There’s great news for fans of Bugs Bunny and friends, as well as for the youngsters the elder fans want to indoctrinate into the Looney Tunes fold. HBO Max is bringing Looney Tunes back with a series of new cartoons created with great style and panache by Peter Browngardt.
With a name that’s as uninventive as the actual animated shorts themselves are delightful, Looney Tunes Cartoons, as the series is called, takes its style and substance directly from some of the earliest origins of Warner Brothers cartoons.
Creator Browngardt said he’s been in love with Looney Tunes since he went to a screening of classics, and met animator Chuck Jones when the animation master was signing his book ‘Chuck Amuck’. At the series’ unveiling at Annecy in 2019, Browngardt explained he and his production partners wanted to go back to how the original animation was made in the 30s and 40s. Mission accomplished. The short Dynamite Dance, starring Bugs and Elmer, evokes Bob Clampett’s Corny Concerto, from 1938, and even Tex Avery’s A Wild Hare, which features Bugs in his first official appearance in 1940.
In general, the new series harkens back to the time of Leon Schlesinger and the Termite Terrace, and that’s no small feat. Other cartoons feature WB faves like Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, as well as Tweety and Sylvester.
The series’ first season is made up of 80 11-minute episodes, which include shorts between 1 and 5 minutes in length, and were created by a team of 50 at the Warner Brothers animation studio in Burbank. Aiding in the production were four international animation studios: Tonic DNA in Montreal, Yowza! in Toronto, Yearim in Korea, and Snipple in the Philippines.
In effect, Looney Tunes Cartoons is a global effort, which is appropriate, since these characters are beloved the world over. It’s also great knowing that Yowza! is woman-owned, Tonic DNA is co-owned by a woman, and all four companies pride themselves on having a diverse staff. Of course, all that means nothing if the end product isn’t fantastic. No worries. This one is.
In order for the new Looney Tunes Cartoons to come close to the emulated classics it emulates, minute attention had to be paid to the essential elements of visual design, timing, and quality of character and story. Though there are a few mentions or gags that reference the 21st century, nearly everything is timeless, as is exemplified by the Maurice Noble-inspired backgrounds. Look for them especially in Firehouse Frenzy, which leverages the same whimsy and brightly colored geometric designs fans will recognize from Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies classics.
The characters are modeled after specific 30s and 40s cartoons, which are often some of the characters’ earliest appearances. Daffy Duck is definitely at his wackiest, with his design landing somewhere between Tex Avery’s 1937 nut-fest Porky’s Duck Hunt, and the more anthropomorphized shorts directed by Bob Clampett between 1937-1940.
Side by side comparisons between the new Tunnel Vision, starring Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, and the short that introduced the characters, 1949’s Fast and Furry-ous, would demonstrate the new filmmakers’ loyalty to animation history, although charming new touches like Wile E.’s prominent fang are captivating. Big League Beast will turn devotees of Chuck Jones’s inspired creations first shown in 1946’s Hare Raising Hare, Gossamer and Evil Scientist, into Looney Tunes Cartoons forever fans. Browngardt can be particularly proud of himself for that one.
As to the voices, new official voice of Bugs, Daffy, and Tweety Eric Bauza steps into the enormous shoes of Mel Blanc, as do Jeff Bergman as Sylvester and Bob Bergen, who does a spot-on Porky Pig. They take some getting used to, but they get the cadences right, embrace the spirit of the characters in their interpretations, and after watching several episodes, viewers will be all in.
Don’t look for updated, gentler action, as might befit the progressive world we try to represent for kids these days. Cartoon violence is in full force. The series really couldn’t be Looney Tunes without it.
Supervising producer Alex Kirwan said they wanted to focus on three essentials in this new incarnation: great animation, great voices, and great music. It’s not like any of us need to add another paid streaming service to our rosters, but with Looney Tunes Cartoons on offer, families and classic cartoon fans might find HBO Max rising to the top of their “must have” list.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars