Wrapping up the world of entertainment on DVD

For all of us who thought the cartoons at the top of the bill were the sweetest part of any night at the movies, Warner Home Video has released the ultimate new animation collection. "Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume I" finds the beloved cartoon characters all gathered together in one colorful string of holiday lights on Blu-ray Disc for the first time.

Fifty of their greatest cartoon shorts have had their fur combed, their feathers smoothed and their teeth whitened for this high-def debut. Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety and Sylvester, and many others have never looked as handsome, even in theaters. As an added inducement, the collection includes all the shorts featuring Marvin the Martian, Witch Hazel and the Tasmanian Devil, plus some notable one-hit wonders like "One Froggy Evening" and "Three Little Bops."

The late Chuck Jones himself is seen in a 2003 introduction to his gallery of creations, rightfully calling the Looney Tunes gang "jesters for a hard century." One cannot overlook the chilly reminders of a Great Depression, World War II and Cold War paranoia hidden below the sheets of laughter.

The "Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume I" comes in a three-disc Blu-ray book, either by itself ($59.96) or as part of an "ultimate collector's edition" box set ($79.98). Both versions include all the cartoon shorts plus some choice extras from past editions, like the excellent, full-length 2000 biography of Chuck Jones, "Extremes and In-Betweens: A Life in Animation," and "Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood," with its fanciful illustrations by the beloved animator.

The latter documentaries are worth the price of the whole set for any animation fan. But wait, there's more. The hardcover digi-book contains pages and pages of sketches and images along with insightful notes by animation scholar Jerry Beck. The box also comes with an array of unique collectibles, like a Looney Tunes shot glass, a framed litho cel with certificate of authenticity, and a souvenir tin sign.

If there are any pennies left in the piggy bank after Christmas, Warner Bros. is releasing a stand-alone DVD of some two hours of Pepe Le Pew cartoons in "Looney Tunes Super Stars: Pepe Le Pew Collection" ($19.97). The 17 cartoons here include the beloved Parisian skunk's Oscar-winning debut, "For Scent-imental Reasons." Viva Le Pew!

And don't forget the recent Warner release of "The Essential Daffy Duck" (two-disc DVD, $26.99), featuring 21 of his classic shorts (including select Duck Dodgers episodes) plus a new career profile and two vintage TV specials. Then again, any cartoon fan would love to receive that new first volume of "Tom & Jerry: Golden Collection" (DVD $26.99; Blu-ray $34.99) with its 37 remastered theatrical shorts, along with commentaries, excerpts and three special featurettes.

More family fare

The Walt Disney label has just released a new high-def combo pack of "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas" ($39.99), which includes the 71-minute feature film, sing-alongs and behind-the-scenes features and even a "story time" with Belle. The special edition is also available on standard DVD for $29.99 retail.

Another "Beauty and the Beast" spin-off, "Belle's Magical World," is newly available as a special edition DVD ($29.99) for gifting this holiday from Disney, which also has a fresh, sassy family comedy featuring two naughty elves, Wayne and Lanny, from Santa's Christmas advance team, "Prep & Landing" ($19.99).

Universal squeezes a fresh holiday twist out of its lovable Beethoven-the-dog franchise. "Beethoven's Christmas Adventure" (rated G, $19.98) finds the St. Bernard and his teen-age pal, Mason (Munro Chambers), coming to the aid of a runaway elf, who has managed to lose Santa's magical bag of toys. (Beware, this time Beethoven talks. Groan.)

"Dear Santa" ($27.95) from Image Entertainment stars Amy Acker as an over-pampered teen-ager who finds her salvation in helping a needy 7-year-old.

On the more dramatic holiday front, Warner Home Video has finally issued the DVD debut of a favorite 1977 television movie titled "The Gathering" ($14.96). Ed Asner stars as an estranged and bitter father whose declining health around the holidays inspires a long-overdue family reunion to remember.

And Warner Home Video is sending out the ultimate family holiday greeting with the Dec. 13 Blu-ray debut of "Meet Me in St. Louis" (not rated, $35.99 retail). All of the great extras from the earlier two-DVD special edition are here on one sparkling Blu-ray Disc, and in high-definition this time! The audio commentary, TV series pilot, deleted songs, vintage shorts and documentaries are the perfect collector's package in support of the classic musical's warmly saturated Technicolor hues. A CD "soundtrack sampler" is a nice added touch.

More special boxes

Without doubt, the most famous movie star to come from Hagerstown, MD is Rondo Hatton, and if you had to ask "Who?" I'm sure Hagerstownians won't take offense.

In the 1940s, Rondo Hatton haunted kiddies' dreams as a movie monster known as The Creeper. His personal story is tragic, for he grew up looking quite normal, even handsome, played football for Hagerstown High, then went off to World War I to serve his country. In combat he suffered a severe reaction to mustard gas that triggered a rare pituitary gland disorder that left him with a pronounced brow and lips and a thick jaw. Voila, instant monster.

Without the need of any special makeup, Hatton was welcomed in Hollywood and given star billing in movies like "The Brute Man." It is one of the oddball offerings in the latest boxed collection from the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" cable series, volume XXII (Shout Factory, not rated, four-DVD set $59.97).

The set is typical of the series with its cast-away crew of robots and one genial astronaut. They are forced to watch bad movies and dumb short subjects, and they retaliate in passive-aggressive fashion by mocking the entertainment.

"The Brute Man" has its distinctive Universal production values, heavy on the shadows and gothic scenery. But the best thing about the disc, and this whole set for that matter, is the new, 30-minute biography of Hatton, called "Trail of the Creeper." The other films are a couple of Japanese knock-offs, "Mighty Jack" and "Time of the Apes," and a very poor teen exploitation flick titled "The Violent Years." Other bonus extras include interviews with B-movie actresses Kathy Wood and Delores Fuller.

Shout Factory also cornered the market on some other semi-classic TV series. Its 25-DVD "Barney Miller" box will always stand as the definitive collection for nostalgic series fans. Retail priced at a hefty $160, it justifies the price with all 168 episodes from the comedy cop show's eight-season run.

Any longtime "Willy Wonka" fan would be thrilled with the discovery of the Roald Dahl mother lode: A giant, high-def four-disc box set of the original 1971 Gene Wilder star vehicle, "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition (Warner Home Video, rated PG, $64.99; or single DVD edition, $12.97). The box contains new behind-the-scenes features, a 144-page collectible book of photos, candy-wrapped tins and a world of extras to explore.

Parting stocking-stuffers

A shiny new DVD from just a step or two off the beaten path would make a great last-minute stocking-stuffer this Christmas. So here are some quirkier picks from among the myriad new releases waiting to brighten the face of someone on your gift list.

"Mutiny on the Bounty" (Warner Home Video, not rated, Blu-ray Disc $19.98). This is a great bargain for epic movie fans. It not only delivers the 1962 Panavision adventure in its wide-screen theatrical ratio and in high-definition, it includes the believed-lost opening and closing scenes that frame the story of Capt. Bligh's crew in dramatic fashion. Marvelous DTS-HD audio and a half-dozen featurettes make this a must-own disc.

"The Adventures of Tintin" Season One (Shout! Factory, not rated, two-DVD set $19.93). No need for the kids to wait for that big-screen Steven Spielberg version this Christmas: Here's the whole first season of the animated TV series based on Herge's tales of the globe-trotting reporter Tintin and his trusty dog Snowy. It's available on DVD for the first time ever in the U.S.

"Warren Miller's Wintervention" Collector's Edition (Shout! Factory, not rated, DVD $19.93; Blu-ray Disc $24.97). For the ski bum looking for a lift, here's an icy-clear trip to some of the most exotic ski locations in the world. A group of extreme enthusiasts go for it, no matter how steep, how long or how out of the way. And, oh yes, someone carted the high-def camera equipment along and shot them doing it. Pretty amazing.

"Michael Feinstein: The Sinatra Legacy" (Image Entertainment, not rated, DVD $19.98; Blu-ray Disc $24.98). The pianist-singer does what he does best here, extolling the merits of the Great American Songbook, especially the parts associated with the late Frank Sinatra. The concert was shot live in May of this year at the opening of the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana, where Feinstein is artistic director. It looks great in high-def and boasts true DTS-HD sound.

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