Three out of four stars (Rated PG for some mild language and innuendo)
Running time: 91 minutes.
Ever since “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” hit theaters in 1988, Hollywood has tried to replicate the formula of placing animated characters in the real world and vice-versa. “Space Jam” was loved when first released but now seems like a feature length commercial for Michael Jordan’s career. “Cool World” has for the most part blissfully faded from memory.
Then along comes “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” and does the impossible – it manages to be funny, entertaining and lively while still slowing things down at times to be insightful. Loaded with numerous celebrities mugging for the camera, satirical jabs at Hollywood and pop cultural references out the ying-yang, the movie has the true frantic nature of a cartoon.
Daffy Duck (voice of Joe Alaskey) has become fed up by constantly playing secondbanana to Bugs Bunny (also Alaskey) for the past six decades. He makes an ultimatum – either he gets equal billing and pay alongside Bugs, or he’s out of there. Warner Bros. Vice President Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman) promptly give the duck the boot, and while vindictively wreckinghavoc on the studio lot, Daffy hooks up with ne’er do well security guard D.J. Drake (Brendan
Fraser) who happens to be the son
of famous movie spy Damian Drake
D.J. is fired as well for not be ing able to stop Daffy’s rampage, and reluctantly goes home with the duck in tow. However, things go crazy when he discovers that his father really is a spy and has been captured by the evil president of the ACME Corporation (Steve Martin). D.J must take up his father’s mission of seeking the Blue Monkey Diamond, a mystical jewel that – like all mystical items in such movies – can be deadly in the wrong hands. Daffy’s eyes naturally light up with greed at the sound of the word diamond and joins D.J.
Meanwhile, Kate is facing her own dismissal following less then stellar studio reviews of the latest Bugs cartoon without Daffy and must track down the duck with Bugs’ help to convince him to return. The four unlikely heroes team up to stop ACME, save Damian Drake and patch up Bugs and Daffy’s fractured partnership.
A lot of love went into this product, and it shows. Some of the best jokes are attacks on numerous sensitivity issues that protest groups have mounted against cartoons in the past few decades. Porky Pig and Speedy Gonzalez lament the effect that political correctness is having on their careers, while Daffy is told that his constant complaining makes him appealing only to angry bald men who live in basements.
Sight gags rain in as well, the most memorable being a wonderfully conceived scene in the Louvre Museum in Paris where Elmer Fudd chases Bugs and Daffy in and out of numerous famous paintings like “The Scream” and “Persistence of Memory.”
The voice acting in the film is near perfect. Alaskey does a much better job imitating Mel Blanc’s famous Bugs Bunny voice then Billy West did in “Space Jam.” Bugs is still the street smart Brooklyn hustler he has always been, and adds a nice bit of levity to the proceedings.
Daffy is still delightfully conceited and selfish, though in a nice change of pace he is actually allowed to be heroic at some points. Also, it should be noted that while Bugs clearly
controls every scene he’s in, this is
indeed Daffy’s movie, and he carries
Fraser has a strong enough presence to play alongside cartoon characters but doesn’t have much to do in the humor department. We’re reminded that like in “Dudley Do-Right,” Fraser just can’t make a character funny without decent lines.
Elfman is also lively but remains wallpaper to her animated co-stars, as she should. Dalton on the other hand manages to be serious and goofy at the same time and seems to be having a great time spoofing his own James Bond character.
But it’s Martin who really puts in a performance here, playing the ACME President with a combination of Jim Carrey’s loose-limbed gait and Robin Williams’ rapid-fire dialogue. He’s a truly unique character for Martin to play, a live action cartoon competing for screen time with Bugs and the others. Martin makes him Dr. Evil as played by Jerry Lewis.
Director Joe Dante films this with the same tongue-in-cheek abandon that he used to bring “Gremlins” and “The Howling” to life. The movie’s success owes much to his respect for cartoons, and his desire to undo the harm that “Space Jam” did to the characters is a breath of fresh air.
Along with fellow Warner Bros. characters like Wile E. Coyote, Pepe Le Pew and Sylvester the Cat, the movie also makes room for cameos by wrestler Bill Goldberg, Joan Cusack and even legendary B-movie schlockmeister Roger Corman.
“Looney Tunes: Back in Action” lacks the same originality that made “Roger Rabbit” immortal, but still has the energy and wit to remain memorable for decades to come. The movie twists the legends of the Warner stable while still honoring their personalities, and as such the movie works as both an homage and a wink-at-the-audience spoof of the classic cartoons. It’s a movie even Daffy will love.