Monday, May 9, 2011

The Looney Tunes Show - First Impression

The Looney Tunes have been around for a long time, almost a hundred years, and they've managed to evolve while keeping their old cartoons relevant. It's really a miracle that Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are still household names, let alone the celebrated icons that they are. Though the main Looney Tunes crew hasn't had a real show in quite a while, their spin-offs and showcase segments have delighted children worldwide for most of the modern era.

Tiny Toon Adventures and Baby Looney Tunes took the characters and the world in which they inhabited in new directions, with Baby Looney Tunes being a bit of a rip-off of the Muppet Babies. The show was specifically aimed at younger children and its focus was on teaching life lessons and friendship.

Tiny Toon Adventures has more in common with the original shorts, replacing the main cast with their younger pupils. The show was different from the old shorts of the passed, which were designed for a theater audience. It kept the idea of short cartoons with a more "looniful" theme, while separating them with an overarching story that focused on the average lives of the Tiny Toons characters. These overarching story plots often developed the characters and relationships in ways that modern audiences could relate with.

These new takes weren't all that kept the Looney Tunes relevant. Various holiday specials were produced along with a pair of feature-length movies that took a more than heavy inspirational cue from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which, coincidentally, featured Bugs Bunny in a cameo role. Unfortunately these movies, Warner Bros.' all-stars mash-up Space Jam, and 2003's Looney Tunes: Back in Action, had a habit of straying too far from the character's original personalities, and were ultimately little more than a pair of not-so-clever marketing ploys.

Besides some of the more updated stylings of the Looney Tunes characters (such as a much more gross-out inspired Tasmanian Devil) these movies, or Space Jam rather, since Back in Action didn't bring anything new to the table at all, gave birth to Lola Bunny, the most hit-or-miss character ever to join the Looney Tunes crew. To some she's the beginning of the end, and to others she's a strong character that deserves more attention. And to others... 

Lola Bunny, despite often being toted around as one of the core Looney Tunes characters, has only appeared in a "traditional" Looney Tunes short in the form of a very obscure webtoon where she has no lines, and her only vocal cues are a slew of childish giggles. Despite this, she has appeared in Baby Looney Tunes as a core character and is the ancestor of possibly the most annoying superhero ever.

Lola does a good job of avoiding common stereotypes.

The most recent attempt at modernizing the Looney Tunes is Cartoon Network's newest series the Looney Tunes Show. When news that this show was going to appear on Cartoon Network first entered my ears, I was a little concerned. I had this terrible feeling in my gut that they were going to make some abstract Adventure Time version of my favorite rodents (and fowls, and pigs, and felines, and...)

News quickly came in that the show was going to be unlike other traditional Looney Tunes cartoons. The series would revolve around the characters lives as they try to survive in a suburban neighborhood as law abiding citizens, neighbors, and roommates. As more information began rolling in, it seemed more like the Looney Tunes Show was going to be "Tiny Toons for grown-ups." I began looking forward to seeing how the show would turn out.

Finally the day came, the series premiere. It was... interesting, to say the least. There were points where the show was disappointing, particularly in its characterization of Speedy Gonzales, whom has ditched his bantering hero persona for something much more like Ernie Cardinez from George Lopez (the show.) Bugs Bunny was also lacking a proper personality, being a much more mellowed individual than he used to be. Admittedly this version of Bugs has existed since the mid-to-late 80's, but this show seems determined to really make him the straight man to Daffy Duck. Which is a shame considering Bugs Bunny was one of the pioneers of the screwball era of cartoons.

Bugs Bunny: the original nut job.
Much of the show seemed to focus on Daffy Duck, who is far more naive than he is sinister, though he is still a great deal selfish. This is really a pretty good grasp on Daffy's character, portraying him less like a villain and more like the self-serving dimwit he plays in his more likeable roles. The focus on Daffy will probably continue as the show progresses, as compared to the infallible Bugs he is a much easier character for the audience to relate to.

The story line wasn't terrible, nor was it terribly complex. It was quick and simple enough that younger audience members should be able to follow it, and there was enough going on that older viewers should be entertained if nothing else. Hearing many of the voices present in past Warner Bros. cartoons will really give more value to the nostalgic feel of the show as it tries to balance all generations of the Looney Tunes.

The art takes some getting used to, and it might alienate some of the more traditionalist viewers out there. I personally had a hard time getting past some of the design choices, and I'm still not a large fan of the more blocky looking Bugs Bunny, but it isn't anything that will turn me off to the show entirely. The art direction, while not vastly different, is different enough from past directions to feel more than a little odd.

Hey boy, Bugs Bunny wants some crack!
Naturally, the most interesting part of this series is going to be seeing the reimaginings of your favorite Looney Tunes character. Be it Foghorn Leghorn, Porky Pig, or even Lola Bunny, all of the Looney Tunes regulars are set to make an appearance or two. Although what will become of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner isn't yet known. The two are going to star in some very well done CGI segments of their own, but whether they'll appear as part of the suburban lifestyle or not is unknown. Honestly, I'm hoping to see the Tiny Toons characters return as members of the larger Looney Tunes family. They've been neglected for far too long, especially considering Lola Bunny is just a sexier version of Babs. This might also be an opportune time for Warner Bros. to revisit other popular properties such as the Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. Though they should leave the Loonatics out of it, merely for the sake of continuity if nothing else.

It's far too early to really make a judgment on how the series will progress, and whether it will be any good or not. Basing my assessment from the pilot alone, however, I think it's definitely going to be worth waiting around for a few more episodes to see where it goes. Despite its flaws, the show still has a vast amount of potential, and if the plots improve even marginally from what we have now, the show will be a worthy continuation of the Looney Tunes legacy.