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"Looney Tunes: Back in Action" - Movie Review

"Looney Tunes: Back in Action" - Movie Review

Genre:  Action, Adventure, Comedy

Rating: PG (for some mild language and innuendo)

Release Date:  November 14, 2003

Actors:  Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, Joan Cusack, Heather Locklear, Timothy Dalton, Bill Goldberg, Robert Picardo, Matthew Lillard (cameo)

Director:  Joe Dante

Special Notes:  In 1930, Warner Bros. debuted the celebrated "Looney Tunes" series of animated film shorts in conjunction with cartoon producer Leon Schlesinger. While most Hollywood movie studios were producing pre-feature cartoon shorts at the time, none became as beloved as the series of irreverent six-minute comedy films featuring early Warner characters. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and stuttering Porky Pig were joined over the next four decades by Elmer Fudd, the Tasmanian Devil, Yosemite Sam, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Tweety Bird, Sylvester, and many, many others. Warner Bros. employed a powerhouse of animation talent to bring the characters to life, led by such legends as Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Bob McKimson, voice character legend Mel Blanc and musical director Carl Stalling. These artists became legends of cartoon comedy, winning numerous Academy Awards and entertaining generations of fans throughout the world for over 70 years.

Plot:  On her first day, the new no-nonsense VP of comedy at Warner Bros. Studios, Kate Houghton (Elfman), decides to fire the egocentric Daffy Duck and a security guard, the son of the studio's biggest action star. Daffy is tired of playing second to Bugs with the famous rabbit getting all the fame. But Bugs realizes he needs the narcissistic Duck to make his act work and that Looney Tunes would fail without him. So Bugs convinces the head honchos that they need Daffy Duck. Meanwhile the security guard D.J. (Frasier) finds out that his actor father, Damian Drake (Dalton), is really a secret agent who was hunting for a mysterious diamond known as the Blue Monkey, a supernatural gem with powers that can turn humans into monkeys. He’s been kidnapped by the evil head of the Acme Corporation (Martin) who wants to turn all humans into monkeys and make them slave laborers. As the chase sends the group around the globe, they meet up with various undercover operatives like a showgirl in Vegas (Locklear) and a caretaker to the creatures, Mother (Cusack). Will Bugs find Daffy and save the studio (and the day)? Stay tuned.

Good:  If only the plot had carried on with the theme of Daffy on the skids, this movie may have had a better chance of avoiding the loony course it took. The "Looney Tunes" characters haven't been seen on the big screen since the 1996 hit "Space Jam," and once again, this story mixes the live-action world with the irreverent animated icons. The story unfolds on the studio back lot and then careens all over the map in "Looney Tunes" style in an adventure that takes them from Hollywood to Las Vegas, to Paris and the jungles of Africa. The animation is well done, but director Joe Dante ("The 'Burbs") makes the story too wild and wacky and in the process loses sight of the most important ingredient in any kids' movie – a compelling story. Don’t get me wrong, there are some laugh-out-loud funny parts, and in true WB style, the movie pokes fun at almost everything with comic zingers from the WB gang – Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn. My favorite part takes place in the Warner Bros. commissary where a stuttering Porky Pig complains about being politically incorrect with Speedy Gonzales and the animated Shaggy and Scooby-Doo rip apart actor Matthew Lillard for playing Shaggy in the live-action movie "Scooby-Doo." If the story would have stuck with this kind of humor, the movie would have been watchable and brilliant. But moments like these can't cover or overcome a ridiculous and annoying plot.
Bad:  Sometimes the mix of cartoon and real characters works ("Who Framed Roger Rabbit?") and sometimes it doesn’t. Although Fraser has had practice with this kind of acting ("Monkeybone") and easily interacts with his animated co-stars, Elfman has not and not only looks uncomfortable trying to interact with the green screen, she isn’t at all convincing. I was looking forward to Martin's performance because I am a huge fan, but his character was the biggest disappointment of all. He's more cartoonish than the cartoons and never lives up to his enormous comic potential with his over-the-top, angry schoolboy with knee socks and matted-down hair character who never grew up. He comes off as ridiculous, annoying and simply not funny. The man of a thousand voices and original creator of these characters, Mel Blanc, was a phenomenon who gave each character personality and an identifiable screen persona. But, sadly, the voices are now imitated and although they may sound the same, the personality, wit and charm that Mel infused into each character is obviously missing. Aside from a few words like "butt" thrown around, there’s nothing more crude than that. But it’s the sexual innuendoes and cartoon violence that should concern parents. Since some of the action takes place in Las Vegas (a strange setting for a children’s cartoon), there are dancers who wear skimpy costumes, women shown with revealing cleavage and Elfman wears a low-cut blouse. There are also a couple of references to an animated character's cross-dressing, but that will probably fly over kids' heads. The cartoon violence throughout the movie is probably something kids have watched on Saturday mornings in your living room, but when you see it on the big screen for an hour and a half it feels like a bit much. Characters are shot, punched, squashed, set on fire and even have their eyes fall out and roll on a table. There are too many scenes to mention, but you get the idea. Cartoon violence is prevalent, but there’s violence between the human characters as well (Elfman jumps off the Eiffel Tower, a man is tied to railroad tracks, etc.). By a certain age, children can usually process cartoon reality. But there’s a big difference between watching Wily E. Coyote falling off a cliff and the violence we see in this movie.

Bottom Line:  Parents, this is one of those movies that will probably entertain your little ones and may even amuse your older kids (ages 8 to 10), but you’ll be exhausted with all of the silliness. Watching a cartoon at home in your living room for a few minutes is far different than sitting in a theater being bombarded with 80 minutes worth. If they would have stuck with a simple story about a rabbit versus a duck, this movie would have been far funnier and memorable.