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"The Looney Tunes Show": A Misleading Show Name

by on May 3, 2011

Looney Tunes was one of the first cartoon series I ever watched, and I’ve always been a fan. Currently, I own all six Golden Collections, all the compilation movies released to DVD, a couple made-for-TV specials, and three of the four Super-Stars volumes. And I don’t just watch the cartoons. I’m interested in the history: researching what music played in the shorts; I.D.ing who animated what; studying how they were made.

Despite this love for the classics, I’m not someone who automatically despises any Looney Tunes cartoon made after the 60s. Unfortunately, modern revivals of the franchise have been hit or miss; even some shorts directed by veterans like Chuck Jones haven’t all fared well. So when The Looney Tunes Show was announced, I was interested (after all, its spiritual successor, Tiny Toon Adventures, worked), but I was hesitant to preliminarily gush over it.

Unfortunately, the show isn’t off to a good start. And I mean that both by comparing it to the classics and how it stands on its own.

The main problem with The Looney Tunes Show is that it’s just boring. For a theatrical series which was rarely boring, this is a cardinal sin. It’s a dialog-centric show with none of the well-executed physical humor, fast pace, or anarchic tone that made Looney Tunes such fun. It all feels very subdued, like its makers were worried about offending anyone and so played everything safe. The plotlines are ripped straight from your typical 80’s sitcom, or even earlier: The first episode features Bugs and Daffy teaming up on a “best friends” game show where they’re humiliated because Daffy doesn’t know a thing about Bugs. Daffy then tries overcompensating by showering Bugs with attention, which irritates him. Do you know how tired that premise is? What’s next: Daffy having to be Bugs’ slave after having his life saved?

The second episode isn’t much better—Daffy cons his way into a golf resort, and not in a unique way, but merely by overhearing someone tell the clerk their club number and repeating it later. Yawn. The rest of this outing involves Bugs dating Lola, the rabbit created for Space Jam to shamelessly attract a female demographic. Unlike in Space Jam, however, here she’s a clueless, obsessive woman who breaks down in tears if Bugs even ponders breaking up with her. Great role model for the girls, eh? And again, the premise of Bugs scheming a way to break up with Lola is old hat, including cross-dressing and badmouthing himself, only for Lola to become further attracted to Bugs, because he’s the bad boy. Did you see that twist coming?

The plots could be forgiven if the writing and dialog was at least snappy and fresh, but nope, you’ve heard most everything here before. For instance, in the first episode, Bugs quizzes Daffy on his birthday, and Daffy only guesses correctly after a ton of tries while watching Bugs shake his head. In the second episode, what a shock it is that Bugs can’t bring himself to break up with Lola when she invites her parents to meet him, and they butter him up for dating their daughter. There was exactly one joke I genuinely laughed at, and that was when Daffy had trouble remembering the complicated acronym for the country club (for the record, it’s Royal Oaks Glen Oaks Oakwood Oaks Country Club, or R.O.G.O.O.O.C.C.). It doesn’t help that there’s no comedic chemistry between Bugs and Daffy. They both seem out of character, especially Bugs, who mostly just stands around as surly straight man to Daffy, lacking any of the prankster characteristics from his early days.

Lack of background music is also a big minus. Due to being a sitcom, we get none of the pleasing, varied (and often funny in and of itself!) orchestral music that made the theatrical shorts and even Tiny Toons so enjoyable. The only place you’ll hear music is in the brief “Merrie Melodies” bumpers and the Road Runner shorts; more on those below. I also wasn’t a fan of the voice acting. Many of the VAs do a pretty mediocre job of imitating Mel Blanc, and often come across as forced. Daffy sounds too hoarse, for example, and Speedy Gonzales’s new lower voice lacks any of the charm of his original incarnation.

As for the animation, I will say this: It’s at least more lively than some other modern cartoons where only the mouth, and occasionally a limb, move; Toon City does an acceptable job, and occasionally there are flashes of full animation. But it lacks funny drawings and strong poses: I was struck only by Daffy going batty from trying 100% after Speedy chews him out for being a bad friend to Bugs. We get few of the unique animation styles that each individual animator would formerly bring to the table, which is almost unavoidable for modern TV animation due to overseas animation, but not any less disappointing. And the jagged designs just aren’t as eye-pleasing as the rounded designs used in the theatrical shorts, or to a lesser extent in Tiny Toons.

I also worry that the show’s fixed suburban setting will keep the show from being all that visually creative. The original shorts didn’t have a single locale; one short could take place in outer space, another could take place in the old west, another could be in ancient Rome. It was fun to see where and when the cartoons would take place. But here, Bugs and Daffy share a house, and the more down-to-earth tone of the show suggest it less likely that there will be as much variety. I could be wrong, of course, but that’s how it seems right now.

So aside from the needlessly overlong main stories in each episode (after all, the original shorts were only 6-7 minutes; by contrast, these 16-17 minute stories outstay their welcome), there are also two-minute music videos called Merrie Melodies and 2-3 minute CGI Road Runner shorts. The former is a neat idea, actually. They’re storyboarded decently, and they seem to be going for a Cartoon Planet execution with its weird song premises (the first episode has Elmer Fudd singing a sultry song about a grilled cheese sandwich). But so far, the songs aren’t that memorable. As for the computer-animated Road Runner shorts, their different animation style does make them stand out from the show, which can be seen as both a good and bad thing. But truth be told, its CGI pales in comparison not only to Pixar and Blue Sky but even some TV cartoons; the character designs are overly simplified, the movements can be choppy, and the backgrounds are far too sparse and forgettable. However, surprisingly, these bits were actually my favorite in the show, simply because they had the feel of the classic shorts, right down to the scene-specific music. Too bad they’re so short that they barely have any time for gags.

The show has a chance to improve; other shows have shown growth between seasons. But it needs a lot of work. It may get better later, but for now, The Looney Tunes Show is bland and recycled, and they stray too far from their roots by being too sitcom-y and not looney enough.

Parents, if you want to start your kids on something good, show them the original Looney Tunes theatrical shorts. They’re better made, funnier, have more energy, and more of a personal touch than the assembly line The Looney Tunes Show.

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