. I myself have been attempting to buy legitimate releases of the Warner Bros cartoons since the 80s, and have so far gotten no further than a third of the way. That includes two VHS series that were discontinued after dozen volumes, a series of laserdiscs that were discontinued after six volumes. Not to mention a few random public domain cartoon collections that had a few Warner cartoons the others we're missing.
Despite The Vault, You Can Own Most Of Disney.
The one studio I almost have a complete collection of is Disney, thanks to their excellent Walt Disney's Treasures collection. There was a heavy amount of double dipping, a Donald Duck volume that mistakenly used pre-restoration video masters and there are still a handful of cartoons the Disney's Treasures missed ( most notably some Chip n Dale solo cartoons ) but owning nearly all of the classic cartoon shorts from the House of Mouse was more than any Disney fan could hope for.
Another Damn Tom And Jerry Collection
Not as much hope for anyone collecting the M.G.M. cartoons. The entire library of Tex Avery directed cartoons have been available on various home video releases since the 90s. Tom and Jerry is another matter. Various collections of their shorts have been released, but always as random cartoons. In 2004 Warner Bros announced they would be releasing the Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection, which would be all the cartoons directed by Hanna and Barbera, uncut, unedited and uncensored, released in chronological order.
When the first volume was released a few months later, the cartoons were once again mixed years, with some edits. None of the shorts were restored, but were all mastered from the tapes made for broadcast on TBS. Three volumes were released, and two cartoons were omitted. Mouse Cleaning and Casanova Cat, presumably for racial humor. Two more sets were released, one with the complete run of Tom and Jerry cartoons farmed out to Chuck Jones, the other the complete run of Tom and Jerry cartoons farmed out to Gene Deitch, thus complaining the entire Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts, minus the two omitted cartoons.
In 2011 Warner Bros announced that they would be having another go, this time in a Blu-ray release to be called the Tom and Jerry Golden Collection. This time in chronological order, this time with restored prints, and this time with no censorship. Every Tom and Jerry theatrical cartoon ever made, including the Jones and Deitch shorts. Volume one ended at cartoon #37 in the series. Guess what cartoon #38 in the series was? Mouse Cleaning, the first of the two cartoons omitted from the Spotlight Collection.
The complaints poured in immediately. Warner was accused of deliberately stopping at #37 as some sort of publicity stunt. A spokesperson for Warner explained differently. A lot of the original negatives for the Tom and Jerry cartoons were lost in a vault fire at M.G.M. The cartoons still existed as worn theatrical prints, all which needed digital restoration to remove the dirt and scratches. However, Warner was claiming that a lot of Tom and Jerry negatives had just been recently rediscovered, and they were still in the process of using them for restoration. Mouse Cleaning was still being restored, which is why it could not be included in Volume #1. But it would be in Volume #2 which would be released in 2013.
The problem was that Warner was fibbing. Yes, they were still in the process of remastering some of the cartoons from some recently rediscovered negatives. But what really kept them from including Mouse Cleaning on volume #1 was the same thing that prevented them from including it in the Spotlight Collection. It and Casanova Cat were both on some political groups naughty list. No, not the NAACP. From what I was told, this was a child protection group that did not want children exposed to racism. And they have a list of movies and cartoons that they want kept from being released on home video in the United States. The last thing Warner wanted was the bad publicity this group threatened to generate. Reportedly, Warner was in negotiations with the group, promising to hide the cartoon from children by including it as an Easter egg instead. ( Something Disney did with a few cartoons on their Treasures sets. ) The group turned down that offer, as well as another where the offending cartoons would be on a bonus disc only collectors could order.
So Warner caved and announced that both Mouse Cleaning and Casanova Cat would not be part of the Golden Collection. There was an immediate backlash among Tom and Jerry fans who flooded the pre-order page on Amazon with negative reviews. Realizing the selling point of the collection was those missing cartoons, and without them the next volume would not sell, Warner postponed Volume #2 indefinitely, then quietly cancelled the upcoming releases. For those of us who were suckered into buying Volume #1 of the Golden Collection, we got 37 cartoons we already owned, again.
Well, all but two of the Tom and Jerry cartoons and all of the Tex Avery cartoons may seem like a good deal. But they only account for a fraction of the M.G.M. cartoons. Some of the rest have been released on home video over the years, but most of the M.G.M. cartoons have never been released.
I could go on about the nightmares of the other cartoon studios when it comes to home video, but by now you get the idea.