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"Loonatics": So Dethpicable?

by on February 17, 2005

Animation historian Michael Barrier calls it “terrifying.” Amid Amidi uses the word “desecration.” The mainstream press wonders what is wrong in Burbank. “Have our Looney Tunes taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque?” asks the Boston Herald) “Has Warner Bros. gone daffy?” speculates the New York Post. Even the staid Wall Street Journal (in its print edition) smothers Warners’ PR hype with skeptical allusions to the studio’s lousy track record with Looney Tunes “updates.”

ImageBefore all is said and done, maybe it will be Sander Schwartz and his fellow executives with the label “Loonatics” slapped on their foreheads.

Maybe. But allow me to act as devil’s advocate for a moment. (And, yes, in making the following argument I know I’m playing alongside the Forces of Darkness.) The contrarian in me wants to shout a few things at the pitchfork-bearing mob.

Get a grip. You haven’t even seen it yet. So far, Warner Bros. has only released the concept and two pieces of artwork. That’s a pretty slender basis on which to condemn the entire enterprise. Once Loonatics debuts there will be plenty of opportunity for the rending of garments—or the eating of crow. In the meantime, is it too much to ask that we (all of us who are Looney Tunes fans) keep our minds even slightly open?

It’s not the same old crap. We’ve not much to go on, but even the little info that’s been offered suggests Loonatics is going to be radically different. This is good. Is there anyone, after Space Jam, Back in Action, Baby Looney Tunes and Duck Dodgers, who thinks that Warner Bros. can recapture the magic of Termite Terrace? Bugs, Daffy, and the rest were created and sustained by the unique brain trust of Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, Mel Blanc, Carl Stalling, and all the other directors, designers and artists who worked on the original shorts. It says nothing against the talents of contemporary animators to observe that the magic was in a melding of individual talents, and that recapitulating the old shorts is about as likely as recreating the Italian Renaissance. If Warners has stopped trying, I say “About freaking time.”

It’s a fresh field for new talents. Amidi (unwittingly) makes the point: There are countless modern creators out there who have ideas…who have something to say…and it’s a slap in the face of every talented artist working in this business whenever a major animation studio chickens out like this. What’s a better way to encourage contemporary talent: asking them to make new editions of cartoons that are half a century old, or asking them to test themselves with a radical rethink? Loonatics has the potential to be a totally new and original series (emphasize “potential”). It sure doesn’t look like the old Looney Tunes shorts, and that is good insofar as the artists developing the show are not pressed down by the dead hand of the past.

There is, of course, much cause for worry. Schwartz seems to be pitching the series as a chance to “reinvigorate” a fading franchise rather than as something new that will stand on its own. This dreadfully suggests the new series will have past glories dragging at its ankles; worse, it suggests the studio only thinks of it as a merchandising opportunity. He is also on shaky ground when he tells the Post that “the existence of one [Loonatics]doesn’t preclude the existence of another [the old ‘toons].” But the present always affects the past: Daffy still suffers in the eyes of many from his later association with Speedy. If Loonatics does become the “new face” of the Looney Tunes rather than its own creation, it will affect the way we see the classic cartoons, especially now that they have been pretty much banished from the airwaves and can only be found in collector’s editions on DVD.

I’m not endorsing Loonatics or condemning fan skepticism—how can I, since I feel the same skepticism? But I’ve also been here before. This is not the first time that a revered franchise has been done up “anime-style by some white boy who’s watched one too many episodes of FLCL” (in Amidi’s meant-to-be-cutting phrase). I’m a fan of the DC animated universe, and I was horrified when I heard the concept and saw the early designs for Teen Titans.

I was proved wrong then. Is there anything bad about hoping to be proved wrong here?

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