Looney Buyer Beware - Macleans.ca

Looney Buyer Beware


I read on TVShowsondvd.com that some of the cartoons on the new Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck DVDs — the first non-recycled discs of classic cartoons that Warner Brothers has released since ending the Golden Collection sets — are cropped for widescreen TVs. I traced the news to this post, that explains that all the cartoons on these discs are in widescreen format except the ones that were made before 1954. The news is not quite a deal-breaker, but it does mean I’m not going to buy these discs unless I can get them cheap.

To explain what’s going on here: starting in 1954, most movie theatres switched to the modern 1.85:1 aspect ratio for films that weren’t in anamorphic widescreen. Many films, including all of Warner Brothers’ cartoons, continued to be made in the traditional 1.33:1 format, but they had to be prepared in such a way that they could be “matted” to a wider format: in other words, theatres could mask the top and bottom and project them in 1.85:1. There were few major changes in the way the cartoons looked, but the directors had to make sure not to put anything important at the top and bottom (in 1953’s “Bully For Bugs,” Bugs’ rabbit hole is right at the very bottom of the screen; if the film had been made a year later, it would have been higher). And the Looney Tunes logo and credits font were changed so they could be bunched together in the middle of the screen. Here’s an example of a 1954 cartoon (in an early ’60s reissue print) where you could cut off the top and bottom and not lose the credits. You’ll notice, though, that there are a couple of signs that would be cut off if the film were matted, suggesting that the filmmakers weren’t completely accustomed to leaving the top and bottom “blank.”


Because these films can be shown in either aspect ratio, it’s not possible to say that one or the other is the “authentic” aspect ratio. (Similarly, a movie like Psycho, which was shot in 1.33 and matted to 1.85, is arguably as authentic in either format — and many movie fans argue that Touch of Evil looks much better in 1.33.) Which is why I say it’s not an absolute deal-breaker. But it’s still annoying, because it’s so obvious that this was done not out of authenticity, still less out of a concern for how these films look best — for the record, I think most of them look better in the 1.33 ratio — but due to a desire to show off widescreen TVs. We’re getting closer every day to a future where older films and TV shows will be panned n’ scanned for widescreen televisions, just as widescreen films used to be panned n’ scanned for the old sets.

I’m still getting the discs, but mostly for the smattering of pre-1954 cartoons. These may be the last we get on DVD, considering that Warners doesn’t seem to want to release much non-widescreen material. I suppose we were lucky we got as many volumes of the Golden Collection as we did.

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Looney Buyer Beware

  1. It's the perpetual argument when a new format or technology is introduced.
    I remember having many bar rail arguments over Ted Turner's colourization of the classic black and white movies.
    The initial novelty of seeing It's a Wonderful Life in colour soon wore off.
    Principally because I can't watch a colourized movie without looking for deficiencies in the technology.
    The background always looks black and white.
    I prefer the original black and white because I feel, without too much technical knowledge of film making that they were composed with a black and white palette.
    Colourization to me is like reading Chaucer translated into contemporary English.

    But I would always run up against the argument that colour made the work accessible to more people who wouldn't watch a black and white movie.
    My trump card was the Wizard of Oz.
    Our generation had first seen it in all black and white on television.
    And we were confused when our parents got colour tvs and it was in colour in parts and black and white in others.
    But we eventually figured it out.

    • And, boy, were you even more confused when they released the color-corrected version a few years ago, where the bookend segments in Kansas were sepia toned, rather than b&w… But then you got over that, too.

      • Thanks Charles!
        You finally forced me to look up the definition of sepia toned.
        Sarcasm can be a wonderful teaching tool.
        I appreciate it.

  2. The last sentence of your post pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject. I don't see why it's necessary to release these cartoons in a modified aspect ratio, and I might buy these discs eventually when I can get them cheap. But man – we got six volumes of beautiful Looney Tunes packed with high-quality extras. If you add in all of the bonus cartoons, it's gotta be over 400 total. Presented in a wonderful package, with individual cartoons easy to find and watch. That's something no one would have expected even a decade ago. I'm satisfied with that, personally.