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"Tiny Toon Adventures" Vol. 1: A Worthy Successor to Bugs and the Gang

So I’m about to review Tiny Toon Adventures Vol. 1, a show which has been a favorite of mine since I was seven, and in the back of my mind, a nagging voice is saying to me, “You sure you don’t like it only due to nostalgia? I mean, you have liked it since you were a kid; are you sure it’s not just the fond memories that are causing you to still like it?” But those thoughts don’t last very long. Nostalgia aside, Tiny Toons is still a good show.

Mainly, this is because it manages to capture most of the same spirit that made Looney Tunes such an enduring set of cartoons. From the scene-specific orchestral music to the same high speed, zany tone; from the primary emphasis on gags to the animation itself, which opts for a more full style as opposed to the limited animation we were so used to seeing for three decades on TV: Nearly everything about it hearkens back to the glory days of the Warner studio. And it can be legitimately funny, too.

At the same time, the series doesn’t spit on its predecessor. The stories and characters are executed as loving tributes to the greats, not as smug one-upmanship. And rather than infantizing the existing stars, the producers added those stars as mentors to a new generation of toons, which I think works much better. For instance, there are numerous instances when the youngsters try to imitate their heroes but fail, as when Buster tries to mimic Bugs’s dance from “Hot Cross Bunny” but only makes a fool of himself; or (coming in a future volume) when Plucky tries to attempt an advanced wild take but gets stuck in the pose all day. Essentially, they’ve got a lot to learn before they become comedy stars like their teachers, but it’s fun to watch them stumble as well.

Is Tiny Toons perfect? Not by any means. Aside from the very inconsistent animation (thanks to using multiple animation studios, some of which are better than others), certain episodes contain little of the wit or irreverence that the Looney Tunes had, opting instead for “save the day”-style plots that were more common in such series as Chip n’ Dale. While they aren’t prevalent on this volume, some future episodes are of the dreaded preachy variety, more concerned about passing a moral than getting a laugh. Some clichéd/predictable one-liners sneak in, though thankfully not too often. And some plot elements (or even jokes) are directly lifted from Looney Tunes, such as Bugs baking an exploding cake in rapid fashion or a striped-tail cat (Furball) being mistaken for a skunk. Finally, some half hour plots go on much longer than they need to, such as the lethargic “Sawdust and Toonsil”, or “Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow”, which really only has enough material for 1½ acts instead of three.

However, its good points definitely outweighs its bad, and there are multiple winners on this first volume that are still funny and enjoyable today. “Hollywood Plucky” has Plucky heading to L.A. to get his screenplay produced, and boasts a treasure trove of energy-filled, cartoony TMS animation, some dead-on celebrity caricatures, and spot-on comic timing. “Cinemaniacs” contains a trio of movie spoofs (“Superman”, “Star Trek”, “Indiana Jones”) that all work, thanks to self-referential humor and a lightweight, goofy tone. “The ACME Acres Zone” offers three engaging stories in a Twilight Zone wraparound, and contains one of my favorite lines in animation: “And to your left is a naked pig.” “Prom-Ise Her Anything” is a great ensemble piece, and actually manages to make you feel for the characters at points. “Citizen Max” is the quintessential Citizen Kane parody, while at the same time containing enough original material that it doesn’t feel like a lazy scene-by-scene reenactment. “Butt Out” from “Life in the ’90s” manages to be a funny “message” episode, which the show didn’t always pull off successfully. “Gang Busters” contains a memorable final act musical number, very much of its time period but not embarrassingly dated. There are many more I like as well, but that should give you a brief idea.

Special features on this volume are sadly limited, with the sole extra being a 23-minute featurette with interviews from staff members as well as Ruth Clampett, the daughter of legendary Termite Terrace director Bob Clampett. While it occasionally throws out interesting tidbits (such as writer Sherri Stoner being amazed at how quickly she got notes back from Steven Spielberg concerning a script, a rarity in Hollywood), it spends too much time with Ms. Clampett sharing memories of her father and with the Looney Tunes in general instead of Tiny Toons itself. It gives a good context for why Tiny Toons was successful, but offers little in terms of behind-the-scenes info. Also, it’s rather disappointing that there are no deleted scenes or commentaries included, though these may be present on the next volume. Let’s cross our fingers.

I experienced no problems with video quality, and this set actually marks something of a different review style for me, as I watched these DVDs on my brand new 720p HDTV. So if the show still looked good on a big screen and higher resolution than my old standard definition TV, that’s saying something. I also have to give Warners props for including the extended, uncut version of “The Looney Beginning”, which had about a minute of footage cut when rerun in syndication. So for those of you who didn’t get a chance to see the show’s debut in 1990, the “new” footage will be a treat.

And as for the packaging, it comes in a case about the size of a standard DVD, with two double-sided swinging hinges to house the four DVDs. I think it works quite well; we don’t get the annoying overlap problem seen in other WB releases like Looney Tunes Golden Collection volumes 4 and 5, and the small case size is welcome: those of us with too many DVDs won’t find it taking up much room. The only downside is that the fourth disc is a flipper, so you have to be more careful when you handle it. Otherwise, the packaging is just fine.

Tiny Toon Adventures has aged remarkably well for something that debuted almost two decades ago, which is more than I can say for many other cartoons in that era. If you are looking for new Looney Tunes-esque adventures, and want a great deal (over 30 episodes for $34.99), this first volume earns my recommendation.

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