Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 29, 2012)
For two discs of animated goodness on Blu-ray, we turn to Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection. This set provides 19 rodent-related shorts directed by Jones.
I’ll look at the cartoons in the order presented here. I’ll provide my own plot synopses as well as quick thoughts and ratings on a 1-10 scale.
Naughty But Mice (1939): Sniffles the mouse (voiced by Margaret Hill-Talbot) goes to a drug store for a cold remedy. When he imbibes one with a heavy alcohol content, he finds himself lit – and friends with an anthropomorphic electric razor, which then gets drunk, too. Well, that’s a weird concept for a cartoon – and not a satisfying one. Perhaps with a more compelling lead character, it might’ve worked, but Sniffles is a dud, so the short follows suit. 3/10.
Little Brother Rat (1939): Sniffles tries to complete a scavenger hunt that requires him to snag an owl’s egg. Sniffles appeared in 12 Looney Tunes shorts – and they all appear here. I’m not sure I’ll survive this cartoon death march with my sanity intact. “Rat” is a little better than “Mice”, if just because we get a little Mel Blanc as an owl. That’s minor consolation, though. 4/10.
Sniffles and the Bookworm (1939): When Sniffles meets a bookworm, the insect awakens a variety of literary characters who then sing and dance to “Mutiny in the Nursery”. As odd as that concept sounds, it’s not unusual in the world of cartoons, and at least it helps take away much of this short’s focus on the ever-annoying Sniffles. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do a ton to redeem the fairly forgettable short. 4/10.
Sniffles Takes a Trip (1940): Sniffles heads to the country in hopes of a relaxing rural vacation. After essentially playing a supporting role in “Bookworm”, Sniffles takes the lead again here, with predictably dull results. Actually, “Trip” works better than most of the Sniffles oeuvre because it milks some decent humor from the mouse-eye view of nature, but the character’s cloying nature continues to prompt demerits. 5/10.
The Egg Collector (1940): Sniffles and the bookworm take up egg collecting. A) Didn’t we just see this same story in “Little Brother Rat”? B) “Egg collecting”? Was that ever an actual hobby? This feels like a contrived attempt to place Sniffles with his natural predator and make us hope to see him survive. We don’t, and the fact it self-plagiarizes the earlier short makes me like it even less. 3/10.
Bedtime for Sniffles (1940): On Christmas Eve, Sniffles struggles to stay awake to see Santa. Take arguably the cutesiest Looney Tunes character, put him in a cutesy scenario, and what do you get? A sugary-sweet short with little to redeem it. 2/10.
Sniffles Bells the Cat (1941): The mice want to put a bell on the housecat so they’ll hear him coming; Sniffles gets stuck with this dangerous task. Perhaps because it threatened Sniffles’ miserable life – or perhaps because of some more-visceral-than-usual animation – “Bells” ends up as probably the best of the Sniffles filmography. That’s faint praise, but this one’s a bit stronger than the others. 6/10.
Toy Trouble (1941): Sniffles and the bookworm check out the toys in a department store – and they run into potential harm via a menacing cat. “Trouble” feels a bit like a mix of “Bells” and “Bookworm”, though it accentuates the former’s strengths. With another near-death situation for Sniffles, we get a bit more action than usual and another watchable but uninspired short. 5/10.
The Brave Little Bat (1941): Sniffles’ (toy) car dies in the middle of nowhere, so he takes refuge in an old windmill – where he meets a cute and chatty bat. Egads – the combination of Sniffles and Batty means it’s like cuteness squared on display. Batty’s motor-mouth routine is almost amusing, but the sugar overdose of the two adorable leads makes this one tough to swallow. 4/10.
The Unbearable Bear (1943): A fox attempts to rob a bear household – and encounters a distraction when he meets Sniffles. When did Sniffles suddenly become as chatty and hyper as Batty? I guess the filmmakers decided to alter his character for this short. It’s a good move, as the Sniffles of “Bear” is less cutesy and more of an active nuisance. Since he always annoyed anyway, it makes sense to turn him into a conscious irritation – and more of a supporting character. 7/10.
Lost and Foundling (1944): An egg winds up in Sniffles’ house, so he finds himself charged with its care when a baby bird hatches from it. Sniffles returns to a lead role here, but “Lost” still works better than most of its predecessors. He remains a chatterbox and the hawk he assists adds an unusual charge to the piece. It’s not great, but it’s better than most of the other Sniffles shorts. 6/10.
Hush My Mouse (1946): A tough cat demands a dinner of mouse knuckles, so a restaurant needs to find some – and Sniffles is the most obvious subject. “Hush” finishes Sniffles’ reign of terror in a fairly positive fashion. Actually, if he’d been the motor-mouthed supporting character of his later appearances, I would’ve been fine with him; it was WB’s attempts to make him a lovable lead that flopped. “Hush” emphasizes physical comedy and does so with reasonable creativity. 7/10.
The Aristo-Cat (1943): After a bratty cat’s antics push his caretaker to quit, he finds himself ignorant of how to survive. Two mice take advantage of his naïveté. The short comes with a reasonable amount of cleverness – and a fun ending. 7/10.
Trap Happy Porky (1945): Frustrated by rodents that run rampant in his abode, Porky tries to stop them. He fails and embraces the use of a cat-for-hire as the solution. Plenty of comedy results in this lively, fun short. 8/10.
Roughly Squeaking (1946): To keep him off of them, mice pals Hubie and Bertie convince a cat that he’s a lion – and that a dog is actually a moose. The short gets a bit surreal but it’s all well-executed. Mel Blanc’s consistently strong voice work accentuates the material. 8/10.
House Hunting Mice (1948): Hubie and Bertie encounter the mechanical “house of tomorrow” and contend with its automatic innovations. It’s nice to see the shorts branch out from the usual cat vs. mouse conceit, and this one uses the technological elements in a satisfying manner. 8/10.
Mouse Wreckers (1948): Hubie and Bertie decide to move into a house in which a very good mouse-catching cat resides. They attempt to prompt his departure. While this one returns to the standard cat/mouse theme, it does so with ingenuity and wit. 8/10.
The Hypo-Chondri-Cat (1950): Bertie and Hubie sneak into a home filled with cheese. Unfortunately for them, a cat resides there who attempts to evict them. Fortunately for them, he’s a hypochondriac, so they torture him to get their own way. This short works reasonably well, but it feels just a bit stale. Still, it has enough laughs to make it enjoyable. 6/10.
Cheese Chasers (1951): Bertie and Hubie gorge themselves on so much cheese that they decide life no longer has meaning. They attempt to commit suicide in the mouth of a cat. That’s a dark premise for a cartoon, but it works in this solid short. 9/10.