Looney Tunes Cartoons





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

The average rabbit has a lifespan of one, maybe two, years. Bugs Bunny is approaching 80. And if HBO Max has its way, the ol’ wascally wabbit will still have plenty of hop in his giddyup for years to come.

We all know about Bugs, Porky, Daffy and the rest of the Looney Tunes crowd. Our great-grandparents watched them in theaters when they went to movies for a nickel. You or your parents might’ve gotten up early on Saturday mornings to see Wile E. Coyote chase the Road Runner, or come home from school to watch Sylvester try to turn a smart-talking canary into a sandwich. Now Warner Bros., HBO Max’s corporate overlord, is introducing yet another generation to new animated Looney Tune shorts—most of them featuring the classic characters from yesteryear.

And let me tell you, the ACME company couldn’t be happier.

What’s Up, Max?

I was one of those kids who learned everything they knew about anvils and dynamite from Looney Tunes cartoons. While Warner Bros. commissioned animated shorts from the 1930 to 1969, I was especially fond of the cartoons I later learned were from the late 1940s and ’50s—the studio’s so-called Golden Age when they were clearly at the top of their game. Though Looney Tunes cartoons were hardly subtle, they were often clever and wildly imaginative. Warner Bros. combined brain-twisting sight gags with a penchant for slapstick, making it perfect for youngsters like me.

Of course, those cartoons would’ve also given a Plugged In reviewer writer’s cramps. Yes, they were cartoons. Sure, it was all in good fun. But the violence! The drinking! The smoking! And let’s not forget that if amorous skunk Pepé Le Pew had been “real,” he would’ve been an appalling example of why the #MeToo movement was so necessary. We won’t even get into the racial and ethnic stereotypes that can make a few of those old cartoons deeply uncomfortable.

Many would say that entertainment has gone downhill since the 1940s and ’50s. And in some obvious ways, it has. But watching those old Looney Tunes shorts reminds us that the truth is more complex than that, and more subjective. Much of what was just fine for Grandma and Gramps to watch just wouldn’t fly today.

So with Warner Bros. giving new life to these age-old characters, just what did they change?

Th-th-th-that’s Not All, Folks!

The new cartoons feel much like the old ones. Each 12- to 13-minute “episode” includes two main shorts and then an even shorter, minute-long palate cleanser between them. And if you weren’t paying attention, you could imagine that some of these shorts were plucked whole from the 1940s and slapped down into the 21st century.

Daffy Duck takes his cues from his earliest incarnations—truly daffy and less sarcastic than he later became. Many of the same gags and riffs feel of a piece with the past. Violent, slapstick humor is still the order of the day. Sledgehammers fly. Anvils drop. Characters wind up in momentary traction before bouncing back, good as new.

But while HBO is fine with dynamite, guns are a big no-no now. Elmer Fudd chases Bugs with a scythe or his bare hands. Yosemite Sam has been stripped of his firearms and now shows his manly might by arm wrestling.

But while guns are off-limits, speech impediments are fair game. Porky still stutters. Daffy still spits. Mr. Fudd still can’t pwonownce his “awws”

We’ve already been told that Pepé Le Pew will be one of the new Looney Tunes’ characters. How his character will change is, as of press time, a matter of conjecture. We’ve not yet seen a short featuring him yet. But guy ’toon characters still dress up as girls on occasion, as the mood and plot strike, all for comedic effect. As for language, the worst you can expect would be an occasional “dang” or “dagnabit.”

Yes, Looney Tunes are back, with fresh iterations of their well-worn hijinks. The franchise feels both new and old, and somehow simultaneously fresh and threadbare. Bugs and the crew, for better or worse—mostly better, I think—are still going strong.

Must be the carrots.

Episode Reviews

May 27, 2020: “Curse of the Monkey Bird/Harm Wrestling”

In the first short, Porky and Daffy explore the ancient temple of the Monkey Bird in search of secret treasure. In the second, Bugs wanders into a saloon in search of a drink. But Yosemite Sam won’t let him leave ’til the two compete in a quick arm-wrestling competition.

In the first segment, we see some lightly spiritual elements (ghosts and the like), and Daffy unintentionally causes a great deal of bodily harm to poor ol’ Porky. (We see the pig skewered by needles, punched by a mechanical arm and dropped from a great height, among other things.) Daffy gets bitten by a snake, too, forcing Porky to suck the poison out of the puncture wound. (Because of Daffy’s speech impediment, the word “suck” can sound more obscene.) Daffy dons a dress (as does Porky) and nearly marries the Monkey Bird before they make their escape.

In the second episode, the action takes place in the “Tough Guy Saloon.” Yosemite Sam strips off his shirt and displays a remarkable array of muscles. (How significant this shirtless scene is, given that Bugs is perpetually naked, I leave up to you.) Yosemite suffers several bites from tiny ravenous fish and ends up within an enlarged rear end. (Sam’s keester loses its extra size through a vaguely flatulent-sounding escape of air.)

Dynamite goes kaboom. Sam says “dang” a couple of times.

May 27, 2020: “Big League Beast/Firehouse Frenzy”

In the first short, Bugs loses reception on his television during a big baseball game, so he visits his neighbor—whose lair is helpfully indicated by a flashing “Evil Scientist” sign. In the second, firemen Porky and Daffy rush to put out a fire.

The scientist (whose voice and mannerisms are meant to be an impression of the famous monster movie actor Boris Karloff) speaks rather effeminately, and he sics his hairy monster, Gossamer, on Bugs. The monster temporarily shaves himself into oblivion (the camera zeroes in on the monster’s shapely rear at one point) before he returns, good as new. Gossamer flings knives and has a tense encounter with a tentacled creature, and he and the evil scientist slide on some grease and run into a desk. Gossamer also slaps on a pair of high heels and poses in a variety of model-esque ways—one or two of which are meant to reference some rather racy (for their time) classic movie scenes.

In the second short, Daffy and Porky slide down firepoles all the way to hell, where a cartoonish demon tells them that the fire’s “upstairs.” Daffy strips off Porky’s fireman uniform, leaving the pig entirely unclothed except for a fig leaf covering his supposed privates. (Keep in mind that Porky typically runs around without pants anyway, and Daffy’s routinely naked as a … jayduck.) Daffy kidnaps a Dalmatian owner, strips him to his skivvies, paints him to look like a Dalmatian an throws him inside a fire truck. We see cartoon flames consume a cartoon building.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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