LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION
Rated PG - Running Time: 1:30 - Released 11/14/03
Looney Tunes: Back In Action is the latest full-length cartoon/live-action hybrid film from Warner Brothers featuring that famous stable of animated characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, etc., who have all been working much longer than most actors in the film industry today. It also contains such notable human cartoons as Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, and Steve Martin, hamming it up with their pixellated pals. While the movie, written by Larry Doyle (The Simpsons, Beavis And Butt-Head) and directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers), is appropriately light-hearted and energetic, with appearances by just about every WB cartoon character youd ever care to remember, its story is a little scattered and it suffers from a few problems that, in my opinion, prevent any such movie from being as enjoyable as the good old-fashioned cartoons.
The action starts in Hollywood, where Daffy Duck (voice of
Joe Alaskey) complains so much about his part in the upcoming
movie, he is summarily fired by Vice President of Comedy Kate
Houghton (Elfman). But as soon as hes out the door, Bugs
Bunny (also Alaskey) convinces the company execs that Daffy is
necessary for the success of the project, so Bugs and Kate take
off to find him. Meanwhile, Daffy meets up with security guard
and out-of-work stuntman D.J. Drake (Fraser), who has just received
an urgent message from his famous actor/spy father, Damien Drake
(Timothy Dalton). It seems that Drake Sr. is in trouble with the
maniacal Mr. Chairman of the Acme Corporation (Martin), who wants
a large and supernaturally powerful diamond called the Blue Monkey,
the hiding place of which is known only to Damien.
D.J. and Daffy travel to Las Vegas, followed by Kate and Bugs,
where they all meet up and discover the whereabouts of the Blue
Monkey from Mother (Joan Cusack), a wacky scientist
in charge of the secretive Area 52 facility hidden in the desert.
Soon our four protagonists are facing Mr. Chairman themselves,
and are forced to work together to foil his diabolical plan, yatta,
yatta, yatta, you know how these cartoon screenplays go.
Of the problems I mentioned, the first one is the absence of
Mel Blanc. Although Alaskey and the other voice actors (including
Brendan Fraser, who, in addition to his human character, performed
the voice of the Tazmanian Devil) all do a nearly flawless job
of re-creating Blancs many vocal personae, there is a regrettable
loss of authenticity in every new Looney Tunes production made
since his death in 1989. I remember making a similar complaint
about Rocky &
Bullwinkle and The Tigger
Movie. There is nothing to be done about this, of course,
and only old-timers, purists, and the ridiculously picky, like
me, would be bothered by it. But there it is.
The second problem is that, since this movie features live-action
humans and backgrounds, the animated characters must be rendered
in 3-D to fit in. Although to many this may seem an improvement,
and indeed, the animation is as crisp and flawless as all computer-animated
films have been since Toy Story, the characters just dont
look the same with their round bodies and their sculpture-mapping
and their complex shading and lighting effects. Im sorry,
Bugs and Daffy just arent meant to have physical
depthit was their hip attitudes and sarcastic witticisms
that fleshed them out in the old days; giving them that extra
-D is cheating. I knowpicky, picky, picky.
Then there is the issue of actual characterization. Much has
been made of this movie being not Space Jamthat
is, its producers claim it is truer to the original essence of
Bugs, Daffy, etc., than that 1996 movie co-starring Michael Jordan,
which turned them all into basketball stars and did away with
most of their traditional settings, conflicts, and personalities.
And it is true that this film is much more faithful to what they
were than that film was. But still...I take issue with the whole
concept of humans interacting with these characters. Maybe it
worked so well in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? because the
cartoons, for the most part, were previously unknown characters.
I liked it when Bugs was a rabbit and Daffy was a duckcavorting
in the woods, foiling Elmer Fudds plans to shoot them, occasionally
cracking wise to the audiencethats what I see as the
essence of Looney Tunes. I dont want to see Bugs and Daffy
sitting in a board room having contract negotiations with Jenna
Elfman, doing slapstick with humans, running around the studio
backlot...gimme a break.
Even if I approved of the genre, Looney Tunes: Back In Action
is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of its effectiveness. Doyle and
Dante have obviously tried hard to load it with punchlines, asides,
and in-jokes that will please the adult members of the audience,
and they have made a valiant effort to includeat least peripherallyjust
about every Looney Tunes character there ever was. But their concurrent
desire for a short running time has forced them to move the story
along at a dizzying pace. There are plenty of funny bitsPorky
Pig discussing political correctness with Speedy Gonzales, Wile
E. Coyote ordering Acme products on the Internet, the characters
traipsing through various famous paintings at the Louvrebut
the plot is so overcomplicated, and its delivered at such
a breakneck speed, one practically gets vertigo trying to keep
As for the human performers, Fraser and Elfman are adequate;
they both look great, but their main job is not so much acting
as reacting, and what theyre reacting to is invisible to
them, which always makes it difficult to look realistic. Joan
Cusack is her regularly off-the-wall self, but shes only
on the screen for about 5 minutes. Timothy Dalton re-creates his
James Bond character with affable good sportsmanship. Steve Martin,
on the other hand, is so unfunny hes almost unsettling.
His part is given too much screen time, and I have no idea
what kind of accent hes going for, but it doesn't work.
And Heather Locklear appears in a part so short and obviously
contrived (for the purpose of including Yosemite Sam), its
basically nothing more than a glorified cameo.
Im a Looney Tunes fan from way back, and I know they cant be like they were when I was a kid. But I have to admit, Ill take a 7-minute Whats Opera, Doc? from 1957 or Robin Hood Daffy (58) over a state-of-the-art, 1½-hour, multi-million-dollar, computer-generated, 21st-century neo-Looney feature any day. ***½