(Note: This is a follow-up to my May 2011 review of the show)
Now that CN has aired the first season of their new Looney Tunes series (or to be precise, The Looney Tunes Show), it’s time to enjoy them on DVD.
Well, not all of them, just the first four episodes at the moment. Impatient folks can visit Amazon and buy the entire season for two bucks per show, three if you prefer them in hi-def. (Advice: stick with standard definition – the animation is bold, the coloring simple – there’s very little onscreen that won’t show up on the DVD.)
What to do with these characters has been Warner Bros.’ challenge for years now. The classic theatrical shorts have matured from classic to just plain old. (Masterpieces all, but old just the same.) Attempts to bring them up to date have given us excretions like Loonatics, so-whats like Baby Looney Tunes and faux old-time toons like Carrotblanca.
Under exec-producer Sam Register, they’ve finally gotten it right: contemporized their merrie menagerie while keeping their core personalities intact. It took a bit of a trip into sitcom-land to accomplish, but IMHO (as they say online) it works.
First let’s get the quibbles out of the way. (Sounds like a 1970s Saturday morning Hanna-Barbera series, doesn’t it, The Quibbles?) Jeff Bergman does his own interpretation of Bugs, he’s not trying to imitate the immortal Mel (if you have to ask ‘Mel who’ you have no business visiting this website), and the rabbit’s redesign is the most radical of the bunch (my, what big feet he has), but it’ll take all of a minute for your brain to adjust.
I suspect the creators’ greatest challenge was to come up with stories that could carry the characters (or vice-versa) beyond the classics’ 6 minute length. They achieved their goal via:
- moving Bugs out of his hole in the ground and into a suburban cul-de-sac house;
- surrounding him with Warner Bros. cartoon neighbors, and
- saddling him with Daffy Duck as a permanent houseguest.
There’s a bit of personality tweaking taking place as well, an attitude adjustment purists might see as more than a quibble: Bugs is still a bit of a wiseguy, but not the go-for-broke, out-for-revenge trickster of ye olde days. It’s a facile comparison, but he’s the show’s Seinfeld, surrounded by an assortment of eccentric characters.
Daffy’s gone through a lot of changes since his birth, evolving from generic screwball to Chuck Jones’ neurotic loser. Now he’s a mooch, an egotist and a would-be con artist always out to put one over on the world. It’s a fresh take that fits him like one of Bugs’ gloves.
Speaking of Bugs’ gloves, The Looney Tunes Show isn’t afraid to include a hint of kink now and then: in “Fish and Visitors” the pair catch Sam secretly trying on Bugs’ gloves, dreamily sighing “silky.” (Later in the episode Sam confesses “you tell me not to look in your 3rd desk drawer, I got your 3rd desk drawer right here” as he hands it to an exceptionally guilty-looking Daffy.) And then there’s Mac and Tosh, the no longer ambiguously gay gophers who, at the rate they’re going, may very likely come out and legally marry any episode now.
What makes The Looney Tunes Show work is, even though it’s stuff they’ve never done before, the changes feel right for the characters, natural extensions of who they’ve always been: of course Yosemite Sam would have a sitting-on-cinderblocks truck rusting in his driveway, of course the ever-romantic Pepe Le Pew would be a wedding planner.
The show has also revived the Merrie Melodies brand, a title that hasn’t been seen much in recent decades. Now they’re music videos – extremely strange music videos that pop up during the half hour wherein the characters perform rap-style numbers, again based on their personalities: Sam proclaiming “I blow my stack” to an anger management group or diminutive Henery drooling over Foghorn Leghorn while a falsetto singer croons “chiiii-kenhawk” in the background.
The show occasionally runs a CGI Road Runner/Coyote short in place of the Melodie, interestingly done in a simple style more resembling a ViewMaster reel than last year’s highly rendered theatrical shorts. (No concept tweaking here – it’s Wile E’s never-ending quest to catch that damned bird.)
People complaining about live-action shows “ruining” Cartoon Network need to lighten up a bit and give the network some credit; maybe they should relax and watch an episode or two of The Looney Tunes Show.