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Looney Tunes, On-Screen And In Print

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
July 7, 2010 4:00 AM
6 Comments
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Sometimes I think I was born at exactly the right time, as a child of the first television generation. When local TV stations purchased libraries of old cartoons and made them part of their daily programming, I had the opportunity to digest and memorize seemingly every Warner Bros. cartoon from the 1930s and 40s. And that’s exactly what I did. I wish I’d had a book like the newly-published The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons to guide my path back then.

Versatile voice man Mel Blanc quickly became one of my heroes. (I wrote him a fan letter and got a lovely response, along with an autographed picture.) A whole new world opened up in 1960 when the ABC Television Network debuted The Bugs Bunny Show in prime time, drawing from the post-1949 Warners library, which included the best work of Chuck Jones and his writing cohort Michael Maltese. In the years to follow they shared that booty with CBS, which broadcast—

—a Warners cartoon show every Saturday morning for a couple of decades.

Then, out of the blue, everything changed. The networks all but abandoned kidvid, the Cartoon Network (owned by Warner Bros.) decided the Warners library was old-hat. Wrong-headed attempts to revive the characters, in such features as Looney Tunes: Back In Action, were doomed from the start, and ultimately the parent company decided to put these characters on the shelf. This was, to my way of thinking, tantamount to a cultural crime (as well as a bad business decision, given the billions of dollars these cartoon stars had generated).

A pressbook for Warner Bros. cartoons from the 1940s.

How could a new generation grow up not knowing Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Tweety and Sylvester, and all the rest of the gang? Yet that is precisely what has happened. Thank goodness for Warner Home Video’s expansive six-volume Looney Tunes Golden Collection or these characters would have vanished from the landscape altogether.

Until now. Warner Bros. has announced the characters’ return this fall on Cartoon Network, and when the studio releases Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore in theaters on July 30, it will be accompanied by a brand new Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote cartoon—executed in CG and 3-D! The one publicity shot they’ve released, with the Road Runner’s image visible in the reflection of Wile E.’s dinner knife, looks promising, but we’ll have to wait to see the finished product before passing judgment.

At least another major studio is willing to release a cartoon short; it’s a step in the right direction.

For those of us who still relish the great cartoons of the past, and want to share (or introduce them) to our children and their friends, I heartily recommend The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons (Insight Editions), edited by my old pal Jerry Beck, who presides over the indispensible www.cartoonbrew.com. I even wrote the introduction. If you love these timeless Warners cartoons, I think you’ll enjoy rekindling fond memories in the pages of this lively, fact-filled book, which is packed with illustrations and original artwork. It’s a perfect companion piece to those DVD collections. As advertisements used to say (in a totally different context): “See the movie! Read the book!” You’ll be glad you did.

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6 Comments

  • Bill Morrison | February 21, 2011 4:15 AMReply

    the absolute greatest is my ol' pal Sylvester' and he reached the status of stardum cum laude in that epic of all epics THE SCARLET PUMBERNICKEL! Who dares dispute this assertion?

  • robcat2075 | July 22, 2010 5:27 AMReply

    It took years of repetition on network TV to make those characters cultural icons. Now network tv is just about gone. I don't think Warner is ever going to be able to rebuild that situation.

  • Iris Adrian | July 8, 2010 1:11 AMReply

    I just saw a copy of the book. And it's GORGEOUS!

  • Geoff | July 7, 2010 12:11 PMReply

    We're fortunate in Canada -- Teletoon Retro airrs as much of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts as it can acquire (though apparently WB will only sell the network old TV packages, and not the uncut shorts themselves.)

  • dbenson | July 7, 2010 8:25 AMReply

    As one who remembers when a b&w 8mm silent of Bugs Bunny cost $6 (in 1960s' dollars), and any published piece on animation tended to be condescending and inaccurate, this has truly been a golden age.

    But when do we get "Beanstalk Bunny" on DVD?

  • Stu Shiffman | July 7, 2010 6:13 AMReply

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Leonard. I always enjoyed Jerry's books (and yours - I took an animation history class from you years ago at the New School) and will look for this.

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