Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Still Censored

I haven't seen this mentioned outside of message boards, but while the list of cartoons for Looney Tunes Collection Vol. 5 hasn't been released yet, it appears that "Coal Black" and other Censored 11 cartoons will not be included on this set.

Will "Coal Black" ever be released? I wish I could be confident of that. Remember, Turner wouldn't release it (or "Tin Pan Alley Cats" or the rest) when they were doing the Looney Tunes laserdisc sets, back before the Turner-WB merger. And Turner, which didn't own the characters, had less incentive to be protective of them than WB, which has transformed not only the characters but the whole "Looney Tunes" brand into a corporate symbol. The much-derided presence of Whoopi Goldberg on Vol. 3 -- which had hardly any cartoons with racial gags anyway -- was part of the fear that one little mis-step with the DVD sets could hurt an already fragile franchise.

I'm not sure how to get around that, because in all honesty, if "Coal Black" were released and a controversy erupted, that probably would be bad for the marketing/franchising of WB cartoons. I don't think the controversy over "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips" did Turner any favors back in the '90s (Turner released it on a laserdisc but then, foolishly, released it on a mass-market VHS as well, and people who bought this thing for their kids were understandably outraged). To get a release, someone would probably have to convince WB executives that there won't be any controversy, and I'm not sure that anyone can guarantee that. "Coal Black" is a great cartoon, but I've seen the reactions to it of people who are not cartoon buffs, and it does make many people very uncomfortable and, yes, even angry.

I'm not defending WB"s corporate policy here. (And as for the WB home video department, they do some great work and release some great films, but they also spend too parsimoniously on special features for classic films, and they've got some quality control issues they still haven't completely resolved.) There's a right decision, and a wrong decision, and the right decision would be to release the cartoon. But the wrong decision -- not to release it -- is based on some legitimate concerns. Still wrong, though.


Sean Gaffney said...

I think the comments on some of the cartoon forums are very telling, as they've been debating racism in these cartoons.

There's a big difference between 'these cartoons are racist to today's eyes, but are still classics of animation, so with the proper context should be released' and 'These cartoons are classics, I've no idea what's racist about them'.

Sadly, we're seeing a bit of the second on the cartoon forum debate at the moment. And if cartoon fans are disagreeing this vehemently about the context, I think the casual fan would be even worse off.

I think a separate box set, with documentaries and commentary about why these cartoons were made and why they offend, would be the best way to release them (and the same with 'not on the list but they should be' cartoons like Buddy's Circus and Goin' to Heaven on a Mule). It'd be a really hard sell, though.

John said...

There definitely is racism in some of the cartoons. The problem is the fear of Time-Warner officials at being branded as racists has caused them to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak, so that there's no differentiation between the worst images of a Censored 11 cartoon, and Chuck Jones' design and story lines for Inki, or Friz Freleng's use of Eddie Anderson in "Malibu Beach Party". Just ban them all to make sure they never cause a problem, is the prevailing (and given certain people's desire for TV time be stirring up racial controversy, not unreasonable) attitude of the day.

We may get a better idea of how willing Warners is to put any of the Censored 11 onto DVD with the release next week of the Popeye set.

The 1933-38 cartoons themselves are remarkably free of any racially troublesome charactures for the time period, but the recently-released information on the DVD's extras indicate there are some silent cartoons on the set that could be problematic.

Time-Warner has a little less riding on this that on the Lonney Tunes DVDs, of course, since they don't own the character. But the are doing this in conjunction with King Features Syndicate, which apparently is expecting WHV to release (at the very least) five more DVDs of the Sailor Man, through his Famous Studio and KFS made-for-TV years. If the extras on this set don't cause any problems, WHV may consider sneaking one or two of the better C-11 shorts onto a future Golden Collection.