LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION
***1/2 (out of 5)
November 14, 2003
Jenna Elfman as KATE HOUGHTON
Brendan Fraser as DJ DRAKE
Steve Martin as MR. CHAIRMAN
Timothy Dalton as DAMIAN DRAKE
Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the other Looney Tunes
Directed by: Joe Dante
BY KEVIN CARR
There’s a friendly survey floating around the Internet that asks a variety of questions, such as how old you are, your favorite fast food and whether or not you’ve been toilet papering. One of the questions is “Warner Bros. or Disney?” Whenever I fill this out and sent it along to friends, inevitably I mark Warner Bros.
The Merry Melodies were always far superior in fun and wackiness to Disney’s sterile characters. You’d never see Donald Duck take a load of buckshot to the face, having his bill spin around his head like a top. Coming in second place to the Looney Tunes in favorite slapstick cartoons were the MGM cartoons featuring Tom & Jerry and the Tex Avery classics.
Sadly, many years ago, parents groups and other “responsible” folks put slapstick cartoons in their crosshairs, claiming that watching such cartoons would cause kids to become violent juvenile delinquents. By the 1970s, they managed to pacify these cartoons. Along with the political correctness Nazis, these people managed to not only water down cartoons to a level of boredom, but they managed to bury some of the funniest moments from the 1940s for fear that they might offend someone.
It’s great to see that their plan worked. We no longer have juvenile delinquents running around. Kids no longer engage in violence. And all levels of racism and sexism have been erased from our culture. Thank goodness these cartoon were swept under the rug.
Okay. I’ll get off my soap box now.
“Looney Tunes: Back in Action” begins with the standard premise that cartoon characters are real and Bugs and Daffy are actual stars on the Warner Bros. lot. The new lean and hungry VP of Comedy Kate Houghton (played by a shocking lean and hungry Jenna Elfman) is leading a crusade to revamp the Looney Tunes line-up. Her first item of business is to fire Daffy Duck because he only has appeal to chubby guys in their mid-30s living in their parents house. (Aside: I’m proud to say that I’m a HUGE Daffy Duck fan.)
Daffy joins forces with ex-security guard DJ Drake (Brandon Fraser) who is also the son of the fake James Bond rip-off Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton, a casting choice that is an excellent inside joke to the industry). Together, Daffy and DJ learn that the Chairman of ACME Corporation (Steve Martin) is trying to get his hands on a magical diamond called the “blue monkey” and they are the only ones who can stop him.
Okay, I realize the plot isn’t that rock-solid. But it’s better than making the Looney Tunes play basketball, and it really only serves as a backdrop for their antics.
The last live-action/animation hybrid film released with the Looney Tunes characters was “Space Jam,” starring Michael Jordan. While “Space Jam” ate up the box office and was popular with the kids, I thought it stunk. Basketball-playing cartoon characters was a bit far fetched, even for the toon world.
The all time best live-action/animation mix was “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which was made in the tradition of Looney Tunes rather than Disney. Slapstick violence with sticks of dynamite and black orb bombs were a staple of that genre. “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” is no “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” but it still isn’t half bad.
While “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” doesn’t exactly have the same flavor of the classic cartoons, it gives a good effort. For those adult kids like me who grew up with reruns of Daffy and Bugs arguing about duck season and wabbit season, this film is the closest you’re gonna get to that nostalgia.
There are cameos by all the favorite Looney Tunes, including Yosemite Sam (now a Las Vegas casino owner), the Tasmanian Devil and Marvin the Martian. There’s also some great inside jokes to the adults who grew up with the cartoon, including an argument between Yosemite Sam and his thugs on whether it would be ethical to just throw a stick of dynamite out of a moving car.
There are some moments of comedy that are a little rough, and these often lie in the laps of the actors rather than the toons. But once you get past the fact that the movie is really nothing more than a feature length cartoon which isn’t supposed to make a lot of sense, it’s actually quite fun. And it’s the closest we’re gonna get to the golden age when Mel Blanc did the voices and the cartoons were directed by Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson (may they all rest in peace).