I don’t know how long the new version of the Looney Tunes show has been on TV now, but I only saw an episode of it today for the first time. There has been quite a lot of controversy surrounding the show, which you’ll probably be very aware of if you read Cartoon Brew. I have to say that despite trying my hardest to watch with an open mind these new versions of some of my favourite characters, I didn’t enjoy what I saw. However I’d like to write down something fair about why I didn’t like it rather than just criticising without qualification. The aim is to learn something here after all!
The most noticeable change has been the appearance, sound and behaviour of the characters. The creators have gone for a look that I’d describe, probably with some cynicism, as “fashionable”. I’m not actually against giving the characters a bit of an update, but the update they have received amounts, in my view at least, to forcing an unsuitable graphic style upon them simply for the sake of trying to be different. And “different” in true 21st Century form means “the same as everything else”.
In terms of the behaviour of the characters, altering this is very dangerous I think. The likes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, as developed over time by Tex Avery, Bob McKimson, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and whoever else, are some of the most complex and interesting characters ever to have been put on the screen. What started out as very simplistic slapstick performers ended up as fully rounded, totally believable and lovable characters. Evolving the characters further is likely an impossible task, and unsurprisingly the new versions are mere shadows of their former selves.
The pose on Bugs in the image above is worthy of mention here actually as it’s something that came up a lot in the episode I watched. Bugs has long been a laid back unshakable character, but he comes across in this show as being a “hip” student. What might be termed by John K as “tude” poses are constantly being hit by all characters.
Occasionally a pose is formed which is very reminiscent of the old cartoons – a despondent look to camera for example – but where these are used, they reek of being merely copied from an old model sheet rather than having been derived through proper thought into how the character would express themselves facially.
A much smaller point are the voices. While noone can ever replace Mel Blanc, I’m sure better attempts at the voicework could have been made. The fact that the voices reflected no more life than the drawings suggested and all-round lack of knowledge of the characters.
Something that particularly stood out to me was the timing of everything going on in the show. Comedy, whether physical or verbal, needs good timing to work. The old Looney Tunes cartoons were timed to perfection. I think actually something like Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner shorts are simply the absolute pinnacle of good timing. The new TV show however seems to be devoid of any kind of awareness of timing. In some scenes there is too much going on at the same time, making things confusing. In other scenes everything is paced too quickly, not leaving enough time for things to read, or not giving the required time before resolving a joke. It gives the impression to me that the creators felt they had to cram a load of stuff into too short a time. They would have done better, I think, simplifying everything, which leads me onto the next point…...
There’s simply too much of it. The episode I watched seemed like an attempt to make The DaVinci Code with animals. There was even a big section in the middle where we go back to the Second World War for a lengthy, and totally serious, flashback sequence. The same episode had characters being auctioned off for a charity event, Bugs travelling to Paris and Daffy playing detective. And all within the first few minutes. Compare this with the old Looney Tunes shorts, where we usually had just two characters trying to outwit each other in a very simple scenario.
And while I can’t really qualify this last bit of story criticism with anything, I cannot understand why it has been chosen that the characters should all live together as seeming best mates!
This is another way in which the show has deviated too far from what the Looney Tunes used to be. In the old shorts the humour was as much physical as verbal, and in many cases it was completely physical. As with so many of today’s cartoons, particularly those on TV, the humour has become totally verbal. Perhaps this is in some part due to silly restrictions on cartoon violence imposed by the powers that be, but I imagine it to also be in part a time/labour/money saving choice as has been the case on so many other shows. If the verbal jokes were as witty as they once might have been then I might have been able to forgive it, but sadly they are not. I don’t think there’s a magic formula for writing funny material, but I truly believe that the best place to look for inspiration is within the characters themselves. However when the characters have not been properly understood by their creators, how funny can they possibly be?
In conclusion, despite the title of the show, these are not the Looney Tunes. They are a fan-art interpretation, and a strong lesson of the most important thing in creating good work – a deep understanding of the characters you’re working with, even if the characters are ones you have created yourself.