Warner Bros./Warner Home Video .
R4 . COLOR . 88 mins .
G . PAL
Messing with peoples’ memories of the Looney Tunes gang is risky business. After all, for many of us they were an inherent part of growing up, while many more of us would have seriously limited vocabularies if not for the education they gave us. We also wouldn’t have learned how to drop anvils on people when they piss us off – now what sort of life would that be?
"So, it’s come to this has it?"
Hello my baby, hello my darlin'!
Being a movie company rather than any sort of historical preservation society, naturally Warner Bros are going to do their damnedest to exploit the almost religious popularity of the Looney Tunes, a habit which thus far has produced little in the way of anything bar cringeworthy insults to those great people behind these beloved characters – the Chuck Jones’, Mel Blancs, Friz Frelengs, Carl Stallings and so many more, not to mention the characters themselves. So, the plopping in our laps of Looney Tunes Back in Action was met with much mixed feeling, however here’s the good bit – it’s actually not at all bad!
We’ve a “plot” befitting of a classic cartoon, in that it’s about as convoluted as a carrot. While Bugs Bunny is as popular as ever, Daffy Duck just isn’t rating – other than with the fat, friendless geeks – so he’s unceremoniously fired from Warner Bros. This gives us a good opportunity to be introduced to our two main human characters, be-suited VP in charge of comedy Kate (Jenna Elfman) and security guard/wannabe stuntman DJ Drake (Brendan ‘yum’ Fraser). While Kate is busy leveraging Bugs’ synergy, however, it becomes quickly apparent that Daffy was a crucial part of a double act, so with her job in jeopardy she has to get the little black feathered fellow back. Then comes the news that DJ is the son of WB superstar Damian Drake, who plays a spy on screen and just may have carried it into real life. With talk of a Blue Monkey diamond –
Of course you know this means war...
possessing supernatural powers capable of turning people into simians – and ye olde despicable world domination plans from Acme Corporation head Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin, out-cartooning most of the toons around him) involving said diamond and a satellite doobrie, Bugs, Daffy, DJ and Kate have to rescue Damian and Earth from a life of simian enslavement. Hence we’re off to Vegas and the desert and Paris and Africa and space and…
Those who really got the vibe of the original Looney Tunes shorts should really get the vibe going on here. Filled with timeless gags, enough action that it’s hard to catch all that goes on in one sitting, all – and we mean ALL – those beloved WB characters and a story that’s silly enough to be faithful to all those old gems, Back in Action is a manic riot from beginning to end. Movie buffs will find oodles of references both obvious and not (say the music that accompanies the appearance of the Gremlin automobile) plus cameos galore and fans of the classics will love the voice characterisations. Not only do treasures such as June Foray and Stan Freberg pop up, so to do the likes of Billy West, Casey Kasem (the American Top 40 guy who was also the original Shaggy from Scooby-Doo) and even Brendan Fraser gets in on the act as a very convincing Taz (!). But where this wins out most voice-wise is with he who provides those of both Bugs and Daffy, Joe Alaskey. While others have come close but no (exploding) cigar over the years, this guy has nailed almost every inflection, every nuance of Mel Blanc’s immortal voice-work so as the two WB heavyweights actually sound genuine. It’s amazing the difference this makes.
Out to Munch...
Joe Dante, no stranger to goofy flicks - his still unreleased on these shores Gremlins 2 - The New Batch is an absolute mayhem-fuelled classic - directs the madness beautifully, letting his skin, bones, organs and stuff stars ham it up sublimely, while the effects-work to integrate the worlds of animation and humanity are for the most part seamlessly done. With some incredibly creative animation sequences featured (a manic trip through the Louvre proving a highlight), good casting and all the other stuff I’ve rabbited (heehee!) on about above, Looney Tunes Back in Action is a guilty treat for animation lovers – and even passes the four year old kid test with flying colours. Here’s hoping it’s a sign that WB are on the right track in showing some belated respect to their bountiful heritage.
Exterminate or space demodulate?
As Bugs may say, “supoib”. Barging onto our screens in its original cinematic ratio of 2.35:1 and featuring 16:9 enhancement (naturally), this is an utter joy to point the peepers at. The cartoon palette is exemplary, the picture offers fabulous detail with only the occasional minor example of shimmer and even shadow detail is top notch. The only sign of filmic nasties is in some stock footage of Paris. In all this is a transfer worthy of the meaning of “acme”, rather than the quality of their products…
Shh! Don't say the name...
An often inventive Dolby Digital 5.1 mix doesn’t disappoint. The front stereo field is given a decent workout, while rears don’t miss out on the action either with all manner of things bouncing around them at times, especially Daffy. The subwoofwoof never gets an opportunity to become bored, adding suitable woof where appropriate and even demonstrating that the Batmobile has a seriously oomphy sound system of its own.
As you would hope, sound effects come from the classic archives, balanced perfectly with the dialogue and Jerry Goldsmith’s score which pays worthy homage to the work of renowned Looney Tunes maestro Carl Stalling and others. The odd pop song, including the predictable inclusion of Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas, doesn’t detract too much from proceedings.
Those hoping for a bumper cavalcade of extras may be left a little flummoxed, as there really isn’t a lot to sink the choppers into; something the remarkably lacklustre main menu hints at.
Behind the Tunes is an 8:46 featurette presented by decidedly average Bugs and Daffy impersonations. It’s the usual fare – sets, props, cars, stars – which offers little to enthral, although interviews with director Joe Dante, some of the actors and a few of the behind the scenes folk are mildly informative.
Another short (7:25) featurette in Bang, Crash, Boom offers a peek at the effects side of things, something which many of us have become a bit blasé towards since the days of the groundbreaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Still it’s the usual stuff like acting to sticks and such, so hardly anything to get in a Taz-like tizzy of excitement about.
A reasonably meaty collection of deleted scenes, clocking in at around ten and a half minutes, presents various excisions in different states of completion, many showing unanimated black and white character sketches. One thing which goes unmentioned, but is rather obvious, is that changes to the Blue Monkey’s supernatural function were made rather late in the movie’s creation.
A newly created, seven-minute Looney Tunes short cartoon featuring the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote pops up next. It’s a curious affair, offering much that’s traditional with some things that just look plain wrong – especially a couple of heavenly characters at the opening which are drawn in a completely different style than we’re used to. Still, there are some classic gags to have a giggle at.
Two trailers follow, one for the film (1:27) and one for the DVD collection of four discs (1:15), even though we only get it in Australia as three separate releases. A brief Easter egg is easily found, just a seven second snatch from the film of poor old Yosemite Sam gittin’ blowed up.
Those with a DVD-ROM drive and without an aversion to the InterActual player software can also have some extra fun, with apparent links to more deleted scenes and assorted computer-related guff.
With vivacious video, stupendous sound and, well, acceptable extras this package is alluringly attractive for animation aficianados. Most importantly though, a fabulously fun feature means Looney Tunes Back in Action certainly ain’t a stinker.
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "