Monday, July 03, 2006

New Looney Tunes

I remember hearing a while back about a project to make new theatrical Looney Tunes. It was spearheaded by fomer Simpsons producer Larry Doyle. One of these Looney Tunes appeared on the DVD of the movie Looney Tunes: Back In Action. I didn't hear much about them again until a couple of blogs mentioned them.

Jaime Weinman mentioned them on his blog and Thad Komorowski actually posted some on his blog. I watched the cartoons on Thad's blog and to put it simply, these cartoons are bad. They are not very funny. What makes this sad is the fact that some good writers worked on these cartoons. Jon Vitti wrote some very good episodes of The Simpsons and Kyle Baker (assuming that is the Kyle Baker I'm thinking of) has done a lot of great comic book and graphic novel work. Yet, there are many problems with these cartoons...the animation not withstanding.

The first one is the pacing. These cartoons are way too fast-paced. Characters talk too fast and gags are barely given time to register (let alone be set up). Just because Looney Tunes are short doesn't mean that everything has to go fast. It reminds me of the way some live-action comedies speed up the action in an attempt to make it funny (Home Alone has one such scene). Nothing that isn't inherently funny already becomes any funnier when it's sped up. No cartoon suddenly becomes hilarious because gags come at you five times faster than another cartoon.

Another problem that comes up is not understanding why the old cartoons were funny. The best example of this is “Museum Scream,” which is a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon. This cartoon has many many bad things happen to Sylvester. However, these bad things end up making the cartoon feel mean-spirited instead of funny. Why? Well, the cartoon forgot what actually made Sylvester and Tweety cartoons funny. In those classic cartoons, bad things really only happened to Sylvester whenever he attempted to get Tweety. Sylvester would try some ridiculous plan, Tweety would cleverly figure out a way to foil it, and then bad things happened to Sylvester. Sylvester's nefarious plans (and Tweety) would do him in and that's why it was funny. Sylvester wanted to do something bad to the cute Tweety but ends up having something bad to him instead. In “Museum Scream,” it seems like Sylvester is a victim of circumstance. His plans don't do him in...not even Tweety does him in. Instead, everything else does him in. That simple difference is why “Museum Scream,” a cartoon that actually had a creative gag or two, doesn't really work.

The music in these shorts isn't that great and it makes you realize something. There will never be another Carl Stalling. The way he deftly combined original pieces with others' work into a score that didn't just augment the action so much as drive it and magnify it was extraordinary. It's amazing how you could listen to a Looney Tune's music and figure out what was going on without even seeing anything. The music for shows like Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures came the closest to replicating his style in a way that was not as brilliant but still very respectful. When it came to Looney Tunes, the music was equally as important as the animation. The music in these newer Looney Tunes isn't as good and as a result, a large amount of the appeal is missing.

Looking at these poor attempts at Looney Tunes, it begs the question...can a good “modern” Looney Tune even be made? I say that it can most certainly be done but you need the right people to make it. I, for one, enjoyed Greg Ford's “Blooper Bunny,” a cartoon that was certainly “modern” (a behind-the-scenes look at the celebration of Bugs Bunny's 51-and-a-half birthday) but at the same time, respected the original characters. There is a scene involving Daffy Duck almost saying a certain curse word that had me rolling when I saw it. Yes, that particular joke was a little rougher than something in the older cartoons. However, the Daffy portrayed in that cartoon (the Chuck Jones greedy, conniving, jealous Daffy) would probably say something like that. That's a modern update with a nod to the classic cartoons' characterization.

At the same time, I think it would be really intriguing to see what some Looney Tunes' lovers would do with the characters. John K. has always cited Bob Clampett and other Looney Tunes directors as influence. There's a part of me that wonders what he'd do with those characters (and if it would turn out like the bizarre yet funny “Boo Boo Runs Wild”). Would Pixar, a company that has excelled in making short films, be able to make a good Looney Tune? A friend of mine in college once brought up the idea of getting anime directors to give their take on the Looney Tunes on a message board. Could you imagine what would kind of stuff could pop out of the minds of people such as Shinichi Watanabe (director of Excel Saga), Akitaroh Daichi (director of Fruits Basket and Kodocha), Kazuya Tsurumaki (director of FLCL), or even big dogs like Mamoru Oshii (director of the two Ghost In The Shell movies), Hideaki Anno (the director of Evangelion), or the great Hayao Miyazaki (director of Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro)? Even if the cartoons are far from traditional Looney Tunes, they probably would be so much better than the Larry Doyle cartoons.

In the end, there are two things that can give us a little solace. The first thing is that most of the world may never see those modern Looney Tunes. The other thing is that we can still see the original shorts on DVD.

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