Chuck Jones, who produced over 100 of the greatest Warner Brothers cartoons, was asked whether he was making his cartoons for adults or children. “Neither,” he responded. “I make them for myself and my friends.”
Those cartoons are still wonderfully entertaining, even for those who don’t quite get some of the 1940’s-50’s-era satire. Jones and the other Warner Brothers legends like Tex Avery and Friz Freleng had no focus groups or demographic surveys. They just tried to outdo each other and to make each other laugh. That was the secret of their deliriously looney sensibility, their sublime silliness, and their brash and fearless anarchy.
So it is most promising when this new live action/animated feature begins with Daffy Duck being let go by the studio because while everyone loves Bugs Bunny, Daffy’s fan base consists of “angry fat guys in basements.” Then Kate, the studio’s Vice President of Comedy (Jenna Elfman, looking a little wan), sits down with Bugs to explain that she wants to leverage his synergy. Kate’s claim to fame is “Lethal Weapon Babies.” A little later a character explains that it would “send the wrong message to children” to let a car blow up and then it does, and then when Walmart appears in the middle of the desert and the characters explain that it’s product placement. So we are happily assured that the subversive spirit of the Looney Tunes is in good hands.
Director Joe Dante is clearly a fan and he keeps the jokes coming. There are movie parodies (Psycho, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), throwaway gags (watch the signs, especially the French poster for a Jerry Lewis movie), and lots of all-out mayhem, especially a wildly surreal romp through the paintings at the Louvre. And though Wile E. Coyote is now ordering online from Acme.com, the goodies are just as outrageous and subject to Murphy’s law as ever.
Live action performers Brendan Fraser (as a stuntman for Brendan Fraser who was fired for taking too much screen time in The Mummy), Timothy Dalton as his father, a dashing movie star/spy, Steve Martin (as the chairman of Acme), and Joan Cusack (as a scientist at Area 52 — Area 51 was just a decoy), all have fun, but they can’t steal the movie from Bugs, Daffy, Foghorn Leghorn, Tweetie Pie, Marvin Martian, the Tasmanian Devil, Pepe LePew, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, and of course Mr. Coytote.
Parents should know that there is a great deal of comic peril and violence, though of course no one is hurt. The film includes a little potty humor and a couple of mildly naughty words.
Families who see this movie should talk about the original cartoons and which characters they like the best. How are the Looney Tunes different from other animated characters, like those in the Disney movies?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Looney Tunes classics like “What’s Opera, Doc?” and “Duck Dodgers.”