Nowadays their names are as widely known as Disney’s front runners and to many (myself included) are superior entertainers. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweety, the list goes on.
In 2011, the classic characters were rebooted into a new format, trying to bring back to life the heroes that the public were beginning to lose interest in.
As most know, the old cartoons were shorts of around 6 or 7 minutes length starring one or two of the large cast of stars. There were also feature length movies which largely consisted of clips from the shorts being strung together to form a narrative. Later there was the live action crossed with animation ‘Space Jam’ and more recently ‘Back in Action’.
The latter movies introduced the idea of the characters all being more familiar with each other and interacting more regularly. The new Looney Tunes Show takes it even further, having them live in a suburb, many of them as neighbours.
Bugs and Daffy are housemates, with Speedy Gonzales as a house mouse who Bugs is quite happy to have around. Yosemite Sam is an annoying next door neighbour, while Porky Pig, Pepé Le Pew and Elmer Fudd live in the local area.
At first the show seems extremely odd. The characters are in a situation that they were never meant to be in. Rather than being the woodland creatures they always were, they are now a part of the rat race. The format has changed substantially from the shorts. Instead of the madcap, ‘looney’ antics that viewers have come to expect, we now have a much more sitcom feel.
Having said that, somehow the craziness is still there. It’s almost as though the Looney Tunes are trying their hand at a show similar to The Simpsons or Family Guy. It’s less adult than those shows, but still has some similar mature tones. In one episode Bugs even wishes he can go to prison and live the cushy life provided there – not a great message to kids.
Rather than the old hunter/prey relationships of most old Looney Tunes cartoons, the new show deals with things like relationships and social standing. It’s weird to see these characters doing this, but somehow it works.
There are a few flaws with the show. For the most part the character redesigns are faithful to the originals and do not mess them up too much, but a few don’t quite look right. Porky Pig stands out in my mind as being too skinny.
There is an annoying tendency to get characters wrong. In the first episode Daffy is depicted as far more stupid than I ever remember him being. Sure he was always Daffy, but behind the madness was some amount of genius. Though, in following episodes Daffy seems to return to form.
The biggest culprit of this is Lola Bunny. Lola was first seen in ‘Space Jam’ where she was a female counterpart of Bugs, able to hold her own against any of the male characters. She was a good character for girls to get behind. Her revamped version though has somehow become the type of thing that makes feminists roll in their graves. Bunny boiler might be an apt phrase. They would have been better off using the older pre-Lola Honey Bunny (who Lola was somewhat modelled on).
Another casualty is Gossamer, the big red hair monster. Instead of being the ferocious man-eating beast he has always been, now for some reason he is the next door neighbours shy son. His mother is an ebonic reimagining of Witch Hazel, now called Witch Lezah. I don’t know what they were thinking.
Other times though, the character changes suit the new world they inhabit. Yosemite Sam’s role as irritating neighbour rather than deadly cowboy fits much better in this setting. Pepé Le Pew as a marriage counsellor is a great choice.
Daffy and Bugs remain the stars though, with the rest of the Toons having guest appearances when and where required. Setting them up as best friends after all the rabbit season/duck season adventures of old is a little strange but it works and allows for everyone’s two favourites to steal the show with plenty of great lines. On the sidelines are plenty of obscure characters to reward the keen Looney Toons fans.
To enjoy the show, you have to be prepared to accept that it’s a sitcom now and not a wacky short.
However, not all hope is lost. The episode’s stories are given a break every so often for either a Merrie Melodie or a Roadrunner short.
The Roadrunner and Coyote shorts are in just the same vein that they always were. Nothing has changed, including the regular use of Acme products. Nothing, except one major aesthetic. They are now CGI animated. This allowed the creators to make a vast desert for them to play in, without needing to animate every scene separately. Much of the slapstick in the show is saved for these segments, but somehow the CGI versions of the characters lack the charm of the older ones.
The Merrie Melodies are possibly the worst part of the show, (not in all cases). In these, one or more characters who don’t usually get a chance to appear in the story perform a comedy song. Irritatingly, most of the songs are raps. I have no idea why producers believe people want to hear rap, or think they are inherently funny, but they are wrong. There are a huge amount of different types of music out there to play with. Why they stick with the worst one is beyond me. Elmer Fudd’s ‘Grilled Cheese’ is marvelous however.
If you’re a Looney Tunes fan, by all means check it out and see what you think. Just be prepared to accept the new format and you should enjoy. I think this is a show for the old fans as much as it is for new ones.