‘Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1’ Blu-Ray Review

The following review is dedicated to my beloved Grandmother, Corinne Hurwitz, who sadly passed away recently. Her and I shared a particular adoration for the MGM musicals, the same company which produced the cartoons I am going to be talking about today.

An upsetting reality is in the fact that when you look at all the different cartoons produced during the golden era, you have your Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies, Silly Symphonies and other Disney cartoons featuring Mickey, Donald, Goofy, etc. You also have Tom and Jerry, Popeye, and so forth. What appear to have not been given the kind of praise they deserve are a treasure trove of Tex Avery-directed MGM cartoons from the 40’s and 50’s that sadly appear to have been overshadowed by the aforementioned cartoon brands. Avery directed, along with countless Looney Tunes cartoons, numerous one-shot shorts for MGM and even created his own characters that have their own series of shorts such as Screwy Squirrel, George and Junior, and, most notably, Droopy the Dog. This first volume of Tex Avery MGM cartoons is a phenomenal start to what will hopefully become an expansive collection of Blu-Ray sets.

I find a particular fondness in MGM’s cartoon output in the golden era, even including Tom and Jerry due to the company’s classy sophistication in their shorts that matched up quite well to the lavish musicals that were so popular for at the time. If you look at a piece of art from an MGM cartoon at the time, and compare it to Warner Bros, you’ll find that MGM goes for a stylized realism that was very unique at the time, while the Warner Bros cartoons feature more abstract and bright artwork. The art style in MGM cartoons went for something a little more refined and mature. While Warner’s cartoons were made for adults, MGM’s cartoons were more strictly targeted at that demographic. Both are zany and silly and insanely fun, but the MGM cartoons clearly contain some more mature subject matter.

Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1 features 19 hand-picked cartoons. This curated collection features some of Avery’s best work. I hope that this collection will allow for all of Tex Avery’s MGM work to be fully restored and released on Blu-Ray. As his time at MGM consisted of 67 cartoons, releasing all of them can be done in only 4 volumes if Warner Bros can keep up a collection like this for once… I really don’t want this to end up like the Looney Tunes Platinum Collections or Tom and Jerry Golden Collection. At the moment I’m writing this, there are 2 volumes released so far (stay tuned for my review of volume 2), so they only really need to release 2 more volumes and they can give us a complete collection. Come on, Warner, stick with something like this for once!

Anyways, the cartoons in this volume are consistently amazing. Not a single short falls flat or makes me wonder why they released it. All of them are equally deserving of release because they’re all phenomenal. They are some of the funniest cartoons I’ve ever seen. They also look fantastic, especially considering the fact that they don’t have the original negatives for these anymore. Most Avery negatives were burned up in the MGM Vault Fire of 1965 along with a lot of Tom and Jerry cartoons and other pieces of film history. The prints they do have were scanned in 4K for this HD release and the results are pretty stunning. The colours look great regardless of the lack of original nitrate negatives, the transfers look sharp and brush strokes, textures and ink lines are significant. Film grain remains intact for the most part, but the amount of grain fluctuates depending on which short you’re watching.

There are hardly any scuffs or dirt, these shorts clean up pretty nice. Inconsistencies in the films themselves are only directly the cause of the prints themselves, some of which may have been affected by age. Those inconsistencies are kept intact and aren’t fixed up or scrubbed away, which adds to the charm and authenticity of watching these cartoons. They are presented in this collection as they were screened in the cinemas back in the day, as intended.

Audio is nicely restored as well. As expected with older media, the volume level can change between too quiet to too loud very quickly. Sometimes dialogue may be too quiet, but if you turn up the volume, the sound effects will get too loud. That said, this collection still has a very clean audio restoration, with DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio output. The restoration is faithful to the original intention of the creators, and while there are signs of aging, the audio is still cleaned up beautifully, with no evidence of decay or destruction of the sound. You will not be hearing any hisses, pops or distortion of any kind. Just be cautious of possible shortcomings related to volume due to the aged source materials.

Regarding supplemental materials, or bonus features, there are none… this is very disappointing to see, I always look forward to the bonus features in each release. The collection may not be too expensive in the US, in Canada it’s quite a bit more pricey so the lack of bonus features does kind of hit a little bit harder here in the North. I understand that most of the funds probably went towards the restoration, but many Warner Archive Blu-Rays still have bonus features typically, sometimes even a whole second disc worth! I guess there just wasn’t enough money put into this collection for that, which is upsetting. But at least we’re getting these cartoons on Blu-Ray, and they look and sound great.

Overall, this is a great collection of classic cartoons. Despite the lack of bonus features, I can’t recommend this enough for the faithful restoration of these masterpieces. Even just based on the enjoyment of watching these shorts alone, I can’t recommend this enough! If you’re a fan of animation or old movies, or are just a general viewer, this has my highest recommendation.

Final Grade: 4.5/5

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