“This is unacceptable. We cannot have nine-year-olds working in sweatshops making ACME goods… when three-year-olds work for so much less.”
Why watch a new millennium movie called Looney Tunes: Back in Action? I’m a living person with a heartbeat, so obviously I love Warner Brothers’ cartoons. But I love classic Warner Brothers’ cartoons. The ones made by Chuck Jones and Mel Blanc, decades before I was born. Anything Looney Tunes related made in my lifetime has seemed like a cheap knock off. So why watch a new millennium movie called Looney Tunes: Back in Action? Because it was directed by Joe Dante, that’s why. This dude made Gremlins, possibly the best live action movie with a cartoon attitude ever.
Opening with the quintessential Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck (both voiced by Joe Alaskey), Elmer Fudd (Billy West) bit of “rabbit season, duck season”, the camera pulls back to show us the kind of world we’re dealing with in Back in Action. The kind of world where Bugs, Daffy and the rest exist in our real world, working as actors, making the cartoons we all know and love. The kind of world where Daffy Duck is sick of playing the butt of Bugs’ jokes. He complains to the Warner Brothers suits and is quickly fired by studio executive Kate (Jenna Elfman).
Meanwhile, studio lot security guard DJ (Brandan Fraser) is trying to get a job as a movie stuntman. As one of his colleagues points out, all DJ needs to do is ask his movie star father (Timothy Dalton as Damien) to pull some strings. But DJ wants to earn it on his own. Although when Damien goes missing, it turns out that his big screen persona as a super spy isn’t just a big screen persona. Kidnapped by Mr Chairman (Steve Martin), chairman of the evil ACME corporation, Damien is the key to Mr Chairman’s plans for world domination via making and selling cheap and nasty ACME gadgets. Through a series of coincidences, it comes down to DJ, Kate, Daffy and Bugs to save the world.
Here’s what I’ll say about Looney Tunes: Back in Action, it’s funnier than you think and it’s better than you think. I laughed within the first few minutes, and it had me laughing more than regularly until the end. These are classic characters, and Joe Dante, along with screenwriter Larry Doyle, obviously have a huge affection for them, that makes them understand what makes these characters so classic and what makes the work.
The other thing I’ll say about Looney Tunes: Back in Action is, Brendan Fraser works his ass off. He might not be the greatest actor in the real world, but he fully commits to being in this Looney Tunes world. He’s not sleepwalking through this movie or just hanging around until it’s time cash his cheque. He puts it all on the line for this silly movie, and that’s what silly movies need to work.
There was one thing that really bugged me though. Maybe I’m forcing way too much logic on a movie that’s about a cartoon rabbit and duck helping a live action security guard find a mystical diamond. But I felt like it needed to abide by tis own rules a little more than it did. On the one hand, this is a world where Bugs, Daffy and the cartoons we all know and love exist. They’re actors, I can live with that. It worked in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and it works here. Until this movie abandons that conceit as a way to shoehorn in as many Looney Tunes characters as possible. If Bugs, Daffy, Porky Pig and Speedy Gonzales are all actors, making movies within this movie, why is Yosemite Sam a casino owner, and Marvin the Martian a prisoner at Area 51?
While I know I’m over thinking a movie that should require little thinking, I’m of the opinion that if a movie sets its own rules for the universe within it, it needs to stick to those rules. Even in a movie that requires very little thinking. But at the end of the day, I laughed a lot. And I got to watch possibly the most unhinged Steve Martin performance ever. And who doesn’t want to see that?