Warner Bros. Modernizes Looney Tunes, to Protests

Sufferin' succotash!

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Are the Looney Tunes characters--Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the rest--losing their cultural profile? That's what Warner Bros. Entertainment fears might be happening. According to a recent New York Times piece, the studio "is embarking on a five-alarm rescue effort." They're rolling out a video game, new cartoons, and a series of 3-D shorts to play in movie theaters, all in an effort to keep the characters fresh in the minds of a new generation of kids. As might be expected, the reactions have been mixed:

  • Not the First Rebranding Campaign  The New York Times story rounds up a few other attempts from recent years to keep the franchise relevant. Among them: Tiny Toons Adventures, Baby Looney Tunes, Space Jam, Looney Tunes: Back in Action (which "left North American audiences holding their noses"), and The Loonatics Unleashed, "another sprucing-up effort from 2005 that introduced futuristic-looking, anime-influenced versions of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck." The article notes that "many parents hated the Loonatics, which had mohawks and menacing eyes, and the series was canceled in 2007."
  • This Could Really Stink  At space bar-challenged entertainment site TheVine, blogger AnnieFox frets about the new projects. "The 3D cinema shorts will play before the big upcoming WB releases in an attempt to promote the pants off the new series hitting the Cartoon Network later this year. The Looney Tunes Show will feature Daffy and Bugs as odd-couple roommates and your other favourite characters as their neighbours in some kind of Two-And-A-Half-Men-cum-Friends hybrid. RUH ROH." But, she adds, "it can't be worse than the aforementioned Loonatics Unleashed."
  • Or It Could Be Awesome!  Scott Mendelson looks on the bright side, cheered by early reports of traditionalism. "The new animated shorts and episodes will star Bugs, Daffy, and Sylvester as they were in the 1940s and 1950s. No anime-redesigns. No hip-teen variations on the classic characters. It would appear that this is a true return to form for the Merry Melodies ... So welcome back Bugs and Daffy. Best of luck Wile E."
  • Just Make Sure You Get the Animation Right, warns Jaime Weinman at Maclean's. "The Road Runner and Coyote concept seems fairly well suited to computer animation, since the gags rely on speed, timing, and the Coyote’s broad facial reactions to the stuff that’s about to fall on him," he explains. "All of these things can be done effectively on a computer" But, he goes on to say,

What is more of a problem is re-creating the kind of animation that relies on squash-and-stretch distortion of characters' bodies, or uses exaggerated movements that bear no relationship to real-life movements. The basic solidity and lifelike-ness of computer animation makes it (still) poorly suited to squash-and-stretch, and the budgets of 2-D animation (especially on TV) aren't enough to allow for that kind of animation. So some of the problem with making new Bugs n' Daffy cartoons is just that it's difficult, perhaps impossible, to make these characters appealing without first-class animation. They don't have inherent lovability or appeal to kids; the animators have to add that.

Weinman includes a few clips of this classic kineticism in action--highly recommended viewing for anyone who likes to see cartoon pigs and ducks getting pummeled.

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