Looney Tunes: Back in Action
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, Timothy Dalton, Heather Locklear
Directed by: Joe Dante
Running time: 90 min
Rating: 6 out of 10
SOMETHING is missing...
photo: Continental Films
PANNING across a glitzy Hollywood restaurant, on its way to a conversation between Bugs Bunny and Kate (Jenna Elfman), a powerful Warner Brothers producer, the camera picks up a brief exchange between Porky Pig ("That's All Folks!") and Speedy Gonzalez, a sombrero-wearing Mexican mouse. Porky complains to Speedy that the climate of political correctness prevents him from indulging in the stuttering that initially made him so famous, to which Speedy quickly replies "Tell me about it".
This moment, near the beginning of Joe Dante's new live action/animation Looney Tunes movie, Back in Action, does not draw much attention to itself, but it makes a crucial point.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Warner Bros' Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons reached a creative peak characterised by innovative animation, smart self-referential and pop cultural humour, and biting satire. Importantly, this peak came at time in which there were no political correctness police; thus, no one was spared. For instance, some of the most memorable cartoons, from the paranoid World War II era, were horribly vicious towards Japanese people. If they were released today (although now it would surely be Arabs that would be lampooned), there would be mass uproar. And rightly so, though these and many more of the era's topical cartoons remain fascinating - as history and as frequently clever, if sometimes misguided, satire.
So, when Speedy, an absurd caricature of a Mexican, says "Tell me about it", he is acknowledging that he could never be created in a mainstream, family-oriented cartoon or movie today. It is subtle pop-cultural and self-referential (both to Looney Tunes in general and to Back in Action itself) moments such as these that keep the movie going. Unfortunately, the necessity of progressing the plot often steers the film into more typical and boring territory.
The fairly standard spy/save the world story does leave some room for other little flashes of brilliance, but not enough to make for a consistently entertaining work. Very basically, through a series of mishaps, Warner Bros security guard/wannabe stuntman DJ (Brendan Fraser), Daffy Duck, Kate, and Bugs attempt to save DJ's movie star father (Timothy Dalton of James Bond fame) and the world from the megalomaniacal Mr Chairman (Steve Martin), the leader of the ACME corporation. Along the way, they encounter zany characters, mishaps, and adventures.
Elfman and Fraser are both quite likeable, but Martin takes his hyper-Peter Sellers schtick too far. The blend of animation and live action is seamless, but these familiar characters come across a bit too polished, except in one wonderful sequence in which a gun totin' Elmer Fudd chases Bugs and Daffy through a series of paintings in the Louvre. Their integration into these works of surrealism and pointillism is spectacular, and seems to argue for the artistic relevance of the Looney Tunes.
Whether or not Bugs and Daffy should or would ever be exhibited along such "high art" is immaterial: They and their colleagues are undeniably important pop-cultural art, and despite Back in Action's inability to truly do them justice, their reputation is safe and secure.
16. Feb 2004 at 0:00 | Jonathan Knapp