Can A Looney Tunes Movie Not Bomb? Part 1

There’s a new Looney Tunes theatrical film in the works. One that will reportedly combine CGI animation with live action. When this news was posted on the Big Cartoon Database, it was met not with “Ooohs” and “Aaahs”, but with moans and groans. Fans still have bad memories of Looney Tunes: Back In Action reeling in their heads. It’s a question that has baffled the greatest minds on the planet for years: Why can’t someone make a good Looney Tunes movie? It’s ironic that Looney Tunes, which is among the greatest animated franchises of all time, seems completely incapable of making a commercially successful feature length film, but why is that? What’s the formula for making a Looney Tunes animated feature that would score box office gold? Does such a formula even exist?

One issue as I see it is that the Looney Tunes characters were never intended to be used in features. They were created for animated shorts. Shorts and features are 2 completely different beasts each with their own set of rules. The average short typically tells a very simple story and is packed with gags. Features, by contrast, have much more complex plots and cannot be so intensely packed with gags. Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson and Arthur Davis never tried to get more than 10 minutes out of any of the Looney Tunes stars, and they were all great directors who produced the studios most memorable shorts. Even the features like Friz Freleng’s Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie, 1001 Rabbit Tales and Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island were actually collections of the theatrical shorts with new linking material rather than being original, feature length stories. One reason why Back In Action failed was for the same reason why Tom & Jerry: The Movie failed; the characters simply don’t have deep enough personalities to sustain an audiences’ attention for over an hour. In order for a feature length story to work, the protagonists must learn something from their experience and be forever changed, but no one wants to see Bugs, Daffy and company change, because then they wouldn’t be the Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny that we know and love. We want Bugs and Daffy to remain Bugs and Daffy forever. And sure, you could conceivably bring in some live action human characters and give them the story arc instead, but the problem with that is the audience doesn’t go to a LT movie to see the live actors, so they’re not going care one whit what happens to them.

Another issue is plot. The Looney Tunes movies typically have a story line which involved the totality of LT characters appearing together as a group, and the shorts were never like that. The LT shorts typically only involve a couple of characters: Bugs and Daffy, Bugs and Elmer, Bugs, Elmer and Daffy, Daffy and Porky, Daffy & Sam, etc. It’s no easy task coming with a decent formula which can bring all of the LT characters together, save for them putting on a show or participating in some sort of competition (i.e., a sport). And then when one brings real life celebrities into the mix, it’s gets even more complicated, because then you have to have the Looney Tunes characters, and the celebrities, and a reason for why they’re brought together, and some kind of conflict for them to resolve. Finding a workable formula that combines all of these elements is no easy task.

My personal feeling is that the Looney Tunes don’t need to be in a 90 minute movie. The characters work best in shorts. That’s the medium in which the characters perform best. Instead of trying to use the LT characters for something that they were never suited for, Warner Brothers should instead focus on making new theatrical shorts featuring Bugs, Daffy and company, and more TV projects such as The Looney Tunes Show.

So, bearing all the above in mind, I think that the question that needs to be raised here isn’t “Can a feature film built around the Looney Tunes be made?”, but “Should such a thing be done at all?”

And the magic 8-Ball says “Signs point to ‘No'”.

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2 Comments

  1. I have to disagree with one of those points, to a degree. Yes, the characters work best in shorts, but they can do movies too, although I think it’s best if they stick with tv and DVD, where there’s less risk . I like the idea of giving Looney Tunes actual character development to make them more three dimensional. If you’ve watched movies like “Tweety’s High Flying Adventure” or “Looney Tunes Rabbits Run”, they both have a singular plot, but have tons of humor, heart, and drama while still keeping everyone like themselves. The former explores Tweety’s desire to be seen as a hero, and he manages to stay his rascally self even after development. The latter movie uses Lola’s personality from The Looney Tunes Show to have an arc about being taken more seriously, and is still her lovable goofy self even after saving the day. The characters can do movies, and are put into a lot of creative situations. They just need to be an environment that allows many of them to shine through.

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    • silverstar

      Eh, I’ve never seen “Tweety’s High-Flying Adventure”, not being the biggest Tweety fan there is, so I can’t comment on that, but I did see “Rabbit’s Run”; some of the jokes were OK, but I thought it was just “meh” overall. It should be noted that I wasn’t totally on board with the Looney Tunes Show’s portrayal of the characters in general (Lola was funny, but I thought Bugs and Daffy’s characterizations on TLTS were a tad off, to put it mildly), so for me anyway, I’m not sure if “Rabbit’s Run” is the best example to cite. IMHO, Wabbit/New Looney Tunes does a much better job in capturing the Looney Tunes characters’ esssence, based on what I’ve seen, and that show’s take on the gang doesn’t lend itself to feature-length stories; it’s too fast-paced and frenetic for that. I personally don’t tune in to the Looney Tunes for drama and heart; I just want them to make me laugh, but that’s just me.

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