Looney Tunes: Back in Action
Film review by: Witney Seibold
I love the Looney Tunes. And Merrie Melodies and Mel Blanc and Carl Stalling and Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett and Tex Avery. The Warner Bros. cartoons produced from the Depression to about 1955 were some of the finest pieces of animation ever put to film. “One Froggy Evening,” the Chuck Jones short about the singing and dancing frog, belongs on lists with “Citizen Kane.” And, thanks to the Gods of Saturday Morning, entire generations were raised on these cartoon shorts. Sadly, Warner Bros. decided to market these characters, invented 60 years ago, until they lost a lot of their magic. They became overexposed. The 1980s saw horrible Daffy Duck/Speedy Gonzalez films that have already been swallowed by history. The 1990s saw the opening (and closing) of Warner Brothers Stores, and the fact that Bugs Bunny was funny was insisted upon until we were brainwashed. The nadir of all this was in 1996, when Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig were placed in a basketball game with Michael Jordan in the truly awful “Space Jam.”
Luckily, with Joe Dante’s new film “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” we’re given a step to recovery. It’s funny and refreshing and, while a little chaotic and full of the usual shameless self-congratulatory joy that snuck into WB cartoons starting with “Tiny Toon Adventures,” a worthy endeavor in the annals of Looney Tune history.
The story is set in a universe where the cartoon stars are actors on the WB lot, and interact with real humans á la Roger Rabbit. Brendan Fraser plays DJ Drake, Brendan Fraser’s stunt double who must rescue his super-spy father (none other than Timothy Dalton) from the clutches of the wicked head of Acme, Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin, lovingly hamming it up again; He may be a serious playwright these days, but I still love his goofballs). Jenna Elfman, a stuffy executive, is along for the ride. Bunny and Duck play themselves, and race about the screen in wonderful old-fashioned energy.
Some of the sequences along the way are brilliant, and when, Tex Avery style, the characters race through the paintings in the Louvre, taking on the painting styles of each artist. Fudd in pointillism is not to be missed. The writer, Larry Doyle, having worked on “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “The Simpsons,” knows his cartoons, and has a thick and rich sense of irony that helps keep the characters afloat. Bugs and Daffy know their history as well as the audience, and it helps that they play with it.
It’s not a great film by any means; it has its share of low humor, and many of the jokes are strained, but it’s fun and, like I said, the right step.