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Toon Talk: From the Other Side - Looney Tunes: Back in Action
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Toon Talk - From the Other Side:
LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION
What ever happened to the Looney Tunes?
Beginning in the 1930s and 40s, the ragtag crew of wascally Warner Brothers characters, lead by that self-proclaimed "little stinkerâ€? Bugs Bunny, reigned as the leaders in cartoon slapstick mayhem. As opposed to the kindler, gentler Disney shorts of the period (such as the Mickey Mouses and Silly Symphonies, the latter of which must have influenced the series' names Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies), the early Warner shorts, most under the direction of such legends as Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones and Tex Avery, were fearless in their pursuit of the almighty belly laugh. And the (mostly adult) audiences of the time were more then happy to oblige.
Once television came around, these classic shorts (recently released in a DVD collection) were more readily available in syndication for newer generations to discover and enjoy (as opposed to Disney's, which were mostly shown only on Disney's own television programs), which arguably explains their superior lasting appeal among the general population. But once new animation was created specifically for television, such as the 70s Saturday morning staple The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, uninspired homogenization began to set in; the situation only grew worse once critics targeted these shows for glorifying cartoon violence (ironically, a Warner tradition ... they perfected the anvil on the head gag, after all).
(c) Warner Brothers
As the 80s and 90s moved on, the Looney Tunes became even more watered-down from their previous glories; and although the ever profitable merchandise tie-ins (especially of late-blooming break out stars Marvin the Martian and the Tazmanian Devil) continued to flourish, the brand became increasingly tarnished by such corporate sell-outs as Six Flag theme park appearances and MCI ads, not to mention turning Michigan J. Frog into the WB netlet's onscreen shill. (Some may argue that Disney has used the same tactics with their ever-vigilant acts of corporate synergy, but their use of the classic characters has always been for their own products. In other words, one hopes that we will never see Mickey himself hawking the latest Sprint picture phones.)
And then came the lowest of lows: 1996's Space Jam. Actually â€˜inspired' by Nike commercials of all things, this shallow attempt at cashing in on the popularity of basketball superstar Michael Jordan diminished such beloved characters as Porky Pig and Sylvester the Cat to simpering idiots, mere background characters in somebody else's bad movie.
Which brings us to the present and the recent release of the Tunes' latest comeback vehicle, Looney Tunes: Back in Action. And while it is certainly better then Space Jam ... which we all know ain't saying much ... it ain't no Who Framed Roger Rabbit neither.
In this globe-trotting adventure comedy, Bugs and his ever present fowl foil Daffy Duck are relegated to mere supporting roles, the comic relief in an espionage caper starring Brendan Fraser (who really should lay off the kid flicks and do another Gods and Monsters or The Quiet American - stat) as DJ Drake, a Warner Studios security guard and would-be stunt man who must go on a quest to save his movie star father (former James Bond Timothy Dalton, who in one of the movie's most obvious gags, plays Damien Drake, an actor made famous in a series of James Bond-like spy flicks, who is ... surprise! Actually a real spy) and retrieve the mystical Blue Monkey, an Ark of the Covenant-type artifact lusted after by the world domination-minded Chairman of the Acme Corporation (played by Steve Martin in his, well, looniest performance since Little Shop of Horrors' sadomasochistic dentist). Tagging along for no discernable reason is Jenna Elfman's Kate Houghton, a.k.a. Female Movie Character Cliche #652: the ice queen corporate exec who, naturally, falls for the hunky hero in the tight tank top.
If your wondering where the rest of the Tunes are, they do pop up in brief cameos along the way (most amusingly: a forlorn Speedy Gonzalez, lamenting his un-PC status in this modern world); that is, save for the so-called Warner â€˜villains' like Yosemite Sam and Wile E. Coyote, who are dispatched by the Chairman to thwart the progress of the do-gooders. This does lead to the film's most inspired sequence, a definite throw-back to their Golden Age of Looneydom: finding themselves in Paris' famed Louvre museum, Bugs and Daffy lead Elmer Fudd on a merry chase through such classic pieces of art as Munch's "The Screamâ€? and Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatteâ€?, morphing into the style of each artist, such as Salvador Dali and Toulouse Lautrec.