Looney Tunes: Back in
review by Dan
Lybarger, 14 November 2003
One of the
more painful aspects (among many) in watching Space Jam, was
a nagging sense that its creators had only a passing regard for the
Looney Tunes characters or the remotest understanding of why viewers
fell in love with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck or Tweety in the first
place. The voice actors frequently did a sloppy job of imitating the
late, great Mel Blanc's distinctive touch in the classic cartoons.
Further, the antagonistic relationships the characters had toward
each other that made the original toons so funny was lost. Even
though Bugs and Daffy had been used to plug products before, any
serious lover of the Warner Bros. characters had to feel offended at
being asked to pay theatrical admission for a ninety-minute Nike
To its credit, Looney
Tunes: Back in Action is an attempt to make up for how the first
movie cheated the characters and their fans. Director Joe Dante
helmed Gremlins, which was loaded with the kind of irreverent
humor that made the Warner Bros. cartoons a naughty alternative to
Disney's fare, and writer Larry Doyle is a veteran of the
entertainingly caustic Daria and The Simpsons.
People who, like
me, love the series, will marvel at how well these guys know the
source material. Look closely, and you'll spot the mother bear from Bugs
Bunny and the Three Bears still making goo-goo eyes at Bugs
after all these decades, and voice artist Joe Alaskey, who does
Bugs, Daffy and a few others, manages the unenviable task of
imitating Blanc's sounds expressively enough to match the needs of
the current story.
affection for the originals is really refreshing, Looney Tunes:
Back in Action still stumbles over some formidable hurdles. For
one thing, the originals were designed to keep a crowd occupied for
a few minutes until the feature kicked in, not to take up an entire
feature. Like Saturday Night Live sketches put on film (try
sitting through eighty minutes of Dan Ackroyd doing that nasal
Conehead voice), explosions and cartoon violence can get old in the
One also wishes
Doyle had developed his story the way he sneaked in dozens of in
jokes. The film begins with Bugs and Daffy sitting in with Warner
Bros. executives (played by live action actors) during a fierce
contract negotiation. As can be expected, the terminally jealous
duck is tired of being the rabbit's foil. This time, however, an
exec (Jenna Elfman) who's impatient with the bird's consistent prima
donna behavior fires him.
Looney Tunes are so much a part of the culture, the long series of
self-referential gags isn't a problem at first. It's funny watching
Bugs, Daffy and other Toons wandering around the studio complaining
about the current demands of filmmaking. For example, Porky Pig
bemoans that his trademark stammer is deemed "politically
correct," but execs inform him he's no longer funny without it.
It's too bad the story doesn't stay on the lot because that's where
it's most entertaining.
When a bumbling
security guard named D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser) gets fired after
trying to get Daffy off the lot, the two discover that D.J.'s father
Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton) is more than Warner's top star. It
turns out that Damian is so good at playing spies because he is one
and has stumbled across a diabolical plan by the Acme corporation to
enslave the world to its shoddy merchandise.
Imagine an entire
planet reduced to imitating the Coyote's futile quest for the
Road-Runner, and you can see the comic potential. Instead, the film
gradually loses momentum. The long scenes where Steve Martin hams it
up as Acme's Chairman of the Board don't help. Martin's strutting
and preening aren't particularly funny, and at times he's too busy
out-contorting his animated costars instead of trying to create a
more worthwhile character. To be fair, the material doesn't give him
much to work with. It's an indication of what's wrong with the rest
of the film.
of the human performers are as fun as their cartoon counterparts,
and the adventure itself is short on thrills and is sometimes stingy
on laughs. When your human contributors are as talented as Martin or
Joan Cusack, this is inexcusable. Maybe the film might have worked
better if it had been completely animated.
are enough freeze-frame moments to make Looney Tunes: Back in
Action a decent rent. As with The Simpsons, there are
gags that can't be easily seen while the film is running normally.
Fans of Dante's earlier films like Gremlins and Matinee can
spot funny cameos from actors who have been his regulars, and some
of the most obscure Looney Tunes characters casually stroll by.
Still, this is not the sort of content that merits spending $80
The new Looney
Tunes Golden Collection box set features some astute
comments from Dante, Alaskey and their collaborators. Their love for
the Warner Bros. cartoons is better served there than it is in their