‘Looney Tunes Cartoons’ Review: Bugs Is Back
By John Anderson
What’s all the hubbub, bub? Well, the HBO Max streaming service makes its debut Wednesday, offering all the content of HBO’s cable service plus new series, the Warner Bros. back catalog and children’s programming—which includes, according to the corporate missives, a reboot of “Looney Tunes.”
Which gives one pause: As any connoisseur knows, cartoons may well be associated with children, but they were a lot better when they weren’t made for children. And anyone whose childhood companions included the vintage Porky, Bugs and Daffy has a right to be concerned.
As it happens, all is well. The new “Looney Tunes Cartoons” are “good for kids,” as my 7-year-old consultant concluded, but they also honor the anarchic spirit of the original “Looney Tunes”—and “Merrie Melodies,” which were basically the same. While I’ve yet to see a reboot “Tune” the equal of “What’s Opera, Doc?” or “Duck Amuck” or even “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery”—in which a noirish Duck Twacy faced off against the malevolent Neon Noodle—the spirit is right. The new Porky Pig-Daffy Duck duet “Firehouse Frenzy,” for instance, has the two stars riding a firehouse pole that takes them literally to hell and back; it’s a surrealist dream. Daffy has a lunatic energy that evokes the original model, which was calmed down considerably before he’d even left the ’30s. Bugs Bunny, paragon of cool, suffers some indignities more typical of Wile E. Coyote, but Yosemite Sam, as usual, gets the worst in their most recent encounter (“Harm Wrestling”).
The original Warner Bros. “Loony Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies” and Walt Disney’s “Silly Symphony” series were made for theaters, as short subjects between features. They were created with a mostly adult audience in mind, with adult jokes and adult references. The new cartoons make some pop-cultural allusions—in the ones I’ve seen there were nods to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Ghostbusters” and even Boris Karloff, though it’s doubtful many kids will pick that up. Most importantly, though, the voices are right: Mel Blanc, who was Bugs Bunny from the start (“A Wild Hare,” 1940) and did so many voices for so many animated classics, was incomparable. And yet Eric Bauza—the new Bugs, Daffy, Tweety and Marvin the Martian—comes very close to what Blanc did and, significantly, has the same energy. Likewise, Bob Bergen, who voices Porky Pig. For the “Looney” fringe, it’s all very encouraging.